National Drama Festival: Down with the US? Chalo chalo, Amrika chalo

Ajoka’s latest play pokes fun at the double standards of contemporary Pakistani society.

Umer Nangiana December 30, 2011


Hypocrisy of manners and beliefs that forms the societal psyche in the modern day Pakistani society is aptly depicted in Ajoka’s “Amrika Chalo” (Destination USA). 

Everybody hates Amrika (USA). Yet no one, be it a moulvi, a politician who is a ‘hardline American critic’, or even a terrorist, wants to drop out on an opportunity to get a visa to the US, the ‘land of opportunity’, with its own double standards. This idea was translated into the play through a combination of good writing, direction and some brilliant acting.

In the most perfectly executed of all the plays so far performed at the National Drama Festival 2011 at Pakistan National Council of the Art (PNCA), writer director Shahid Nadeem and creative director Madeeha Gohar, in a satirical comedy, showcased how USA remains both a ‘great satan’ and a ‘favourite destination’ for most Pakistanis.

With the 406-seat hall overfilled to such an extent that many had to stand to watch the play, expectations were high, and the play more than just fulfilled Islamabad’s expectations of Ajoka Theatre Lahore. The powerful script and the hands of an experienced director wasted no time to capture attention. The opening song “Chalo Chalo, America”, involving most of the cast performing, set the stage right for an enthralling experience.

And there were no hiccups this time as the Ajoka management took control of the set, technical facilities, multimedia and lights in their own hands, not relying on the PNCA management for a coordinated effort.

Performing under the portrait of a finger-pointing Uncle Sam saying “I Want You”, the play depicted the story of US visa seeking Pakistanis. The play was supplemented by multimedia that showed the US double standards, questioning its publicities of war and violent killings of hundreds of Muslims.

Set at the visa section of the US embassy, the play started with dialogues between a student, a puppeteer, a moulvi, an aged couple, a businessman, a probably illegal immigrant and a politician, all there to get an American visa.

In their conversations, they all justified their purpose for going to the US. However, the most humorous was the moulvi (Ahmer Khan), who wanted to go to the US to eliminate evil triangular samosas and replace them with his rectangular Islamic samosas.

“This triangle is a sign of Christianity. I want to free the American Muslims of these evil samosas. You don’t know in how many ways we can serve Islam,” said the moulvi to the student when she asked why the triangular samosas were un-Islamic.

While the old couple wanted to see their son and his children, the businessman and the illegal immigrant were fed up of lack of opportunities in Pakistan. The politician wanted to appease his ‘masters’ to get back in power. The puppeteer (Sohail Tariq) wanted to take his art to America where he was sure it would be valued.

The play was not detached from the contemporary real life characters in Pak-US relations, so a lipstick wearing, army uniform-clad Raymond Davis (Furqan Majeed), was there at the US embassy, covertly dubbed homosexual.

The embassy is invaded by terrorists from North Waziristan shortly after only four of the visa seekers are granted visas as per the quota of the day. They take everyone hostage and threaten to kill them, as the scene changes from “Welcome to America” to “Welcome to Waziristan”.

However in a turn of events, during negotiations, the terrorists too demand US visas for themselves and their Arab commander with his four wives and 37 children.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2011.

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