Once a vibrant centre of meaningful theatre, the city of Lahore has lost its brilliant parallel theatre performances.
Venues such as the Alhamra and Bagh-e-Jinnah open air theatre which used to be a favourite with seasoned artists and writers like the late Ashfaq Ahmad, Bano Qudsia, Samina Ahmad, Qavi Khan and Irfan Khoosat among others, have been taken over by ribald performances which many senior artists call “a boy’s night out”.
While artists differ on the causes of the decline of Lahore’s theatre scene, they all agree that the state has been negligent in maintaining standards.
Faizan Peerzada, the creative director of Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, believes that culture in general and theatre in particular has never been the state’s priority. “There was a time when people had to wait for days to watch a play at Alhamra,” he told The Express Tribune. “The state did not do anything to continue the tradition of serious theatre which gradually was replaced with vulgar and sub-standard performances.” Peerzada said that the local art promoters like Lahore Arts Council and Punjab Arts Council should have produced their own quality productions on a regular basis instead of just converting their premises into rental spaces or commercial theatres.
When asked how could the theatre scene in Lahore could be improved, he said, “People who are doing serious theatre should make a body and the government functionaries like the Lahore Arts Council should wake up – then we can do something”.
Actor and producer Samina Ahmad believes that the ribald and often vulgar theatre performances defamed the country. She emphasised the role of the government and arts councils in improving the situation.
Senior stage actor Abid Kashmiri says that earlier a lot of importance was given to the script and actors had to memorise the dialogues.
“When the quality of scripts became weak, stage artists started using their own dialogues and they would often slip into derogatory language. I still believe that theatre of the 1970s and 1980s was much better than today’s theatre,” he said. Kashmiri believes that the scripts will have to improve for the theatre scene to flourish. “If you have good writers, you will get good serious plays.”
Mohammad Waseem, who heads the Interactive Resource Centre, an institution which does interactive theatre performances, says that there is a lot of potential in students at university and college but this talent needs to be polished.
He said that art promoters should hold inter-college theatre festivals to encourage young actors. “Had there been a tradition of regularly organising youth theatre festivals, we would have prepared a full generation doing serious theatre by now.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2010.