INDO-PAK UNITED IN THEATRE

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A still from Ajoka Theatre group
A still from Ajoka Theatre group

Performing its last the play titled ‘Lo Phir Basant Ayee’ , Pakistani troupe Ajoka Theatre wrapped up its four day performances in Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi.

Coming from across the border, bringing a message of peace and harmony, Ajoka theatre of Pakistan, performed four plays in the national capital from 14-17 September 2015. Bought to India by the initiative of the non-governmental organisation ‘Routes2Roots ‘, this Pakistani troupe has been visiting India over 25 years. ” We are always delighted at the warmth of the people here,” said Usman Raaj, the artist who essayed roles of Bulha, Aurangzeb, Manto and Kami.

The theatre group presented four plays on diverse subjects. On the first day, audiences were treated to ‘Bulha’, a play based on the great mystic Bulleh Shah , an advocate of tolerance, love and devotion to god expressed through dance and music. The second play ‘Dara’ based on historical figures Princes Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh, divulged into how the differences of ideologies between the brothers affected their ties and eventually the fortunes of India. The third play ‘Kaun Hai Yeh Gustak’ was based on the life of literary icon Sadat Hassan Manto who witnessed the partition in all its goriness and faithfully depicted it through his short stories. The last play ‘Lo Phir Basant Ayee’ was a take on modern day Lahore, on how it straddles joy and hope despite despair all around.

Performing before packed audiences, the troupe enacted roles with conviction, mouthing soulful dialogues written by famous playwright Shahid Nadeem. “Its a marathon we have been on, 26 miles and 26 years of coming to India and performing right from Kanyakumari to Srinagar, Amritsar to Kolkata it is always inspiring and rewarding,” Nadeem tells TEHELKA. “Indian audience is more appreciative of theatre as it is used to having good quality theatre from all over world and India itself.”

The play on Manto titled ‘Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh’ was in particular very rewarding for them because the last time they had come prepared to perform the play in 2013, they were asked not to owing to the political situation. Having given a splendid performance enacting the life and times of Manto this time around, the artistes were a satisfied lot.

For a troupe that are mostly self-trained, the performances were immaculate. “I am self trained, and so when we get so much appreciation for the roles we enact, it makes all the hard hours of training absolutely worth it,” says Uzma Hassan, who was previously working with television and now devotes time for theatre. “I chose theatre as it was my passion, it was not a luxury,” she adds.

“In Pakistan it is difficult to only be a theatre artist, so mostly all artists have an alternative career,” explains Nadeem. Despite all obstacles, this Pakistani troupe delivered not just power-packed performances but also the message of peace and harmony.

TEHELKA caught up with Usman Raaj, the artist who essayed roles of Bulha, Aurangzeb, Manto and Kami on the sidelines of ‘Kaun Hai Yeh Gustak?’. Excerpts from the conversation.

‘When we (artists) cross the borders, we overcome the divide between our countries’

Q. How has it been coming to India. Is this your first time?
A. Every time we come to India it is wonderful. Often on we come to Delhi, Jaipur, Amritsar, we have performed all across the country. Last time we were in Delhi, we had to give a miss to our performances but the people here are so lovely, they said, “You have to perform here!”. So we performed in JNU and Akshara theatre. We enjoy we love you all. You people are so lovely.Very enthusiastic audience.

Q.Tell us about your preparations to enact a literary icon like Manto?
A.First i had to memorize all lines, dialogues, expressions, feelings. I am not a smoker but i havve to smoke in this play. I am not a drinker but i have to drink to show people how Manto was actually. He (Manto) has written absolutely correct lines which depict the real image of people.

Q. What role does theatre play between the countries?
A. We are playing theatre for peace, harmony love prosperity and generosity. You people are so lovely we are so lovely. There is something wrong with the upper level; our politicians. But we as (individuals) are creating a comfort zone when we are talking to each other, each time we (artists) cross the borders, we are definitely overcoming the divide thus created between our countries.

Q. How has the audience been?
A. The audiences are well-aware. They know about Manto, the history of Aurangazeb. For instance, the first day i played Bulleh Shah, we got a fantastic response. People have been lovely. They know how to sit, behave while watching the play. Its fantastic.

Q. Will we see you performing in India soon?
A.Yes we will be coming back soon. (Smiles)

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