Iblees ki Majlis-e-Shura: The day the Devil did not get his due

Poor dialogue delivery mars dramatisation of Iqbal’s poem.


The lines for two main characters were pre-recorded, including the Devil’s which were recited by Tauqeer Nasir, PNCA director general. PHOTO: MYRA IQIBAL/EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD:


The dramatisation of Allama Iqbal’s poem “Iblees ki Majlis-e-Shura” or “the Devil’s Council” by a group of mostly amateur artists eviscerated the aesthetics of Iqbal’s verses and nearly obscured the poem’s message at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA).


Iqbal was an advocate of Muslim unity and through this poem, published in 1936, criticised the political and economic systems of the West and asserted that Muslims could be the ultimate force for Good in the world, if they were to follow Islamic injunctions. April has been marked as the Month of Iqbal and the play was staged ahead of the poet’s 75th death anniversary on April 21.

On Thursday evening, and then again on Friday morning, the group composed of university students, PNCA performers and some senior actors, made a mockery of everything that is sacred about theatre: acting, dialogue delivery, stage presence and improvisation. The actors were young, inexperienced and did not have a background in theatre, which should have been reason enough for them not to take on this play, but they went ahead anyway.

Iqbal’s poem narrates a conversation between the Devil and his advisers. In the play, the Devil boasts that he has led mankind astray through imperialism, capitalism and western democracy which have made the ruling elites power-hungry, the rich greedy and the poor helplessly resigned to their fates.

One of the Devil’s five advisers points out the threat posed by socialism to the Satanic order, claiming that socialism has empowered workers to break free of their chains in Europe. The Devil snubs its advisers and states Islam is the greatest threat to Evil. He says he dreads the day there is a Muslim resurgence and tells its advisers to keep them entangled in worldly affairs.

The production team was confused how to dramatise the poem’s contents. Instead of either sticking with the original verses or writing new dialogue based on the poem’s central idea, the production team opted for a bit of both: interspersing verses with their explanation.

Two translators sat on the stage in the front and hurriedly read the verses’ detailed interpretation in easy Urdu, immediately after the actors had delivered the lines. The translation and interpretation were literal, as if the translators were reading from a tenth-grade Urdu guide book. The lines for two main characters were pre-recorded, including the Devil’s which were recited by Tauqeer Nasir, PNCA director general. This turned out to be a terrible idea because the lip-synching actors quickly ran out of gestures to accompany the recorded verses being played.

One actor, who played Satan’s first adviser, forgot his lines repeatedly. The experienced actors were no better. Arshad Minhas, who played the Devil, moved across the stage, during the final sermon of Iblees, dragging his feet as if he were being clumsily pulled around on strings.

The production team said it only had two days to prepare for the play. Perhaps, if they had taken two weeks they would have come up with a better play.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2013.

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