Art and music lovers in Lahore came out in large numbers to watch the concluding performances of the World Performing Arts Festival being held in the city this week.
The reason for the high turnout had to do with the popularity of the performances and also with a resolve to not let the organisers be cowed down into shutting the festival. There were fears that that the festival would be discontinued.
Last week on Saturday, a series of blasts near the Al Hamra Arts Complex, where the festival was being held, was seen as a message by some quarters to try and frighten the organisers to shut down this popular event organised annually by the Rafi Peer Theatre in Lahore. But the concluding events were jam packed to enjoy presentations from not only local puppeteers and performers but those from India and as far away as Netherlands.
The provincial government also stepped in to give full security cover to the event and said that it fully supported the event as it brought people from all over the world to Lahore.
In the end, the Rafi Peer Theater announced that the show would go on and that the festival would be held again in the coming year. This is a small but significant victory for the people of Lahore. In the past couple of years, right wing parties and groups have been threatening performances in Lahore and parts of the Punjab province.
In places like Gujranwala and Gujrat, stage shows have been closed down on pressure from religious groups who see performing arts as a means of spreading obscenity.
In one small Punjab town, the whole drama troupe was arrested by the police on the insistence of a local cleric on charges of fahashi (obscenity). Given Pakistan's sensitive political situation, there is a growing move amongst both people and local governments to check the rise in the activities of otherwise side-lined religious elements.
Some say that for such elements, stage theater and music festivals are a good enough target so that they can raise their profile and increase their popularity. Despite this barrier faced by performers, the art scene in Pakistan is booming. Behind this explosion is the ever increasing number of television channels that cater to those interested in this genre. Pakistan has four full time national music channels and two that are dedicated to fashion only.
Their popularity perhaps is only eclipsed by the food channels, of which the country has three so far and there are more to come.