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Played by corruption

A NAB-sponsored play in Lahore was a case of how not to produce a play

Played by corruption

Dekh Too Ney Keya Kiya’ staged at Alhamra last week was a classic example of how a play should not be produced. Sponsored by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the group Dramay Baaz Theatre remained true to its mandate and put up a play against the ills that bedevil this society, mainly centering on corruption. Actually, with all the ills packed in this one production stretching over two hours — rape, harassment at workplace, corruption and even road rage — one wondered if it was the last opportunity that NAB was getting.

Since time immemorial, there has been a straight explanation for the existence of the arts and it has revolved around its didactic function. To many, the only reasonable justification for the arts to be around is because of a moral tag attached to it. All political, religious and reform movements have taken recourse to the function of the arts to spread their message across. It is also thought that something that is enacted is easier to comprehend and grasp than something that is written. It is more so in societies that have a poor literacy rate, Pakistan being one of them, thus offering sufficient justification for an enactment rather than a written text.

A simplistic enactment of this argument was the play that was produced and is under review

Needless to say, the plot had to be episodic because if so much had been happening to one individual or a set of few characters, it had the capacity to dwarf the Greek tragic hero in the consistency of misfortunes befalling him. And the characters had to be flat because the possibility of redemption to take a dramatic form needs a certain progression, and thus generate credibility to take the audience along with it. But even for a play ridden with didacticism, it did not acquit itself well because it lacked the basics of what a play ought to be. It was episodic with a series of externally inflicted motivations that can never make good theatre.

It seems NAB has many funds to dispense with. But then it should be spending them judiciously and not falling to the snare it accuses others of, especially when there is public money involved. It should have selected a better team of performers, an active group, and then made sure that a script written for the purpose had sufficient dramatic tension to it. It should have captured the attention of the audience with the capacity to bring about some kind of a transformation in characters. Since it did not happen, it remained a poor effort at sermonisation, and that has never helped.

It is questionable whether any such effort, sponsored or commissioned, attains effectiveness since it was a made-to-order performance. If the society is so moved by the ills that have become endemic, then the artists and poets, musicians and filmmakers begin to create art on their own, rather than being directed to do so.

The play was directed by Feroz Butt and he also acted a part. This points to lack of professionalism, because a professional hand is supposed to be a specialist. If and when they do more than one task, they have to be ranked with some of the greatest names in the performing arts.

It has been assumed in Pakistan that in the performing arts a certain level can only be achieved only when plays, films, music and paintings are constructed around a certain issue. But this is not so because it is the treatment rather than the theme that determines the value of a work. If the treatment is good, only then will it be able to yield itself to multiple layers of interpretations rather than a more pointed one that disqualifies it to be good art.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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