For a play that was rejected and henceforth declared cancelled, Ajoka’s performance – which was staged quietly in New Delhi – was nothing short of unexpected.
After the Indian government withdrew permission for the performance of “Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh” in the state-owned theatres of the capital, a Mumbai-based benefactor paid to book a theatre – although much smaller in size – for the play that tried to recreate life after Saadat Hassan Manto left India for Pakistan.
More viewers came to see the play than many had expected —more than 250 crammed the 150-seater Akshara venue as the play was performed in front of an Indian audience for the first time. A second performance was held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University later.
While the turnout was surprising, the response from the audience was even more overwhelming.
By the time the Pakistan-based theatre troop bowed before the audience, the crowd was in tears amid resounding applause and a grand standing ovation.
The first Indian performance of Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh was to be held on Wednesday in Jaipur, where a parallel festival of the Mahotsav was being held. It was called off following a protest at the venue. Subsequently, both Pakistani plays that were part of the Rang Mahtosav in Delhi were withdrawn.
India’s National School of Drama (NSD) Chairperson Amal Allana said she was saddened but she had received instructions that both plays were to be cancelled. As the NSD receives state funding, there was no option but for them to cancel the plays.
The subsequent staging of the play, according to Indian intelligence sources, was in the full knowledge of the intelligence bureau but was held for the “benefit of theatre lovers”.
“We are an independent theatre. What matters is the play, not where it comes from,” said Jalabala Vaidya of the Akshara Theatre, the venue of the play.
The organisers did not arrange for a security cover and, as it turned out, they didn’t need any.
The only people who were stopped at the gate were theatre lovers who kept turning up long after the hall was packed to the last standing space. A person from the audience who was in tears said Manto’s centenary celebrations in India would have been incomplete without the staging of this play.
“This is bizarre. Manto was the only rational element in the division of India and Pakistan. And a play that Manto had written, about the stupidity of the power play that governs relations between India and Pakistan – that play should be cancelled by government?” asked a member of the audience in utter shock.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2013.