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The show must go on

world Updated: Jan 14, 2009 23:21 IST
Kamal Siddiqi
Kamal Siddiqi
Hindustan Times
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Pakistan’s famous Ajoka Theatre is arriving in India this week to participate in an international festival organised by the National School of Drama.

Ajoka will perform its play Hotel Mohanjodaro later this week in New Delhi.

The group says that there is no truth in some press reports that the festival organisers had asked it to cancel its tour.

Both Ajoka Theater of Lahore and Tehreek-e-Niswan of Karachi have been in the forefront of staging plays that challenge conventional thought and practices. In the past, their plays have been on a variety of subjects like the Hudood Laws and the manner in which rape cases are dealt with by the police in Pakistan.

There have been instances in the past when their plays were banned by the government on the pretext of them being too political and thus controversial.

Pakistan’s vibrant theater scene is divided into two main categories — one that is serious and brings home a message while the other is commercial and focuses on comedy only.

Comedians like Omar Sharif are kings of Pakistan’s commercial theater and some of their plays like Bakra Qiston Par have been hugely popular in India and other parts of the sub-continent too.

Serious theater players rubbish the commercial theater on grounds that it is both vulgar and meaningless. But commercial theater in Pakistan draws in the crowds who pay good money to have a laugh.

Despite the divide, earlier this month, the theater scene — which is most popular in Lahore and in Karachi were one. They were united after when a series of bomb blasts were witnessed in some theaters in Lahore, the second such incident in so short a time frame.

Earlier, the International Pupeteering Festival at Lahore’s Al Hamra Arts Complex was targeted in what was written off by authorities as harmless cracker explosions. The message from fundamentalists is loud and clear. They wants theaters to shut down.

Arshad Mehmood, who runs Karachi’s National Academy of the Performing Arts and also performs in stage plays, says that one is reminded of the manner in which Afghan artists were hounded after the Taliban took over in Afghanistan.

Mehmood says that artistes are a versatile bunch who will keep playing even if there is one person left to appreciate their performance.

It is in this spirit that the Ajoka Theater has said that it will go to India to defeat the fundamentalists both in Pakistan as well as those trying to sabotage relations between India and Pakistan. One hopes such optimism lives on.