A room full of Manto’s imagination

Saadat Hassan Manto’s Kamra #9 was staged at Al Hamra Arts Council.

Aima Khosa December 11, 2014


Walking into a full house at Al Hamra Arts Council on Wednesday evening, an air of expectations permeated the auditorium. The opening night of the first-ever theatre performance of Kamra # 9, adapted from a radio drama, was to be the prime exhibit. The original script of Saadat Hassan Manto’s esoteric piece of art was a first to a buoyant Pakistani audience.

The script, an edition of Manto’s imagination, is a thought provoking drama, executed by young director Azeem Hamid, final year student of Visual Communication Design at BNU. The plot focuses on the mystifying occupant of Kamra # 9 and the inquisitiveness of two siblings inhabiting another room in Delhi’s Krishan Building. Shireen, played by Zoya Uzair, lives with her brother and is not very impressed by the suitors approaching her. She is excessively curious about the eccentric man in Kamra # 9, who apparently has no furniture and alternates between singing and crying. Nawwar Ayaz took on the role of her brother, Zamaan, who is not as prying as she, prefers to tease his sister over her suitors. One in particular, Nasir (Faizan Naveed), has caught Shireen’s fancy, though she thinks he lacks a certain “oomph” factor.

Tints of red and blue dominated the stage strategically. Coupled with careful use of space and lighting, actors kept the audience engaged. Hamid told The Express Tribune, “Visualising and creating a 1930s Delhi feel for a radio play was an immense challenge; we walked around Jallander, India to get inspiration for Kamra # 9’s set design.” To his credit, his take on it worked effectively for the demands of the script and the diameter of the stage.

The most vital part of the drama was unfortunately the most poorly carried out: In the final scene, actors staggered too far off stage to be audible, leaving the audience puzzled and immensely discontented at the curtain drop. Performances fell flat in the area of voice tonality. The female lead dominated the stage with apt comic timing and vivacious approach but her voice got too shrill to be pleasing to the ear. The other actors however did manage to pull through and improvise during pitfall moments.

Live music by Moeen Ahmed on vocals and harmonium plus Rehmat Ali on the tabla contributed heavily to the play’s success. Naveed looked like he was meticulously living his part, giving his character instant likeability.

Ishmael Fatima Malik, who played the cleaning girl keeping tabs on the occupant of Kamra # 9 was a bolt from the blue. Not the main character, she delivered her role to precision and one is excited about her prospects as a young theatre artist.

Hamid on choosing this particular script by the famed playwright concluded, “It was the light side of Manto, something that was not his usual commentary on social affairs, yet the play was about a tormented soul and the irony of human nature - Manto’s lasting signature.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th,  2014.

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