Lost in translation?: After 200 years, Kleist’s play still reflects Pakistani society

Urdu adaptation of German dramatists’ play performed.

Express June 15, 2011


Corruption and the failings of human nature - themes touched upon in Heinrich von Kleist’s early nineteenth century script ‘The Broken Jug’ - still seem relevant in Pakistani society today.

Two hundred years after his death, German poet, dramatist, novelist and short story writer Heinrich von Kleist was remembered in Karachi with an Urdu adaptation of his comedy play, which was put on by SnR Productions.

The two-and-a half-hour play was abridged to a single act and that is perhaps why it lost its significance along the way.

The plot revolves around a broken jug and a trial takes place to find out who broke it. The audience knows that the judge, Adam (Shakeel Hussain), broke the jug. Judge Adam is in love with Shaista (Anoushca Malik, the director) and the audience watches as he tries to use the judicial system for his own interests - he accuses Shaista’s lover of breaking the jug.

In the first half of the play, Adam is engaged in banter with his secretary, Basheer (Kamal Hussain). The truth is revealed when Shaista’s housemaid says she tracked the culprit’s footprints from outside Begum Naushat’s house to Judge Adam’s house and that he broke the jug when he came to see Shaista at night.

The play was translated by Goethe-Institut’s German Language Department head Shamim Manzar. “I translated the play into Urdu because we wanted to find a way to bring German literature to the Pakistani audience.”

Some audience members felt the play was too lengthy, while others thought it was too short. Journalist Anwer Mooraj disagreed. “Plays are generally too long so the length was just right. It was a good effort but at time the humour was not as subtle as it should have been and was too loud,” he said.

Another audience member, Tasneem Bandukwala, agreed with Anwer. “I feel that a lot of these up-and-coming actors overact. They need to tone it down,” she suggested.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2011.



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