The most lively and hilarious character was probably Appa, played by Faiza Amin. Appa was a typical middle-aged lady of the house who cannot mind her own business and likes to share the neighborhood gossip with everyone. She also has a son or a nephew whom she leaves at school but he escapes and runs across the stage periodically. Faiza depicted the character with panache, her screechy and loud voice, Punjabi catchphrases and even facial expressions bought Appa to life.
The play was written by Shahid Nadeem, Ajoka’s pioneering writer, who says the Punjabi play was the first one he ever wrote
The street is visited by various characters. There is the elitist Khan Sahab who seems to be from an old elite family and is now aging, the maulvi (cleric), the sweeper and the chairman who has recently won an election. The maulvi played by Matiullah Baig and the chairman played by Mohammed Faisal Zulfiqar were depicted as each other’s arch-rival. Both supported mosques of different sects. The maulvi’s love for halwa and constantly failing to resist its temptation was a little stereotypical, though the crowd was amused by it.
Every performer captured the ethos of Lahore’s inner city and gave a nuanced performance. Despite the loud tone of the play, none of the actors went overboard with emotions and expressions. Each actor was a debutant and it was hard to believe that such refined performances had been extracted from relatively untrained youngsters. Though the play was well-directed and written, it was the performers who infused a vibrant, new life into the script.
The play was written by Shahid Nadeem, Ajoka’s pioneering writer, who says the Punjabi play was the first one he ever wrote. Nadeem says he conceived the play before he ever met Madeeha Gauhar or came across Ajoka. It was heartening to see a Punjabi play being performed in Alhamra after a long time. The play had the usual elements Nadeem is fond of – beggars, powerful women who speak their mind, authority figures like policewallas who try to compromise the helpless people and a religious figure who is more greedy than spiritual.
The executive director of Alhamra Arts Council, Atta Muhammad Khan, spoke favorably about the play. He also fondly remembered the late Madeeha Gauhar who founded the Ajoka Theater. Well-known actor Naeem Tahir spoke after the performance and highlighted the significance of symbolism in the play. He said that every character in the play is disowning the dead dog and diffusing his or her own responsibility when it comes to the problems in their community.
The writer is based in Lahore. She tweets as @ammarawrites and her work can be found on www.ammaraahmad.com
Published in Daily Times, September 11th 2018.