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25 Apr, 2014

Kalidas would have applauded Indian drama epic “Shakuntala” in Karachi

Karachi – It is not often that one gets the privilege of watching an epic drama written by one of India’s most revered poets, Kalidas, in the Pakistani commercial capital of Karachi. I am fortunate to have seen “Shakuntala” performed by some of Pakistan’s young generation of dancers during a festival of arts, culture and music.

The wide-ranging festival programme, which also included a performance by well-known Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah, was part of efforts by Pakistan’s National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) to boost people-to-people contacts between the two countries by highlighting the rich heritage and culture that binds them. The following day, I watched another brilliant drama written by Anwar Maqsood, one of Pakistan’s foremost playwrights, “Pawnay 14 August”, which effectively translates as 15 minutes to 14 August, Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Being neither a qualified drama nor dance critic, I am not going to venture into that territory. All I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed both, in style, substance and perhaps more important the wider signals they sent about the role of arts, culture, music and dance as global peace-makers. Both had extremely important messages to communicate. All the performers, except perhaps one, were in their twenties. All were extremely talented, and delivered brilliantly.

“Shakuntala” was a totally different, modernised version of the epic. For a middle-aged journalist used to the “old ways” it did take some time to “sync” in, but upon deeper reflection, it went down well.

“Pawnay 14 August” was a spectacular satire about the dashed dreams of Pakistan’s founding fathers. The audience laughed, cheered and clapped as the script took the mickey out of everything from Pakistan’s conflicts with India, Bangladesh and the Taleban, to its own internal struggles with sectarianism, corruption and social and provincial divisions. The conclusion was apt: All those conflicts leave a legacy of poverty, hatred and misery and this generation bears the responsibility of not bequeathing such a mess to the next generation. Framing the seriousness of the content within the context of comedy made it much more thought-provoking.

I was in Karachi to visit my mother who is recovering from knee-replacement surgery. We are both Indians by birth. She lives in Pakistan by second marriage. Fluent in Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, and some Arabic and Gujarati, my mother is a connoisseur of poetry, culture, arts, and music. In spite of not being 100% fit, she insisted that we should not miss this limited-period opportunity to see these performances. Cane in hand, she hobbled her way up and down the steps in both theatres.

It was well worth it. India and Pakistan are two of the world’s most culturally, ethnically diverse and rich countries. Nothing could be better than exploiting these assets for the cause of peace-building, poverty-alleviation and the betterment of humanity at large. The daily media on both sides of the border overwhelms the public with news of conflict and mayhem. Unfortunately, the real story of the latent goodness and greatness that craves greater prominence is often, much too often, glossed over.

Yes, Kalidas would have applauded “Shakuntala” in Karachi. 

See pictures of the two performances below. For further info pls click here: http://www.napa.org.pk/

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