There was never a better time to ridicule political talk shows that seem to have invaded the prime time news on local television channels. While it is election season and the country is still in the throes of a host of crises such as inflation, load-shedding and corruption, it is never too early to tickle the funny bone in the shared misery.
The tongue-in-cheek political satire on the absurdity that is talk shows and politics, [email protected] was staged at Kuch Khaas Centre for Art, Dialogue and Culture in Islamabad on Wednesday evening.
Although the play title suggests hard talk on pressing political issues, it actually mocks the rat race in which media personnel will go to any extent to break a news story. It also hints at the money-minded politicians, social welfare workers, bureaucracy and the oft-exploited common man who is at the bottom of the food chain.
The play opens on the sets of the fictional political talk show, [email protected] in which the host AD Chaudhry (Usman Butt) is discussing pressing social issues with his guests Jasmine (Rabia Pasha) and Haji NA 420 (Salman Haider). The host is the pivotal character, exuding authority and at times a bit too much of it, reminiscent of real-life talk vshow hosts known for their overbearing mannerism.
Jasmine is the brand-conscious socialite who prides herself over the “social work” that she does for everyone from Prime Minister House to her residence in Banigala. Her lust for power and wealth draws her to the bearded, Ray-Ban sporting politician Haji NA 420 who claims his grandfather offered Hajj 420 times.
In the next act, which depicts a lapse of five years, the assistants of the social worker and the politician, namely Sara (Wajiha Saqib) and Junaid (Haider Mirza) seem to have climbed the social ladder. They are now commenting on similar issues on the same talk show, where nothing else seems to have changed. When asked how to address increasing poverty, Sara quotes the historical comment, “Let them eat cake.” In the climax, when Aam Admi (Ikramullah Khan) is found guilty of eating the cake that was meant for the guests at the show, the guests along with the production crew and host all gather around to cut his stomach in hopes of airing never-seen-before footage which would amp up the show ratings; ratings higher than the popular Turkish drama Ishq-e-Mamnoon.
The exaggerated performances in relatable situations are what the audience connected with the most, oddly feasting on the eccentricities and frustrations. Moreover, the spot-on comic timing also worked wonders for the otherwise not-so-original comedy.
A production of Theatre Wallay, the play has been directed by Safeerullah Khan and Fizza Hasan and written by Salman Haider. Prominent faces at the event included the NCSW chairperson Khawar Riaz and defence analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2013.