By Rafay Mahmood
Leela, the first ever South Asian Women's Theatre Festival kicked off in Delhi on March 8 -- the hundredth anniversary of International Women's Day. Held in India from March 8-15 in Delhi and Chandigarh, the Festival was organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in collaboration with the reputed National School of Drama and the Jamia Millia University. It drew 14 groups from nine South Asian countries.
Among them was a twenty five-member troupe of dancers, singers and actors from Pakistan - the Tehrik-e-Niswan Cultural Action Group who performed the play 'Jang Ab Nahin Ho Gi' at the Festival in Chandigarh and New Delhi.
'Jang Ab Nahin Ho Gi' is based on Aristophane's classic fifth century play 'Lysistrata' - a raunchy, biting anti-war satire that is probably the earliest known feminist play. The play, directed by Sheema Kermani and Anwer Jafri, was adapted to contemporary times by the well-known activist poet Fahmida Riaz and Anwer Jafri.
Talking to The News about the experience in India after their return, Tehrik-e-Niswan's founder member Sheema Kermani stressed the importance of theatre as a tool for peace and social change.
"I am convinced that theatre is the most effective medium in promoting peace between Pakistan and India. It is through such exchanges of artists and performers that a change can happen because the performing arts are among the most convincing art forms," she said. "They can affect the thinking process as nothing else can."
Elaborating on the theme of "Jang Ab Nahin Ho Gi" which has a huge cast including 13 women, she explained that fundamentally it is an anti war play.
"Taking an anti-war play to India is itself a message of peace," she said. "Through this play we wanted to give a message of peace, love and disarmament from people of Pakistan and we also wanted to underline the fact that mutual understanding and cooperation is the only way out, as opposed to fighting."
Paras Masroor, who studied theatre at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) and was part of the Tehrik troupe has performed in India before. He felt that each time the response of the people and their hospitality just gets better and better.
"Performing in India has always been great for me. For any artist, audience matters a lot. Fortunately the Indian audience is very mature and can connect with the artist on a higher level - after all, performing arts have been a part of their culture and mythology for ages," he told The News. "You feel great when you realise that the message you wanted to give is actually being understood by the people."
The message was so well understood, in fact, that the Tehrik troupe got a standing ovation, said Paras. "They related to everything in the play and with us. So it ended being a successful venture."
Another member of the Tehrik troupe, Ali Rizvi (also a former NAPA student) found the trip very fruitful. For one thing there was the message of peace, he said. Secondly, doing and watching theatre in India really helps an actor's development. "The difference between theatre in Pakistan and India is like that of a compounder and a doctor," he said.
"Both countries gained independence at the same time but Indian theatre has developed and its own discoveries. We in Pakistan are at an earlier stage, because in India they made academies right from the start," he said. "Instead of raising problems the Pakistani authorities need to learn something from them and promote theatre on a larger level."
When going for higher studies he added, a country like India works best for Pakistanis, given that almost everything is the same from clothes to cuisine, as compared to going to a Western country.
Talking about the Aman ki Asha initiative, all three theatre people agreed that it is a great venture and it should be utilised for bigger projects and not just messages.
"Ventures like Aman ki Asha are required to genuinely look into the peace dream," said Sheema Kermani. "At the same time such ventures should help artists from both countries to bring their plays and performances to each other's stages."
Such exchanges are necessary for mutual learning, said Rizvi, elaborating, "Our actors are very good at diction and pure Urdu pronunciation and they can do brilliant emotional content if directed properly. Indians are stronger in the areas of dance and music."
Since returning, Tehrik-e-Niswan has plunged headlong into another festival - Tlism, the 10-day long event being held at the Arts Council Karachi, showcasing some of their signature performances, both dance and drama, including "Jang Ab Nahin Ho Gi". That is a hope we all share.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
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The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
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The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw