LAHORE: Following its commercial success, popular commercial theatre has evolved however street theatre, also called nautanki or folk theatre, has stuck fast to the rules that were placed years ago.
Folk festivals that are rarely organised by government bodies and art councils are the only way for folk artistes to reach out to large city based audiences who otherwise don’t get a chance to watch these performances. Though these performances might lack some technical expertise, the acting skills and content is remarkable.
The 700-year old story of Puran Bhagat was staged by a Faisalabad folk theatre group on the second day of Punjab Arts Council’s folk theatre festival at the Bagh-e-Jinnah Open Air Theatre. As far as content and acting was concerned, the play was exceptionally good but still had an approximate cost of only Rs50,000 as opposed to an average commercial play, which costs about Rs0.3 million to produce and can even cost up to Rs3 million if the cast members are well known.
The play tells the story of Raja Salvahan of Sialkot who is told by an astrologer that when he has a son, he must be sent away for 12 years otherwise a great calamity will fall on the kingdom. When Puran is born, he is sent away to be raised by pundits and is brought back to his father when he is 12 years old. By this time his father has married again and Puran is asked to pay respect to his wife, Luna but when Luna sees Puran she is instantly besotted. Puran avoids her but Luna convinces the king to have Puran’s hands and feet amputated and his body dumped in a well outside the city walls.
He remains in the well for some 12 years until a Hindu saint Guru Goraknath passes by the well and cures him. Puran becomes Goraknath’s disciple and after many years he returns to Sialkot as a Bhagat and convinces Luna to tell the truth about what actually happened and reveals himself to be the son of Salvahan.
The two-hour long play captivated the audience and kept them engrossed throughout. The performance kept traditional style intact and the roles of female were also played by male artists.
Director Zeeshan Ali told The Express Tribune that the play was quite popular in the villages of Punjab. He added that, “The well where Puran was dumped still exists in Sialkot and women from far flung areas go there to bathe in the wells water which is considered a cure for infertility.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2010.