Ali Baba Aur Chalis Chor: A riot for the little ones

Published: October 1, 2013
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The play is similar to how the story of Ali Baba Aur Chalis Chor has been previously staged and produced for television. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

The play is similar to how the story of Ali Baba Aur Chalis Chor has been previously staged and produced for television. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

KARACHI: 

Theatre is more of an evening experience for both true blue theatre enthusiasts and occasional viewers. So it was quite surprising to know that the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) was hosting a play on a Sunday afternoon at 12 pm. “It’s a children’s play and Sunday afternoon is the only time when our audience and their parents have time,” explained an organiser.

Based on the classic tale of Ali Baba Aur Chalis Chor, the play manages to garner a lot of attention from the little ones as they stroll into the theatre alongside their parents, who are desperately trying to calm them down. What really pacifies the kids though, is Ali Baba’s entrance on stage followed by a hilarious comedy of errors.

The story is about Ali Baba who happens to overhear a group of 40 thieves visiting their treasure. The magical seal of the cave opens with a spell called ‘khul ja simsim’ (open sesame). Ali makes note of that, steals some jewels and takes them home. He gets a weighing scale from his sister-in-law to weigh all the stolen items, and things get complicated when he returns the scale and one of the diamonds is stuck to the bottom of the scale — an intentional move on his part as his greed takes over. From here on, a funny treasure hunt begins, accompanied by many failed magical spells, a pizza-craving donkey and 40 dangerous yet foolish thieves lead by an evil leader.

The play is similar to how the story of Ali Baba Aur Chalis Chor has been previously staged and produced for television. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY

Contrary to expectations, Napa does not play around with the original classic. It is orthodox and not very different from how it has been previously staged or produced for television — they get the wardrobe right, animate the characters enough to make it interesting and rely on an old school orchestration of a music and dance routine for a generation that has access to iPads in kindergarten.

Having said that, the intentionally over-exaggerated performances successfully manage to engage the young ones, as the hall resonated with giggles throughout the play’s 60 minutes of running. Kids, one of the most honest judges to any situation, did not bother their parents trying to control them. Instead, they laughed so hard that their naughty chuckles often became a cause of humour for the elder lot.

Nazarul Hasan, who played the leader of the 40 thieves, has previously played some of the most psychologically challenging characters. From Iago in Shakespear’s Othello to Martin Dysart, the child psychiatrist in Peter Shaffer’s Eqqus, he has done it all and this children’s play was surely a refreshing change.

“It was by far the most flat character that I have played in my life,” says Hasan.  “The characters that I have previously played required me to undergo a psychological journey and if I succeeded, in that, then the audiences response hardly mattered. This play, however, was all about the audience response and I am glad that we kept them laughing.”

Zain Ahmed, artistic director at Napa also seems more than happy with the response and plans to do children’s theatre along with the usual plays by the academy. “We will focus on children’s theatre separately and that is why we will soon be starting puppetry workshops that will hopefully be followed by puppet shows,” says Ahmed.

The play runs till November 3, every Sunday at 12 pm at the Napa auditorium. Tickets are available at the venue.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2013.

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