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Resistance and Rasa in Pakistan


Girish Karnad

A CRITICAL STAGE: THE ROLE OF SECULAR ALTERNATIVE THEATRE IN PAKISTAN
By Fawzia Afzal-Khan
Seagull Books, Kolkata, 2005, pp. x 143, Rs. 425.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 5 May 2006

Although the subtitle of the book places its subject squarely within Pakistan, I should like to start with two events, separated by nearly two decades, which took place in India. In 1989, the Sangeet Natak Akademi organized a theatre festival in New Delhi to celebrate Nehru’s Birth Centenary. The uniqueness of the event lay in the fact that it was designed as a ‘Retrospective’ of Post-Independence theatre: personalities whom the Akademi had identified as builders of modern Indian theatre –most of whom were alive at that time—were invited to revive (where necessary) and present their most favourite or influential creation. The participants ranged from Utpal Dutt and Habib Tanveer to the young Ratan Thiyam.   I was then the Chairman of the Akademi and half-way through the festival a bright young couple, Madeeha Gauhar and Shahid Nadeem, came to meet me. Political relations between India and Pakistan were pretty fraught at the time, so I was surprised to discover they were Pakistanis who had come all the way from Lahore to witness the entire festival. I can’t remember the exact words Madeeha used to express her elation at being able to see the landmark productions but I can vividly remember the glow on her face. That was also when I first heard of Ajoka, the radical theatre group the couple had founded in Lahore.   The second event took place only a few months ago, on 27 November 2005 to be precise. A Pakistani group called Tehrik-i-Niswan from Karachi, led by the theatre person and dancer, Sheema Kirmani, was in Lucknow at the invitation of an Indian NGO called the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA). The group was to present a play directed by an Indian director, Prasanna Ramaswamy, at a series of events organized across the country by the WIPSA, called ‘Staging Peace’ with the subtitle (that soon developed ironic undertones), ‘A Dialogue in Theatre: Women’s Endeavour to Create a Culture of Peace’.   Things took a nasty turn when the Tehrik-e-Niswan bowed to a request from the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, which was also meeting in Lucknow at that time, to present a short excerpt from their play. The officials of the WIPSA were displeased. They started off by accusing the Tehrik of breaching their contract by playing for another audience without their prior permission, but it soon transpired that deeper anxieties were at ...


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