Not impressed by Pawnay 14 August

Published: April 9, 2012
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Everyone who loves Pakistan is bound to cry at the current state of affairs. So, for me, that was not really much of an accomplishment. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

With great expectations, I ventured into the Arts Council auditorium to see Anwar Maqsood’s humour come to life for the first time on stage. I had been warned that there would be seating problems, and there were. The production planning was disrupted due to the two days that the city was ablaze, and so people were accommodated well beyond the capacity of the hall.

The producer tried to calm everyone’s nerves as more and more people poured into the hall. Honestly though, it was a tinderbox in there, and it seemed like a war of nerves between the people already seated and the producer.

The play opened to what at best can be called an ordinary set.

It wasn’t minimalistic enough to classify as modern and not realistic enough to classify as detailed either. Well, the premise was interesting enough with Maulana Shaukat Ali, Allama Iqbal, and Quaid-e-Azam coming down from heaven for a few days to see where Pakistan was, and how it was doing.

However, the script left much to be desired. Please don’t get me wrong, Anwar Maqsood is a fantastic writer, one who has mastered the art of repartee over the years. But, in my opinion, a theatre performance needs to go beyond some basic level of scene building; otherwise it falls into the stage show trap that many commercial stage productions in Pakistan fall into.

A loosely constructed scenario may work for Hanif Raja and co, but to think that one could hold the audience for an hour and half, without any narrative build-up is unfair. Having said so, I do admit that there were moments of extremely high emotion, and one would even have tears in one’s eyes, but everyone who loves Pakistan is bound to cry at the current state of affairs.

So, for me, that was not really much of an accomplishment.

The play lacked any clear focus; it seemed that the three stalwarts of the Pakistan movement were being mocked for no reason. It seemed as if we were all indulging in Pakistan bashing, and honestly I resent that. If political parties use the Quaid’s mazar as a place to hold rallies, it is because they know that resonates with Pakistanis, and if Junoon re-introduced Iqbal to the public, how is that a bad thing?

The current Pakistani characters were card board, and lacked any depth whatsoever. Making a Bengali appear in a lungi, and a Sindhi in an ajrak is hardly ingenious. I don’t think this reflects the script – it shows weak direction and an aesthetic built on over-exaggeration and excess.

The ending of the play was also problematic where the three founders hand over their luggage to a small child and leave – hardly a resolution.

I think if we take on something as difficult as the raison d’etre of Pakistan, we owe it to the audience to present a solution. Also, having the national anthem playing with the Quaid speaking at the same time is an offence against the anthem, and honestly the producers needed to think about how they used the anthem.

On a political note, one wonders if the bourgeoisie Urdu-speaking middle and upper class of Karachi is feeling left out in the new dispensation with Punjab reasserting itself and Sindh wanting to rule all parts of Sindh. One felt that the Urdu-speaking run had been a long one, but now it is over.

Anwar Maqsood, one of the last of the breed of Urdu-speaking intellectuals is making his final stand. And that is probably why everyone in the audience was laughing and crying at the same time.

It truly signifies the end of an era.

Follow Salman on Twitter @ideawala.

Salman Abedin

Salman Abedin

The author is a faculty member at the SZABIST Media Sciences program and has varied interests in cultural criticism, media strategy, advertising and product design. He is currently pursuing his MS in Media Studies from SZABIST. He tweets @ideawala.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • ahad

    wow.

    You, sir, may require a course in how to understand a play and what it is about before making a comment as inane as the one I have just wasted a few minutes reading.

    Even excluding the rather superficial criticism of the set and the characters, it just seems to be you didn’t understand the play at all (here I point out the symbolism associated with the child being left with their ‘baggage’).

    wow.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Disagree with you. Ok, so it wasn’t very highbrow but its message was straight forward and resonated with the average guy. In a country were there is little to smile about at least we have a hand-full of people who can still laugh at themselves and cry at the same time, a sterling quality that must be appreciated. Recommend

  • Marium

    ‘Ponay 14 August’ was meant to shed light on how far the country has strayed from the ideologies its founders once designed and it did just that. I found the play to be fantastic, however the organization of the play was terrible. it was ironic considering they were shedding light on the corruption this country has succumbed to. Free tickets and free seating were given to a large majority of people which was unfair considering we paid good money to go watch the play and were asked to move to give seating to other people. That being said, once the play began, it was nothing short of brilliant and being the youth of this country, it made me realise once again what a tremendous responsibility we have towards it. There wasn’t a dry eye in the auditorium that night and the nights to follow from what I heard. Here’s to Anwar Maqsood and the entire cast of ponay 14! Recommend

  • faizan

    an extremely idiotic, biased and stupid comment on the play especially the last part was way too irrelevant….Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    Who else here initially thought this article had something to do with Parks and Recreation?Recommend

  • Puhhleezzz!

