Pakistani Showbiz

‘Tum Kaun’ walks a fine line

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“People might not like some of the stuff being said and done in the play, so I would advise you to watch it with a soft heart. If there are any children under 16 and if their parents don’t want them to watch R-rated content, then they have the right to leave the theatre hall and can have their tickets reimbursed.” This was a cautionary disclaimer announced by a faculty member of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) on Sunday, ahead of showing the play Tum Kaun, a collaborative effort between the alumni of Napa and India’s National School of Drama.

The play, which had generated word-of-mouth prior to being staged, set some tongues wagging after its initial performance on Saturday, with many audience members not receiving the jokes and language used in the comedy too well. Mixed with witty one-liners and bawdy jokes about extra-marital affairs and exploring sexual identities, Tum Kaun was bound to attract some criticism but was also appreciated by several audience members.

An elderly couple thought about leaving the show half way through but, as the show progressed, they decided against it. “A problem with us, Pakistanis, is that we are very impatient and quick to judge. You need to watch the whole thing and think before you pass any judgment,” said Zain Ahmed, the play’s director. This is a sentiment the said couple seemed to ultimately show as, despite their initial hesitance, they were among those who gave the artists a standing ovation at the conclusion of the play.

After the play, Ahmed spoke to THe Express Tribune about why he decided to take things up a notch with his latest directorial venture and adopt a style that many people may consider as being loud and abrasive. “I didn’t feel like doing anything serious and intense. I wanted to do something comical in nature,” he said. Terming the experience of working with playwright Anwar Maqsood as ‘invaluable’, he said it has left an indelible mark on his current production.

According to Ahmed, none of the jokes or language used in the play was unnecessary. “Our jokes may have been a little loud but they weren’t put forth at the expense of our structure,” he noted. Although many jokes in the play were aimed at an adult audience, Ahmed acknowledged it was important to draw a line to ensure that they don’t go overboard with the humour.

“Having grown up during the Zia regime, my sense of self-censorship is very strong and I realised that this is the farthest we can go without compromising on the script,” he shared. “It is one thing to do such comedy when it is being validated but it would be wrong to employ such a style just to gain the audience’s attention,” he added.

“I had worked with Maqsood sahab on plays, such as Sawa 14 August(as a lighting designer), and I loved the way he presented serious issues in a comical manner, which was engaging for the audience,” remarked Ahmed. He noted that people may argue that, with such writing, the writer may compromise on the story and dramatic element, as the character doesn’t face any obstacle. But it is, in fact, for a greater cause.

Set in the backdrop of a desi wedding between an Indian boy and a Pakistani girl, the play explores the prejudices and hypocrisies prevalent in our part of the world and how it may be wrong to talk to a stranger but okay to marry one. Ahmed believes, as an artist, it would not be sensible to restrict oneself to a particular kind of theatre and that one needs to keep experimenting. “It’s just like music, where there is a variety of genres, such as pop, rock and classical. Just because someone doesn’t like pop or rock music doesn’t mean it should be done away with. There is an audience out there for all sorts of music,” stated Ahmed.

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