LAHORE: “When I was young, my father would take me to see puppets. Since then, I have always loved them. This tradition is dying — it’s important to save it,” Faizan Peerzada told me last year as we toured a puppet museum together.
The passing of a man with an innate passion for puppetry, Rafi Peer Theatre Group’s Faizan Peerzada, on Thursday night marked the end of an era. Faizan, the son of famed theatre artist Rafi Peerzada, invested his heart and soul in preserving a unique and rather uncommon form of expression, regardless of what people thought. His loss will truly be felt and contributions cherished.
Folk puppetry has pretty much vanished from Pakistan, as only a handful of traditional puppeteers remain today. If anyone deserves credit for whatever is left of it, it’s Faizan, a master of puppetry first and businessman second. Puppets were what he lived for; in his lifetime, he created over 1,000 puppets and produced around 150 puppet-oriented TV shows, which explicitly depict his affection for the art.
Despite the hindrances he faced (lack of support from the government and private sector), Faizan was determined to make a difference with puppets. In a time where such entertainment was one-dimensional and created for the elite, he took the initiative to overtly open it to the common man. This was not an easy task, and whatever he did required persistence and determination.
His colleagues and comrades of the same profession treasure Faizan’s efforts to promote and stay true to his art. He provided a platform to several puppeteers who will forever be indebted to him. Muhammad Bashir is one such individual, a prominent puppeteer whose talent was restricted to the streets till he finally ran into Faizan, who give him his big break.
Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop
Faizan began promoting culture and art under the banner of the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, an initiative taken by his elder brother and actor Salman Peerzada in 1977. His goal was far greater than just mastering in puppetry — he wanted to create space and provide a platform for all forms of art. He provided the youth with a comprehensive venue where festivals, competitions, concerts, shows and art workshops were hosted. He promoted some of the greatest artists in different fields — drama, theatre, music and much more. By 1992, a total of 15 different international festivals which included puppetry, were conducted.
The World Performing Arts Festival, a one-of-a-kind event conducted in Pakistan, promoted young talent from stage artists to dancers and musicians to even traditional Sufi artists. This festival has pioneered the concept of merging all forms of arts and has been a source of inspiration for others to do the same as well. Coke Studio is one example of this, a place where musicians bring about fusion in their various genres of music. It successfully introduced Saieen Zahoor along with other local musicians and gave them the opportunity to work with global artists. Unfortunately, the unstable security conditions in the country prohibit the conduction of such festivals today.
Faizan’s passion for this unconventional art ultimately led him to construct the first museum of puppets in Pakistan; it collects and exhibits antique Rajasthani and South Asian puppets. It is probably the only museum in the country which is clean and well-maintained; visitors can walk in free of charge.
As the chief operating officer at the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, Faizan also managed to introduce Sim Sim Hamara, the Urdu rendition of Sesame Street, last year in collaboration with USAID. This children’s show was his magnum opus and its objective was to assist children’s development, as well as promote a positive image of Pakistan. His long term plans for the show seemed concrete till the workshop faced corruption allegations and USAID stopped the funding.
These allegations affected Faizan deeply, as the workshop was his life. He had always been an advocate of entertainment for children, and on one occasion lamented: “It’s tragic that most of our entertainment caters to adults. There should be more programming and entertainment aimed for children.”
Despite the hardships he faced, he remained stern and continued his work — more festivals such as the successful Sufi Music Festival, which took place this year.
Faizan Peerzada’s father, playwright Rafi Peer founded the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (RPTW) in 1974. Since then, RPTW has produced a considerable amount of work for dramatic arts.
All the Peerzada children were involved in RPTW; Faizan, Usman, Sadaan (Faizan’s twin), Imran, Tasneem, and Salman held the expertise to organise national and international festivals or events in theatre, puppetry, dance and music.
Faizan attended St Anthony’s High School in Lahore and then the National College of Arts for his higher education. He was a passionate puppeteer who dedicated his life to bringing entertainment to children. He leaves behind a wife and two children.
Founder of T2F, Karachi
“Growing up in the ‘80s, one definitely enjoyed and had great affection with the puppets from Rafi Peer Theatre Workshops. The puppets became real because of Peerzadas. Faizan Peerzada was definitely a main force behind it. I have never visited the Rafi Peer Theatre Festival that takes place annually, but from what I have heard it is a large scale festival that happens at a very global level. Faizan was a trial-blazer in the world of puppets, art and culture.”
always remember him smiling.”
“I just feel it is a great loss for us; overall for drama and entertainment. He was the driving force behind the Peer group. This is an untimely death, which is very unfortunate.”
“It is very upsetting and I’m really sorry to hear about it. Our association with the Peerzada family goes back to the time when Rahat and I were based in Garden Town, Lahore. His puppet theatre was wonderful. This is indeed a great loss.”
“He was a very dear friend and a wonderful human being, committed to the world of art and culture, a great artist and an organiser. I spoke to him last night about a dance festival in Lahore next year that he was about to organise; and this morning it was sad to hear that he passed away. He respected the arts and the artists so much. I believe nobody understood lights in Pakistan as he did.”
Life of Faizan Peerzada
Producer, director, and puppeteer was born with a twin brother in Lahore
He held his first painting exhibition at the American Cultural Centre, Karachi
Faizan held approximately 40 painting exhibitions in Pakistan, and 26 solo art exhibitions in the United States and Europe
Faizan began his career at Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, and later became the artistic director
He specially designed programmes to celebrate the International Year of the Child spread over the entire year
Designed three major art festivals in which at least 35,000 children participated in a span of six months.
Faizan’s fascination for lights began (He designed stages and lights for several Pakistani and International events)
Faizan was the integral driving force in creating 15 International Festivals of Puppets, Theatre, Music, and Dance
Faizan’s Fourth International Puppet Festival held in Lahore was declared internationally as the biggest international puppet festival in the world
He was made the president of UNIMA (world-wide puppetry organisation) in Pakistan
Faizan introduced Sim Sim Hamara (Urdu rendition of Sesame Street) in collaboration with USAID
Pakistani government awarded him the President’s medal for Pride of Performance Award
RPTW was accused by the USAID to have embezzled $20 million, after which they stopped funding Sim Sim Hamara — but Faizan was determined to go on. “We have created an original programme which we will continue on our own time; we did not come with empty pockets to this project,” he told The Express Tribune.
Faizan died of a massive heart attack in Lahore at the age of 54
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2012.