    @author

    are you serious?!
    Do not & I repeat do no undermine Anwar Maqsoods script! It was brilliant. a bold in your face truth that we couldnt face with our head held high.

    apart from the over booking, i think you just wrote this article for some page space! miffedRecommend

  • bystander

    Even the best offering will have its critics. So I am not surprised. I loved Pawnay 14 August that came at an appropriate time and did what more than what it expected to do. We were so bogged down, frustrated, disillusioned, disappointed, disheartened, embittered and angry at what’s happening in Pakistan that we wanted Pawnay 14 August to vent it out for us in a satirical yet forceful manner and wake us up!! Salman’s criticism notwithstanding, Pawnay 14 August deserves to be shown to all Pakistanis here and abroad!Recommend

  • zinzi

    What’s wrong with Junoon re-introducing Iqbal to public is the simple fact that the band members have not even given the poet due respect to atleast read a complete verse correctly in their songs. Case in point the song ‘Khudi’ which incoherently throws together random phrases from several of Iqbal’s verses each written in a different context. You seriously think that’s re-introducing a poet? Iqbal must have turned in his grave.Recommend

  • zinzi

    What’s wrong with Junoon re-introducing Iqbal to public is the simple fact that the band members have not even given the poet due respect to atleast read a complete verse correctly in their songs. Case in point the song ‘Khudi’ which incoherently throws together random phrases from several of Iqbal’s verses each written in a different context. You seriously think that’s re-introducing a poet? Iqbal must have seriously turned in his grave.Recommend

  • Not Important

    Hi, you don’t have to publish this comment. Just wanted to point out that the picture spells it Pawnay and your heading spells it Pawney. You need a better editor with a good eye for such things.Recommend

  • sana

    i was disappointed with the script too. expected more from anwar maqsood than easy jokes on veena + a mumbling chaudhry shujaat saying mitti pao – every other political news satire show on tv does that. also found the extended “iqbal literally in convulsions watching junoon sing his kalaam” joke annoying.

    but kudos for taking shots at everyone including the army + bringing up the language issue. Recommend

  • lean

    One loophole I found was that the brochure said that the 3rd person besides jinnah and iqbal was maulana mohammad ali johar whereas throughout the show they kept referring to him as shaukat ali and even made that shaukat ali singer reference. plus the musharraf joke was a bit over the top. but in any case, this was actually a GOOD thought provoking play…much better than the utter commercial nonsense shah sharahbeel and nida butt churn out every three months.Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/007Zone Habibies

    Will we ever learn to appreciate ANYTHING in our country?
    And now criticizing yet another great act! It made us cry, laugh and revisit our country’s pride and dignity. And question our patriotism.
    Kudos to the whole team, especially to our country’s legend Mr. Anwar Maqsood!Recommend

  • Sid

    I wish there was a “dislike” button for this blog….

    Are you serious! That was one brilliant play, with great lines and strong acting…Recommend

  • Zain

    For someone who saw a lot of Salman during his early years in college, I fail to understand how can someone without even the remotest understanding of the urdu language (let alone its intricate nuances and word-play) pass any sort of opinion on a play in urdu.

    And this absolute disregard for any satirical pun which centers around or uses symbols which define us as a nation (such as the Quaids mazar, the anthem) reflects a closed & a small mind, hardly the traits you need, to understand literature.

    All I can say is that somebody who spent his formative years accquiring an MBA degree – my advice would be to stick to being an accountant rather then a critic.Recommend

  • Chapair dot qoum

    Mr blogger i want to meet you. periodRecommend

  • farhan

    Don’t Leave your day job mate!!Recommend

  • Faisal

    I think everyone has their own opinion regarding the play..but the overwhelming majority will agree that not only was the play excellent, but the emotion it brought in the audience and the glimmer of hope that we all as Pakistanis have inside us is still well alive and breathing..so bash the play if you want, but the impression left has been truly patriotic :)Recommend

  • http://www.awgilani.com Gilani

    I haven’t seen it. But m sure Anwar Maqsood produce quality work and this would also be one. :)Recommend

  • Huma

    pls bring the play to lahore!Recommend

  • Zubin (New Delhi)

    @ahad:
    I happened to see a recording of a performance of Paunay 14 August on YouTube. The recording was hazy and not too clear … with echo and audience murmur etc. So, please bear with my observations, as I wasn’t lucky to be there physically. Many years ago, I had seen a play, BHUTTO, which was, correct me, if I be wrong, banned in Pakistan, performed in India. There was hardly any props in the play. A berth / bed, a table, a stool / muda, a glass and a jar, a newspaper … and that all too vivid fading out of the gallows.

