Banned by NSD, Pakistani play gets space to perform in capital

Last Updated: Sat, Jan 19, 2013 17:10 hrs

New Delhi, Jan 19 (IANS) The spirit of cultural cooperation between India and Pakistan triumphed Saturday over the simmering tension along the Indo-Paksitan border when the Lahore-based Ajhoka Theatre staged "Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh", play around the life of Urdu literary icon Saadat Hassan Manto, a day after the National School of Drama refused the troupe permission to stage the play at the 15th Bharatrang Mahotsav citing security concerns.

"Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh" and Mantorama by NAPA Theatre were the two plays that were cancelled at the last moment by NSD.

The two-hour play was staged at the Akshara Theatre, a private boutique theatre, next to the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in the national capital to a spilling house. The troupe found performance space for the collage on Manto's life after a Facebook campaign moved

support base countrywide in protest against the gag Thursday morning.

After a day of hectic viral campaign on the social media, a group of cultural activists led by Arvind Gaur of Amrita Theatre, a leading street theatre ensemble in the capital, organised venues, Akshara Theatre followed by a late performance on Jawaharlal Nehru Campus.

Breaking down at the end of the multi-media production, director Maheeda Gauhar said "if the troupe was not given the stage to perform and the actors had to return without staging the play, it would have been a sad day in the history of the theatre company's long association with India".

Arvind Gaur, founder of Amrita Theatre, said "Ajhoka Theatre had been visiting India since 1989 with socially-relevant productions".

"Our association goes back a long way," Gaur said.

"I will return to Pakistan empowered. We don't care about the governments. This is just wonderful solidarity and we will come back with more productions," Gauhar told IANS.

The director said "practitioners of culture across the border must out an end to curbs by India and Pakistan governments on performances because of political and bilateral compulsions". "It is the artistes, who are being targeted despite the fact that they talk of peace through their callings," Gauhar said.

Her sentiments were echoed by an emotional audience, most of them in tears. "If we did not have this show, we would not have been able to hold our heads high... Manto's life reflects the situation in the country. He was persecuted the same way by the establishment for his radical stories," a member of the audience said at the end of play.

"Kaun Hai yeh Gustakh", a new play by Ajhoka is a tribute to the writer on his birth anniversary in 2012. The play uses slices from Manto's life, works and events after his migration to Pakistan in 1948. It begins with Manto's journey from India to Pakistan and his impressions of riots after the 1947 partition of the sub-continent.

The production, scripted by Shahid Nadeem, is a collage of first person narrative by the writer and glimpses of Pakistan through his stories like "Thanda Gosht", "Khol Do" and "Toba Tek Singh". The stories and the life of the writer merge and overlap at intervals

making Manto a central character in all his stories.

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