Madeeha Gauhar’s name does not need any introduction.The late actress, playwright, social theatre director and activist was a pioneer in establishing and promoting arts, culture and theatre in the country, fighting against all odds to spread the music of joy and entertainment in Pakistan. The highlight of all her achievements is that Madeeha Gauhar disseminated positivity and meaningful theatre for the audience to take something home with. For decades, the Pakistani luminary has done the country proud for all she stood up for.Most know her for founding the Ajoka Theatre in the year 1983, where social themes were staged in theatres, on the street and in public spaces. With Ajoka Theatre, Gauhar performed all over Asia and Europe. Gauhar was born in 1956 in Karachi, Pakistan. She was a highly qualified individual, having pursued a Master in Arts degree in English literature and then moving to England to pursue another MA degree in theater sciences at the prestigious University of London.At just the age of 27, when Gauhar had finished her studies, she decided to return to Pakistan, but this time, settled in Lahore, and not her hometown. Madeeha’s biggest achievement is her positivity and provision of meaningful theatre for the audience. For decades, the Pakistani luminary has done the country proud through her services as an inspiring activistAjoka Theatre was a labour of love and immense hard work, that Gauhar and her husband Shahid Nadeem founded together that slowly and gradually started getting noticed and gained significance in Lahore.“Many of us student and cultural activists got together in 1971, which was a very depressing time after the fall of East Pakistan, as we shared a desire to build a new Pakistan, not just to be defined by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto though he was our hero, but by other committed workers in the Pakistan People’s Party, to carry on as a nation. It was in these circumstances that we decided to form a political theatre group. Aitzaz Ahsan was one of the members, Usman Pirzada was there, Salman Shahid was there. We got together. Aitzaz Ahsan even began preparing a constitution for our group, but of course as we know, the group didn’t succeed in establishing itself. The moral of the story is that if you begin with a constitution for a theatre group, it is not going to take off! Anyway, we did start off by rehearsing a play. It was a play about the fall of Dhaka, which was being rehearsed in the Civil Services Academy in Lahore. That was because my friend Shehryar Rashid who later became an ambassador, was training there at the time. We were actually rehearsing in his room. It was quite a bold and challenging play,” Shahid Nadeem had said, in an earlier interview about the inception of Ajoka Theatre. Ajoka elaborated on the oral tradition of Bhand and Nautanki and found a flourishing base in the area that overlapped Punjab.Despite her educational background, Gauhar did not restrict herself to conventional classical Western theatre techniques. Rather, she aimed to incorporate authentic Pakistani elements with contemporary sentiments. With Ajoka, Gauhar performed in Pakistan and subsequently internationally. The troupe performed in other countries in the region such as India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, as well as in several European countries. The most important motive of the shows, according to Gauhar, was the promotion of a just, humane, secular and equal society. In directing performances for theater, Gauhar utilised aesthetics and theatrical techniques to reflect the moral, social and political reality of contemporary Pakistan. A recurrent theme for her, as a feminist, was the subject of women’s rights in a society that is greatly dominated by men.In 2006, she was honoured with the coveted Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands. In 2007, she won the International Theatre Pasta Award. The same year, Ajoka performed a play that was written and directed by Gauhar herself called the “Burqavaganza”, which led to great controversy. Actors dressed in burkas acted out themes of sexual discrimination, intolerance and fanaticism. From a Western perspective, the piece was a rather innocent performance on hypocrisy of a society that bathes in corruption.However, in Pakistan, the Parliament banned the performance and the culture minister threatened Ajoka Theatre with sanctions should it be staged any longer. In spite of the ban, non-governmental organisations and women’s rights activists had the play translated into English and staged performances internationally as a sign of support to Ajoka. This shows the bravery, resilience and passion that drove Gauhar.Gauhar passed away this year in April at the age of 61 after a three-year illness with cancer.During her lifetime, she was bestowed with numerous awards for her theatrical efforts.At the first iteration of the 1st Indus Drama Awards in 2005, Gauhar was nominated for Best Actress Drama Serial in a Supporting Role. However, the highlight was when Gauhar was nominated for the esteemed Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She is also the proud recipient of the Pride of Performance award, given to her by the president of Pakistan for her efforts in improving Pakistani theatre. AchievementsDEDICATED TO THEATRE & SOCIAL CAUSESMadeeha Gauhar spent her entire life promoting and strengthening meaningful theatre in the country. She dedicated all her years putting her ambition to test by playing the role of a recognised actress, a successful playwright, a social theatre director and a women’s rights activist.FOUNDER OF AJOKAIn her early 30s, Madeeha Gauhar, along with her husband, founded the prestigious and one of its kind Ajoka Theatre, that put social issues on stage enacted by talented artists from all over the country. Together, they took this platform all over the world and won many awards and accolades for all that Ajoka promoted. Today, Ajoka Theatre is an internationally recognised platform that attracts artists from all over the world to come and be a part of it.NATIONAL & GLOBAL RECOGNITIONHer self written and directed play “Burqavaganza” won her international critical acclaim and was staged all over the world. She was nominated for Best Actress Drama Serial in a Supporting Role at the 1st Indus Drama Awards in 2005. She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize the same year. The year after that, Madeeha Gauhar was awarded Prince Claus Award in the Netherlands. She also received the Pride of Performance, awarded to her by the president of Pakistan.Published in Daily Times, August 10th 2018.