Ayeena Theatre group recently paid homage to the 12th century Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti with a dramatic play called “Sultan-e-Hind” which was part of the ongoing drama festival at the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) in Islamabad. Although directorial bloopers and technical mistakes could have easily spoilt the show, the playwas well-received. The production, which had a considerably large cast, was based on the life of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and his work for the Sufi concept of Sulh-e-Kul (peace to all).
With an unconvincing, flimsy stage design, the play showcased everything from the Sufi’s birth to his childhood and subsequent travels to Ajmer in India. Even though the play was fine in the beginning, when Chishti arrived in Ajmer and the emperor Prithvi Raj Chauhan’s court came into play — it seemed like the director and the set designer were not in sync on the storyline. Strangely enough, the court was set in a way that the domineering king could only see the raqasa’s (dancing girl) back as she performed facing the audience. For a good 10 minutes, Chauhan looked like a sorry figure who had nothing to do but smile.
On more than two occasions, the spotlights disappeared at the wrong time. Furthermore, when the actors left the stage after certain acts, they lost their exits, inviting laughter from the audience and marring the seriousness of the scene. At one point, the raqasa had to wait on stage for the music to start while standing in her dancing posture.
“I am hurt that such a tribute could go wrong. The PNCA did not give us enough time to rehearse on their stage and there were multiple multimedia issues as well,” said the writer and director of “Sultan-e-Hind” towards the end when he introduced the cast and crew. He requested the PNCA management to provide ample time for rehearsals as other theatre groups had complained of similar issues facing them during the festival.
However, the Director of PNCA Hassan Abbas was quick to rebuff these complaints. “This is a national festival where a play is held every day including the weekends. The teams are expected to come prepared with their rehearsals. One should not blame PNCA for their own lack of preparation,” said Abbas.
Nevertheless, the audience enjoyed the play and applauded various performances. The highlight of the play was when the most trusted of the king’s courtesans was converted by the Sufi. The actors playing the characters of Chishti and Chauhan gave strong performances and were well supported by their co-actors. However, it was the king’s deputy, played by Javed Bhatti, who received the most appreciation from the audience.
The play ended with dervishes swirling on the tunes of a qawwali and courtesans paying tribute at Chishti’s mausoleum in Ajmer Sharif, India.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2011.
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