For those born in post-1970s Pakistan, Partition can sound like a somewhat remote event, flogged to death in Literature, documentaries and media, giving rise to ‘Partition-fatigue’ for a generation whose concerns have moved beyond the division of India and the bloodshed of more than half a century ago. Many of us seek fictionalized tales of political events we have witnessed and are still facing the fallouts of, or historical fiction set in times rarely ever brought to our collective attention. In that regard I didn’t have very high hopes from Kopykats Production’s Hua Kuch Yoon written by Sajid Hassan and directed by Dawar Mehmood. I had previously attended one Kopykats production: Sawa Chauda August, written by Anwar Maqsood, and returned unimpressed with its appeals to cheap patriotism and reliance on homophobic jokes.
Low expectations can often be a boon though. Hua Kuch Yoon turned out to be clever and subversive, qualities not often associated with Pakistani scripts. By framing it as a love story, the first thing Hassan manages to achieve is to lower his audience’s guard, for if Qurutulain and Raja, the play’s leads symbolize India and Pakistan, quarrelling over their clashing politics, we cannot lose sight of the fact that they are still lovers.
Qurutulain is the adopted daughter of a Sikh couple whose open-mindedness is established by the way they have raised their daughter as a strong, opinionated and vocal young woman. Loud and Punjabi but with the educated sophistication of the elite, she remains at least nominally Muslim (the religion of her birth) as she grows up, a path her adoptive parents have encouraged. She is a vociferous advocate of the Congress while Raja, son of a nawaab from Hyderabad Deccan, and a considerably more timid character is a staunch supporter of the Muslim League. Both of them are equally passionate orators of their respective views.
This premise allows for a lot of anti-partition views to be aired on stage with Qurutulain as their mouthpiece. Expectedly, all her arguments were met with a deafening silence by the crowd at Lahore’s Alhamra Theatre and all of Raja’s statements such as “Gandhi aurton ke kandhon pe haath rakh ke chaltay hayn, aesa shakhs aur kuch tau ho sakta hae leader naheen ho sakta” were met with thunderous applause. But that’s where the subversive nature of the script forces the audience out of their comfortable bubble. Anticipating just such a response, Venkat, a side character is deployed to constantly interrupt the joyful cheers with a very loud Band karayn yeh taali, forcing the audience into an almost sheepish tolerance of views they do not agree with. It is a clever masterstroke by the script writer and director.
Qurutulain, the heroine’s anti-Pakistan views humanise the other side and push the audience to see the ‘enemy’ as lovable, making them root for the success of her love life, even as they do not agree with her political views.
On the acting and directorial front, the young Qurutulain played by Fareeha Raza was able to pull off just the right mix of stubborn and lovable for the most part, though she screams hysterically at moments when a quiet forcefulness would have been sufficient. The young Raja played by Saad Farrukh Khan may not fill up the stage with his presence, but his bashful persona fits his role. All charcaters small and large came across as professional and well-rehearsed, making the overall production seamless. However, small touches like the use of artificial flowers in place of what are meant to be real ones, fights that require a great degree of suspension of disbelief and certain cheap props could have been improved upon. The artificial rain during a lovers’ tryst in Hyde Park, created solely with lighting, was a nice touch; though I still haven’t been able to figure out its mechanics.
The play doesn’t lag at any point and delivers entertainment without resorting to cheap shots. Just for that Hua Kuch Yoon is the right mix of popular appeal and artistic value. Go watch it as the production moves to Islamabad and Karachi next.