Naach Na Jaane was presented by Kopykats Productions this week in Lahore at Alhamra Arts Council. The play is written by Anwar Maqsood, Directed by Dawar Mehmood and is the prequel of the beloved Aangan Terha. The cast involves a young artist Hassan Raza leading as the impish Akbar, Sara Bhatti as the ever grumbling wife, Jahan Ara, Dawar Mehmood as Imran Khan, Hina Rizvi as Sultana – the innocent sister of Chaudhary sahib the, quintessential ‘zameendar’ portrayed by Asad Gujjar while Taha Humayun plays Mehboob Sahib.
Naach Na Jaane is the tale of classical dancer Akbar, who was initially played by the late Saleem Nasir. The play is set in 1978 under General Zia’s rule in which a ban was imposed on arts, it tells the story of how Akbar had to find a job as a cook to make ends meet. Historically, depression was prevalent during this time. The ban left a majority of artist’s unemployed, creatively blocked and suicidal. The play captures the story of this skilfully – but in a subtle, humorous manner. Ultimately, beneath the layers of humour and grandeur it serves as a critique on society, the hypocrisy present while marking the apathy of authorities and disregard for civilians by the state.
The plot swivels between the past and present. Tracing Akbar’s journey as part of a vivacious dancing academy, touring China with his troupe before returning to Pakistan and the inevitable post-Bhutto Zia era where rigid standards were imposed. Classical dancing had been deemed un-Islamic and by circumstance Akbar had to go job hunting to make ends meet.
The stage setting was classic in its history and intimate in its relation. Pigeons were nestled in cages in a makeshift terrace, a woven charpai at the far end, accompanied by wicker chairs and a classic 80’s kitchenette. Simple and homely.
The script is drenched with quirky witticisms, political satire and energetic dances choreographed and performed by Wahab Shah. It took place on stage, off stage and amongst the audience, taking the audience by surprise by the sheer zest displayed.
Similar to an assortment of mithai boxes, each character was brought to life, center stage with their unique and quirky countenance and personas. From the flamboyant, troublesome Akbar (with his acute flair for everything melodramatic) and sardonic remarks “Shaitaan ki choti beti lagti ho” to the acerbic, the headstrong Jahanara and the rather flirtatious Mehboob – the diversity of characters not only shed light on the complexity of human beings but allowed the audience to connect as they presented continuous movement throughout.
Naach Na Jaane left the audience laughing and admiring the play continuously. The rhythm flowed swiftly and was fast paced; it was sentimental and intimate. Emotions were translated perfectly on stage to the audience allowing everyone to connect with the script, the characters, the message. There was an acute sense of camaraderie between the play family.
In one of the many memorable scenes, Akbar encounters a series of civilians looking for a job. One of them happens to be Imran Khan enacted by the director Dawar Mehmood himself. In quintessential Anwar Masood style the political satire resurfaces as comments on Khan’s power and role as prime minister were made.
In awe and amazement a dumbfounded statement ‘Hum naya Pakistan banayein gay!’
And it is asked, ‘Uss mein naya kya hoga?
Comes the reply, ‘Hoga toh sub purana, buss keh dein gay keh naya hai!’
Kamran Lashari, in his speech after the play highlighted how one can see the house help (essayed by Akbar) were part of the family back in the day. Such isn’t always the case anymore and this allowed one to ponder over the current circumstances.
The director Dawar Mehmood 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. It is essential to realize that the culture of performing arts and the people who make up the structure deserve respect for their creative innovation and passion.
Essentially, the play is a true treat for the audience as one is left with their spirits uplifted by a perfectly curated drama. Nostalgic and energetic it leaves you wanting more.