To trace the trajectory of art, theatre to be precise, in Pakistan it is easy to see that the phenomenon emerged from two sources. The first source remains the streets whilst the second is organized formal educational institutions. Theatre was erected as a means of asserting one’s freedom of expression in the face of staunch political regimes and was also an excellent form of entertainment for the masses.
The elitist class was the first one to encourage theatre in the country for the sake of satisfying its own penchant for elaborated plays. It all started back in 1960s when the students of the Government College Lahore and Kinnaird College would slave off in the dramatic clubs day in and day out to arrange tasteful plays for the high-ups.
As we entered into the 1970s the landscape of the country was changing with democratic slogans and the government was in the hands of a lax leader. Theatre thrived as the Ministry of Culture was established with Lok Virsa and The Pakistan National Council for Arts (PNCA) coming into being.
Come 1980s and Pakistan saw itself being run by strict military dictatorship which curtailed any form of free expression and specifically that against the government. In retaliation, theatre forms such as Ajoke, Tehrek-e-Niswan and Katha came into the scene.
The 1990s saw major shifts in the theatre arena: some of those surviving the previous era disappeared whilst others cemented themselves further into the budding industry. Plays came to be performed formally in English Medium Schools. Local talent like Shah Sharabeel and others contributed to the cause in the form of their own private ventures with screenings in local academies.
Many formal institutions were established for the advancement of theatre. Some of the notable ones include National Academy for Performing Arts (NAPA), Made for Stage Productions by Nida Butt and Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop. The later gained immense significance in the late 1990s into the new millennium.
Of the three major cities of Pakistan, Islamabad is most active with its theatre offerings. Every now and then there is an amazing Broadway Musical adaptation or an Urdu play to tantalize the taste buds of the entertainment starved populace.
The biggest charm of these plays is that the audience can relate to them, understand them and enjoy them. Watching a play is also a breather of fresh air for people to go out of their homes and have a good time with their loved ones, experiencing true entertainment; instead of the atrocious sit-down dinners which we have come to believe as pure entertainment.
Lahore remains home to powerful political theatre in the form of Ajoka while Karachi is governed by the major Urdu Theatre Institution that NAPA is. English and Urdu plays, both are being considered to have a major impact in terms of their deliverance to the public. From “Phantom of the Opera”, to “Tom, Dick and Harry” to “We All Fall Down” to “Act 144”, there is an array of offerings to suit the palate of different audiences.
If you happen to be in Islamabad next weekend, don’t miss “The Odd Couple” playing at the PNCA. Lahore is playing Khatra-e-Jaan the weekend after that and you can catch “V for Vendetta” in Karachi at the end of this month.
Theatre really has grown over the years.