LAHORE : An Ajoka Theatre play by the name of Bari – last presented in Pakistan about 20 years ago – will be revived by the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York soon, as part of its 40-year celebration this month.
Originally penned by Ajoka’s artistic director Shahid Mahmood Nadeem, the play has been given dubbed Acquittal for the English-speaking audience and will be staged between June 10 and June 25 at the Studio Theatre portion of Theatre Row New York.
Acquittal depicts the story of four women in a Pakistani prison during the 1980s and how they all come together to overcome injustice. The storyline has been inspired by the time playwright, Nadeem, spent in prison as a young man himself.
Speaking with The Express Tribune, Nadeem said that he had been invited to take part in the festivities especially. “I think it’s a great honour for us that our play was translated into English,” he said.
“Acquittal was originally written back in 1987, when I was living in London in exile. It has a specific reference to the early 1980s, when General Ziaul Haq had implemented strict Islamic laws which galvanised the women’s movement in Pakistan.”
According to Nadeem, the entire decade was a “tense” time for Pakistani women and that is exactly what he attempted to highlight in his play. “I wanted to depict the women who lived through that era. In fact, I wrote another play called Neelay Haath for PTV which also told the story of Bari,” revealed the writer.
His sentiments were echoed by Pan Asian Theatre’s founding member and artistic director Tisa Chang, who considers Acquittal an “important play” because it illustrates the plight of Pakistani women who suffered under the strict laws of the 1980s.
“The play is very relevant nowadays since we’ve got anti-Muslim sentiments coming in straight from the White House,” she said. “I think we Pan Asians are just doing our jobs when we highlight stories seldom told. A strong consciousness has always been at the heart of Pan Asian’s agenda.”
Chang went on to say that for her and her team, it’s always been about their work. “I am not very good at protesting so prefer to do the work that earns garlands and respect,” she shared. “The integrity of the artistic process and upholding standards of excellence are very, very important to us. As Pan Asian includes all of Asia and Polynesia, I feel the Middle East also needs to be represented.”
Chang continued, “Acquittal is a very affirming play and again, a story that is seldom told. If anything, history tends to hide traumatic periods. That’s why, I believe it is a great service we render by presenting such stories.”
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