    .

    India has been fortunate to have had many great stage directors. Yet, when we looked for excellence for drama … especially on TV, we turned to PTV productions. I felt that this particular production of Paunay 14 August, while brave in its selection of theme, lacked in creative art direction.

    .

    A Habeeb Tanvir, Bhisham Sahani, Shyamanand Jalan or Safdar Hashmi, would have likely taken a minimalist approach. Focused sharply on the personalities and the dynamics between them. Rather than on a linear narrative where actors come across as separate puppets, speaking obliquely to the audience.

    .

    SET DESIGN: The background image / windows dominate the scene. Making light the imposing individuality and diluting the collective presence of Pakistan’s founding fathers. This in itself is a powerful statement of a national aspiration. This could have been elevated by only hinting at the airport setting. All that was needed was the lounge seats and an arrival / departure board. The arrival / departure board would have been a visual pun and could be used as an intentional prop to create moments of coincidental humour. The possibilities are many … Also, the lack of clutter would allow the characters to stand out on their own, confident and independent.

    .

    LIGHTING: The floodlighting of the stage with a uniform white light, leaves the actors competing for attention. And in this play, they end up speaking loudly to the audience.
    A more effective ploy, would have been to use situational warm / yellow lighting against a uniformly black stage. This could be switched to spotlighting when Quaid-E-Azam speaks. Or when Allama Iqbal engages M.A.Jinnah in a discussion or vice-versa. It gives an extra emphasis to the chemistry between them. It can also be used to high light the tension between distinct groups of people on different corners of the stage or with competing philosophies of Pakistan. Again, the possibilities are many … and remain unexplored, in an otherwise very rich script.

    .

    SOUND DESIGN: There is a particular episode when Quaid-E-Azam enquires after the identity of the singer, Pukhraj. In similar vein, many other artists from Pakistan early years are mentioned. Most Pakistanis, if not all, are well aware of the oeuvre of these artistic greats. There should have been some attempt to employ the richness of these sounds and incorporate them into the flow of the script. They would be used to accentuate and punctuate the drama. Again, imaginative use of sound would have furthered the impact of the play on the audience by engaging them. Nothing holds the attention more than sound. We get sound, even before we catch a glimpse … there is a romance to it. And a mystery. A voiceover by Zia Moheyddin or Rahat Kazmi to introduce clear episodes would have introduced the element of a storyteller!

    .

    COSTUMES / PROPS:. In South Asia, we rarely appreciate the biographies of our leaders. Instead we turn them into saints, because we are addicted to hagiography. We want to remember them as ideal human beings and the image most strong in our mind, is the one which the state wants us to absorb and venerate. The only exception to this, I guess, is Gandhi, because, well he didn’t have much sartorial leeway, considering he had the most limited wardrobe. But M.A.Jinnah wore sherwani rarely, and mostly Saville Row suits. And Allama Iqbal rarely walked about swaddled in a shawl and kurta pyjama. The choice of costumes, assumes a bias towards traditions. When, in actuality both were very much modernists. This itself is a significant political consideration, Those of us, who have seen reels and heard the speeches of them, know the conviction and deportment they effected. This is to be recreated on the stage. And once again, Paunay 14 August lost to the possibility of bringing alive their persona.

    .

    If I may, in the passing say, that there were quite a few things, by way of humour, that I didn’t comprehend. But that is likely for anyone who isn’t native to a country. What I did find most interesting, that theater, perhaps more so than movie, still remains the one medium where messages can be communicated with great immediacy. On that front, Paunay 14 August delivers quite well. I hope, that someone in India, perhaps IPTA or the National School of Drama will consider a Saadey 15 August. Recommend

  • Salman fan

    Brilliant article.

    At the end of the day, it was a successful commercial venture. which means the producer understood what people want to watch according

    it does not mean the play had any substance or form.

    well written.

    PS. i spent some time with the producer, Dawer Mahmood during one of his earlier productions and dealings with unscrupulous (read mob affiliated) persons during the funding stage of a production is never reassuring… is it? Recommend