It is an old technique that is often used in theatre, film and television. A site or a place is selected and then various events take place on that site. For example, a hospital is chosen and then a series of situations that evolve with every new patient are depicted or an airport as various stories of the passengers travelling are sewed up. At times, it is the characters from the staff in the hospital or the airport, dealing with a particular situation that too get involved and then are depicted in their various stages of breakdown, growth and then eventual habilitations. There is a reversal of roles as the healer becomes a patient and goes through the various stages of healing and possible growth.
But Charing Cross is only a site and is inanimate so there is no chance of it getting involved in the situation and can only look from a distance — as to what is happening in its lap or around it. It has of course the advantage of being static, and can recount and evaluate what is happening in a dispassionate manner, keeping its objectivity intact, untarnished and untainted.
But this can also be its limitation as there is no scope of growth and development. The happenings have to be one-sided where the site Charing Cross like Tiresias can only look at and comment without the possibility of being dragged into the tumult, malaise and torment of the street below.
There have been stock characters in our literature and in the Ajoka plays as well — like the sweeper who is forever in the same position despite all the promises that political change brings, or the policemen an agent of oppression, though his own class affiliations is far below that of those that he is protecting, and above all the faqir, the malang who watches from a distance and comments without getting soiled by involvement in the affairs of the world. Actually, he is the Tiresias like figure who as the chorus evaluates the action on stage.
In this production, it was played by Arshad Durrani. Hara Sain was a permanent fixture on the site and was not averse to commenting on the happenings with the wisdom of an outsider that possibly inaction brings. Traditionally, in our literature, this unchanging assessment has been of value because it is the vantage point that decries deception, want and power.
Charing Cross has a pivotal position in the city of Lahore for it is on the main artery, the Mall and is plonked straight in front of the Assembly Building. The Governor House too is close by. So, it has been the favourite site for the happenings of political events in the city, and since Lahore has been one of the major cities and the place for the passing of the Pakistan Resolution in 1940 it is supposed to be the real political centre of all that has happened in the country.
Though in the play there was lack of similarity in the various movements that took place at this centre or site, there had been a great ring of similarity too. Political figures mouthing the same kind of slogans and the political methods of protest or mobilisation of the political opinion seemed to come out of the same mould. Despite many differences, there had been a hue of sameness; therefore the play despite all its movement and volatility was basically static in character. Things remained the same as the more they changed, an aphoristic truth got re-emphasised.
It was billed as the sixtieth production of Ajoka for it has been in existence since 1984, a long enough duration for a theatre group to be its own achievement. In our country where theatre at best has been a part time activity, especially the non commercial variety, either the personnel have five timed, splitting their twenty four hours on radio, television, stage, films and advertising or have worked for a living elsewhere while only satisfying their creative urge in the evenings. Ajoka’s long stint has been commendable. At the same time, it has also inducted fresh talent in the various decades that it has been in existence. As in this play as well, there was fresh and young talent that was exposed probably for the first time to the spotlight of a stage performance. In many, the rawness was quite obvious but it is all a process and different actors and stage personnel take different routes to gain experience and mature in their expression.
There has been predictability about Ajoka’s production for quite some time now. It is a combination of song, dance and drama and the sameness of the production betrays the differences that may lie in the message of the play. The message has been important because Ajoka has always touted to have been presenting plays which are meaningful and relevant. This play too had been overtly political for the various episodes that were played out of the movements were of political events or even those with social or religious import reflecting a very clear political slant.
But with the sameness of production, the tone in this play too became more and more pessimistic and there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Charing Cross has seen it all and will continue to see it for the times to come and it will all fizzle out in the vicious circle that only guarantees its own momentum.
Staged at the Alhamra, written and directed by Shahid Mehmood Nadeem, the dances in the play were choreographed by Wahab Shah and music composed by M. Aslam, the cast included Arshad Durrani, a veteran from the 1960s Alhamra Theatre, Mehreen Imran, Sohail Tariq, Hina Tariq, Usman Raaj, Qaiser Khan, Muzamil Shabir, Nabeel Butt, Knawal Khan, Fahad Ali, Imran Asghar, Muniba Abdullah and the dancers and the chorus comprised Luke, Shehzad, Asad, Kashif, Suneel, Izat, Ali and Shamoon.