ISLAMABAD: A PPP leader, an MQM Senator and a PML-Q Senator lashed out at the director of the Ajoka Theatre Group Madeeha Gauhar for what they called “liberalism of the theatre” on Thursday.
The incident took place during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Culture and Tourism. The committee met to settle a dispute between the Ajoka Theatre Group and the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) which emerged after the PNCA banned an Ajoka play titled Burqavaganza on March 11. PNCA’s action came after a prominent leader of the Jamaate- Islami Women’s Wing Samia Raheel Qazi accused the group of “making fun” of the Islamic hijab.
Madeeha Gauhar, director of the theatre group said, “Burqavaganza is a love story in the times when society is grappling with issues such as extremism, intolerance and terrorism. It uses the veil as a metaphor for political and social coverup in a humorous and lighthearted style.” The controversy heated up when Senator Gulshan Saeed of the PML-Q asked Gauhar to forget about Burqavaganza and talk about other plays she would like to stage at the PNCA.
Gauhar immediately agreed saying that since Burqavaganza’s matter was in court she wanted to make sure that the PNCA lets the group stage another play titled Dara Shikoh. Here the prime minister’s adviser on culture and a senior PPP leader Nawabzada Ghazanfar Ali Gul jumped in saying, “So you will portray Aurangzeb as Mullah Omar and Dara Shikoh as a hero? That is wrong!” MQM Senator Dr Abdul Khaliq Pirzada and Senator Gulshan Saeed of PML-Q immediately joined in lashing out at the theatre group.
Gauhar however said she would not surrender her right of free speech and expression while chairperson of the committee Senator Nilofur Bakhtiar salvaged the situation. She said now that Ajoka would like to settle the matter of Burqavaganza in court, the PNCA should allow Ajoka to stage other plays at its premises. To this PNCA Director Tauqir Nasir, himself a veteran television actor who has done many “liberal” roles, said he would first form a committee to vet Ajoka plays’ scripts before granting them permission to be staged.
Senator Bakhtiar then advised him to have “some open-minded individuals” in that committee. She also ruled that the proposed committee should not be Ajoka specific but must vet scripts of all theatre groups desiring to perform at the PNCA. After the committee meeting a furious Madeeha Gauhar told The Express Tribune it was a shame that Nawabzada Ghazanfar Ali Gul was prime minister’s adviser on Culture.