, January 15
At 6 p.m. sharp, an announcement is made that director Rajkumar Rajak’s play Hawalaat is about to start. Even as those in the audience scramble to their seats, a lady stands out, not just because of her looks but also for the chaste Urdu that she speaks.
She is Madeeha Gauhar, the director of Pakistani theatre troupe, Ajoka. Her troupe is scheduled to perform at the annual theatre festival of the National School of Drama on Friday.
Denying that the tense ties between the two countries in wake of the Mumbai attack has affected their plans, Gauhar said “theatre diplomacy” was one of the ways to strengthen the bond.
“Our entire troop of 19 artistes is here, and we will perform,” she said. She rubbished allegations that the National School of Drama asked the group not to visit India.
NSD chairperson Amal Allana too denied the reports. “We received no anonymous call or letter from anyone calling for the cancellation of Pakistani plays,” he said.
“The Ajoka troupe has always been part of the Indo-Pak peace process. We have been coming to India for the past 25 years even during the height of tensions. Every time we have come, we have been welcomed,” Gauhar said.
However, there have been cases of cancellations of performances by Pakistani artistes in India.
At least 15 shows by Pakistani entertainers scheduled for this winter have been cancelled. Fear led Sa Re Ga Ma Pa contestant Zaheer Abhas to go back to Lahore, while ruckus by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena workers caused Shakeel Siddiqui, a participant in Comedy Circus to assure everyone that he would leave the country.
When Ajoka came to perform in a festival in Thrissur late last month, two troupe members reportedly did not secure visas, while three members backed out. The BJP had also staged a protest at the venue where they were to perform.
When asked if this could be called a welcome, Gauhar refused to speak comment on the earlier incidents. “What has
happened, has happened,” she said.
Interestingly, the group has come with a play called Hotel Mohenjodaro that deals with the underlying message of censorship and curbs on freedom of expression when a mullah rises to power and dictates society.
The choice of subject definitely reflects the times we are living in.