The world is our stage: Punjabi theatre hopes to go global

Published: August 25, 2013
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Iftikhar Thakur is excited about his upcoming tours in Europe and North America.

Iftikhar Thakur is excited about his upcoming tours in Europe and North America.

LAHORE: 

Punjabi stage drama has always been overlooked due to its notoriety, until now. Veteran actor and comedian Iftikhar Thakur, who performs nightly shows at the Al Falah theatre, says that the Punjabi stage drama circuit is expanding.

While speaking to The Express Tribune, Thakur revealed that he was planning on taking his troupe on tour to Canada, England and Europe for a series of shows. “We’ve already made two trips to Australia and New Zealand, where we were performing in auditoriums so big, we didn’t really know what to do,” jokes Thakur, who has become a regular fixture on television.

The troupe will play five shows in Canada, 13 shows in England, including one in Glasgow, and then 14 shows in Europe. The growing international exposure caters mainly to expat South Asians, who are predominantly of Indian descent.

Muhammed Shahid Ali, who is a theatre veteran and manager of Thakur’s troupe abroad, is organising the tours. He says that the idea to take along more people on tour is in order to expand their overall look and performance. He said that famed stage actor Khushboo, was also tabbed to go along with several other major theatre personalities.

“We have been getting a great response abroad,” says Ali. More importantly, he explained that they had found that Punjabi was the most commonly spoken language amongst the expatriate community. “We have to look at the audience when deciding the type of plays we want to perform, and we do it in Punjabi for that reason.”

A dwindling culture

It is ironic though, that theatre reach within Pakistan is deteriorating, while Punjabi theatre is flourishing abroad. Regional Punjabi stage theatre was once connected to a vibrant theatre scene also present in Karachi and Islamabad, and included the likes of Sohail Ahmed, Umer Sharif and others. “It’s unfortunate, that the situation in Karachi has changed to the point where it has become difficult to do theatre,” says Thakur. “We have limited performances, and what we do is change some of the characters to Urdu-speaking or Sindhi, to accommodate the audiences there, we have artists from different backgrounds who can represent each province when necessary.”

Built from the ground up, local Punjabi stage theatre has transformed into one of the most self-sustaining industries in Punjab, and one of the few entertainment spots where revenues are generated primarily on ticket sales. The Al Falah theatre group consists of many serious theatre talents, such as Aman Ullah, Amanat Chan and Nasir Chiniyoti

Thakur explains that popularity of local theatre has emerged from the absence of any other outlets of entertainment. Unfortunately, Al Falah theatre has been under threat in the past, as it was bombed by terrorists in 2009.However, that’s something no one really talks about, and Thakur considers theatre a simple way for his audience to escape every day stress.

“People assume that only Pakistan is in crisis, but the news shows us that crimes occur all across the world, and that being said, bullets are fired regularly,” says Thakur. “Our goal is to make sure no bullet is fired during a play, and to maintain continuity throughout the performance, which for two hours and 10 minutes has the audience laughing.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2013.

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