New Delhi, Jan 20 (IANS) Theatre in Afghanistan is trying to connect to audiences as a tool of communication and story-telling even 11 years after the curbs on performing arts by the Taliban during 1996-2001 were lifted. The people are coming out to watch plays despite the fact that they do not have money to pay due to low disposable incomes.
"Theatre as a culture is finding support from among the people, who are dictating the culture policy of Afghanistan unlike many other Islamic countries like Iran, where performances are still at the whim of the government," Arsah Absalan, an Iranian stage director who is working with Afghan actors in Kabul, said here. Absalan is working with Azdar Theatre in Kabul on translation workshops.
He was at the National School of Drama's annual theatre festival in India with a Persian adaptation of Dario Fo's "The Tale of the Tiger", a comic satire about a Chinese soldier being nursed back to health by a tigress and a cub.
"Afghanistan has no cultural policy. It allows performing arts to have a free flow as long as it does not offend religious sentiments and the cast does not kiss on stage. Afghans don't like to see actors kissing on stage. In Iran, a man can't even shake a woman's hand or touch a co-actor. The curbs do not come from the people, but from the government... I was forced to give up theatre in Iran 10 years ago," Absalan told IANS in an interview.
"I don't advocate a cultural policy because it stops the free flow of creative ideas with checks and balances," Absalan said.
Theatre in Afghanistan is closely grounded in tradition, the director said.
"Young Afghan playwrights are now translating western plays in Dari, one of the local languages. They like to use local idioms to relate to the audience," said Absalan, who has worked on cross-cultural projects like "Shale's Poison", "Archive" and "The Little Prince" in an indigenous space in a series of workshops.
"'The Tale of the Tiger' developed as a devised script by students of theatre in one such workshop," he said.
Azdar Theatre is one of the most prolific production troupes in Kabul. But it supports proscenium theatre with money earned from puppet shows across the country, troupe manager Ahmad Nasir Formuli, a puppeteer, said.
"We do not depend on group or organisation fund. Theatre is difficult to sustain," Formuli said. The company's puppet projects are supported by organisations like Unicef and the Goethe Institute. "We campaign about children's rights in schools across the Afghan countryside. The money we make is ploughed back to host mainstream theatre on stage," he said.
Besides lack of funds, the two most common problems that theatre faces in Afghanistan are "opposition from homes to women on stage in villages and absence of government support".
"The government is not unfavourably inclined to theatre, but it is on the government agenda. It does not matter if theatre officially ceases to exist," Formuli said.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)