Sunday, March 14, 2010


By Muhammad Mahtab Bashir

ISLAMABAD: A string of scuffles, and heated arguments between fundamentalists and enlightened was witnessed on Thursday night, when a professional dishonesty presented by Ajoka Theatre, forcibly managed to produce a different stage drama, contrary to display at invitation cards.

Shocking the twin city audience at National Art Gallery (NAG), when at the eleventh hour Ajoka Theatre started staging one of the most controversial musical stage drama ‘Burqavaganza” instead of scheduled “Kala Meidha Bhes”, without informing the administration of Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) neither its collaborative partner, ActionAid- Pakistan.

ActionAid in collaboration with Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA), arranged the drama night, and penal discussion, on Thursday night to mark the International Women’s Day (IWD).

As soon as the announcer grabbed the attention of 412- seated packed auditorium of PNCA, Ajoka Theatre Director, Madeeha Gauhar, rushed on the sage and announced that it was mutually decided by the organizers, ActionAid and Ajoka, to perform ‘Burqavaganza’. However, ActionAid official denied this statement, saying till the last minute, no such agreement was made between us. PNCA higher ups also were ignorant of the switch till the last minute as few of the officials had to rush back office to look after the matter.

PNCA was the worst victim in such scenario; far its property was on stake as no security arrangements were arranged on the occasion for staging of ‘Burqavaganza’. Sensing the dramatic change, and to counter any untoward situation, PNCA administration immediately called Islamabad Police, who cordoned off the building and internal security was put on red alert. However, few rioters burned the banners inscribed about the stage play and its organisers. People also shouted shame, shame inside auditorium. And later physical brawls were also witnessed beacuse of few controversial discourses which the 'extremists' termed a mimickery of Islam.

In April 2007, a month after its premiere, five women MNAs of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) raised the matter in the National Assembly and the culture minister immediately slapped a ban without any of them having watched the play. However, the play was performed in defiance of the ban and eventually the government had to step back.Written and directed by Shahid Nadeem, the play is an outrageous musical extravaganza with dubious satirical dialogue, which explores Burqa as a dramatic device and uses it as a metaphor. Breaking the third and fourth wall repeatedly, the play remained divisive till the very end because of its strong spoof on Burqa-clad females through some illicit discourse, parody of different Indian songs and question-answer segment in which two Muftis received telephonic calls and resolved the problems and disputes amicably according to their knowledge.

Sumaira Kanwal, a veil-clad viewer, said that the play was good as far as exposing the social realities was concerned; but using Burqa as a tool for committing crimes with mala fide intentions was just larger than life concept of the play. “Making a mockery of a good number of women wearing Burqa is just a plain bad idea. And ridiculing them through different Indian and Pakistani songs like ‘Burqay Mein Rehnay Do, Burqa Na Uthao’, ‘Ye Jo Burqa Hay, Dushman Hay Hamara’, ‘Burqay Kay Peechay Kia Hay, Burqay Kay Peechay’, and ‘Aye Watan Kay Sajeelay Jawano Meray Burqay Tumharay Liye Hain’ is something I could not easily digest,” she said. Attiya Imdad, a schoolteacher, said that the play was hilarious – a non-stop fun.

“But the thing I dislike was ambiguity in questions and answers in which callers from all over places contacted the two Maulana to seek solution to their plight. Questions like ‘How much a women should hide her body’, ‘Which material she should use to hide it?’ and ‘Why she should hide it?’ are few of the many questions in the play that put me in trouble to decide whether it’s an Ajoka production or just another ordinary play which families refuse to watch,” she said.

Waseem Elahi, an advocate said that he came to watch “Kala Meidha Bhes”, but the performance of "Burqavaganza" scared him. “The theme of the drama was indeed a controversial and a security risk for the lives of the audience but also for the government property as well. The panic engulfed the whole audience when panel discussion started,” he said.

He said the taunting dialogues of this drama are a mere disgrace to the women on the eve of "Woman's Day". Financial gains are overlapping the social pains and the very bases of our society are witnessing tremors. He further said the play itself is a violation of basic human rights. One should be free to adopt the way of life which he/ she likes but without causing any harm to the peace and accepted norms of the society, he added.

Talking to Daily Times, Hassan Abbas Raza said that this play was performed in Drama Festival last year at PNCA and at that time we were reluctant to stage it, because it was of a bad taste. “When ActionAid contacted us to mark IWD and they would show Ajoka theatre’s play- Kala Meidha Bhes’, we agreed upon. Since the last minute, neither PNCA nor ActionAid were aware that Ajoka would change its mind and suddenly they did it- showing moral degeneration,” he said adding last night, Ajoka manager, Uzair came to our office, and told that Ajoka is ready to perform KMB but inside auditorium, Madeeha Gauhar switched to controversial play ‘Burqavaganza’, that took people by storm.

Raza said PNCA would devise a strategy in few days not to show any controversial drama on PNCA premises.

When contacted ActionAid, the official of NGO refused to talk over the matter, saying that ActionAid would soon hold a media briefing and exposed the matter publicly. Daily Times, when repeatedly contacted Ajoka Theatre Director, Madeeha Gauhar at her personal cell , it remained shut till the filing of this story.

For edited (published) story in 'Daily Times' (March 13, 2010)\03\13\story_13-3-2010_pg11_2

1 comment:

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