When the enslaved is not servile

NAPA Young Director’s Festival explores societal double standards and bigotry with ‘Sakh Ram Binder’

Our Correspondent November 21, 2015
Champa is a confident and free-spirited woman who doesn’t succumb to Sakha Ram’s pressure. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

KARACHI: Yeh kisi raja ka nahi, Sakha Ram Binder ka ghar hai.” [This is not some prince’s but Sakha Ram Binder’s house]. Repeated at multiple occasions by the titular character, the dialogue plays a key role in setting the tone for the play, impressing on his mistresses and the audience that they are now witness to Sakha Ram’s kingdom. Directed by Shahzad Jalbani, alumnus of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa), Sakha Ram Binder is the second offering of Napa’s Young Director’s Festival.

Set against the backdrop of a village, the premise follows a local binder named Sakha Ram (Saad Zamir), who has little regard for cultural and societal values and only abides by the virtue of being truthful. He spends his life picking up women who have been banished by other men and households, taking them in as his servants and sexual partners.

Although he had faced no such difficulties with his previous six domestic partners, the complications of his arrangement start to unravel with the arrival of an innocent girl Lakshmi (Asiya Alam) followed by the vivacious Champa (Maria Saad). While Lakshmi’s timid personality makes it easy for Sakha Ram to dominate her, both emotionally and physically, he grows tired of her and forces her to move out and make way for Champa instead. Unlike Lakshmi, Champa is a confident and free-spirited woman, who does not bow down to Sakha Ram.

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Although billed as one of the main dramatic offerings of the 11-day festival, Sakha Ram Binder was not without moments of laughter. A scene that drew considerable applause was when the audience sees Sakha Ram’s insecurities manifest for the first time. After catching Lakshmi pretending to have a conversation with an ant, he continuously grills her to find out whether or not she’s involved in a casual tryst with anyone else.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, the director shed light on the running themes of the play, saying he wanted to show ‘double standards’ and ‘bigotry’ that exist in our society. “The play shows societal hypocrisy in how a man would force his partner to obey all his rules but wouldn’t apply them to himself,” said Shahzad. “Also, if he has a beautiful or confident partner, he would let her off the look,” he added.

He explained that he wanted to explore the basic human psyche of dominating the weak through the characters of Lakshmi and Champa. Where Lakshmi’s fearful nature was easier for Sakha Ram to influence, Champa remained unfettered and did not succumb to his needs, forcing him to resort to physical harm to assert his authority.

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The performances by the entire cast received appreciation but Saad Zamir stood out for displaying his tremendous range. Starting out as a confident and brash man, Saad gradually unearths his character’s insecure side as he begins developing an emotional connection with both his mistresses. Sharing his own interpretation of the character, Saad, who is a final year student at Napa, said, “What I understood about the character was that he was a very insecure man to begin with. And we only get to see that side of him once Champa, the most beautiful and confident woman he has ever seen, enters the frame.”

Sakha Ram Binder is an adaptation of a Marathi play written by Vijay Tendulkar. The remaining cast of the play includes Khalid Sherwani as Dawood and Kaleem Ghouri as Shindhay.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2015.

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