Naach Na Jaanay is set in 1978 under General Zia’s rule during which a ban was imposed on the arts; it tells the story of how an artist, named Akbar, had to find a job as a cook to make ends meet because he couldn’t find work otherwise. The play, written by Anwar Maqsood and directed by Dawar Mehmood, opened in Lahore on Thursday night, after successful runs in Karachi and Islamabad. With a couple of changes in the cast – a different Akbar, who was earlier essayed by Yasir Hussain – the play was greatly appreciated in the city.
Re-creating a classic television play and then making a prequel to it involved a lot of risk and responsibility. Instep caught up with the director after the play; he shared that he and the scriptwriter felt the burden of this while putting the show together. They had a tall task of trying to do justice to the narrative and successfully recreating characters that have been loved for years.
“We did Aangan Terha seven years back and it was the longest running play in Karachi,” Dawar shared. “The plan was initially for a sequel but we thought if we shifted it (the story) to another situation, it would be funny but it wouldn’t be Aangan Terha. People have such an emotional connection to the play so we thought it best not to change that. That’s why we decided we’d explore Bhutto’s time and how the main characters met.”
For the Lahore run, a very diverse theatre actor Hasan Raza essayed the role of Akbar because of Yasir Hussain’s prior commitments. Raza, an actor from Karachi previously played a war prisoner in Dawar’s older production, Siachen while he also played opposite Sanam Saeed and Saman Ansari in Heer Ranjha and Jasoosi Duniya, respectively.
“He was Yasir’s understudy in Karachi and, for me, he and Yasir are different like ‘Dola re Dola’ in Devdas; the difference between Madhuri and Ashwariya – in their ada,” laughed Dawar.
Several other characters were changed for the Lahore run: Mehboob Ahmed was Taha Humayun, Sufi Sahab was Mohsin Ijaz and Imran Khan was Dawar himself (just like the Karachi spell).
Dawar also took some creative/directorial liberties to make the play his own. “The dance sequence was my idea to show China and we employed Wahab Shah’s team to do it,” he explained, adding, “When theatre is the medium, one has to keep all elements in mind. One can’t keep classic elements only because the audience is there to have fun. There are all kinds of people – people who merely enjoy the dialogues, others who enjoy the dance troupe or the Imran Khan dialogues.”
The dance did uplift the play and consequently the audience simply because they were choreographed so well by Wahab Shah. It took place on stage, off stage and amongst the audience, and Shah managed to truly stand out.
The only part of the play that took me by surprise was the fat shaming for an overweight character. The character was told to lose weight if she wanted to be a part of their performance troupe. The dialogue wasn’t a necessary inclusion for the storyline so we wondered why it was included. When asked about this, Dawar responded, “I am showing a free-spirited man [Akbar] from a certain era and he can say anything. I’m just here to do a good play with comedic value, not to educate anyone.”
Regardless, good, solid messaging is really what one takes away from art and as Kamran Lashari pointed out after the play, one can see how the house help [Akbar] used to be a part of the family in days of yore. Such isn’t always the case anymore.
On a parting note, Dawar shared that the profits from the play will be distributed among artists (writers, musicians, etc.), who are sitting at home and don’t have any other source of earning.
– Naach Na Jaanay is on till 4th September in Lahore at The Alhamra Arts Council.