What became of their dream?
With ‘Pawnay 14 August’ Anwar Maqsood enthrals the audiences
with the humour and tragedies of the unrealised dream of the
By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam
What if the Quaid Visited Pakistan Today?
I expect only the very best from Anwar Maqsood. I expect him to make important political and social statements in the fold of humour. I expect each line to be a punch line. I look forward to quotes and puns that will ring in my mind and which I can use as quotes. I expect his work to make me laugh and at the same time leave me seriously more educated about my country. I expect brilliance, and nothing less. But this time, with “Pawnay 14 August” which is the first theatre play he has written, he surpassed my expectations.
If Maqsood is called the “Father of satire” in present day Pakistan, it would not be wrong, which is why the young director Dawar Mehmood confessed that he had come to Karachi with a dream that he’d be able to shake hands with Maqsood. When that dream came true, he convinced Maqsood to write a theatre play for him. Maqsood closed his eyes, opened them, came up with the name (Pawnay 14 August) and within their 90 minutes’ conversation came up with the outline of the script of this play.
In the Arts Council of Karachi’s auditorium bursting at the seams with people, a stampede situation seemed inevitable when Maqsood started by addressing the emotionally charged audience, and quietened them eventually with extempore brilliance. He started by drawing an imaginary situation of a gathering of the dead poets’ society – of Faraz, Faiz, Ghalib, Mir, Josh and others. And that Faraz, from the heavens, was inviting Maqsood to anchor the “heavenly” centenary celebration of Faiz. His pun was both funny but painful when he said that if this is how Karachi’s situation remains, “Anwar will be anchoring that jalsa next year”.
The play is set in present day Pakistan, when in a hypothetical imaginative scenario, we see the three central characters, Quaid-e-Azam, Maulana Shaukat Ali and Allama Iqbal, visiting Pakistan for 23rd March celebrations to see what became of their dream – Pakistan. As they wait in the waiting lounge of the airport in Karachi to take a flight to Islamabad, they meet an assortment of characters that interact with them, providing all of humour, catharsis and the tragedies of the unrealized dream of our original leaders.
Te choice of characters is interesting. Veena Malik’s character provides zing and shock value for poor Iqbal when she uses his poetry out of context. In this, Maqsood reminds us how we use powerful poetry like Iqbal’s to mean what we want it to mean. The character of a Bengali and the conversation reminds us of the painful fall of Dhaka in ’71. Perhaps the hardest jibes of Maqsood’s pen were against the armed forces, the recurrent Martial Laws, the 32 out of 65 years this country has seen under army dictatorship, and the fact that the biggest budget drain is the forces. General Pervez Musharraf got the brunt of Maqsood’s razor sharp wit, when a lady is shown flying to Dubai to see him for a “private corner meeting”. Representatives of the many Muslim League factions was a metaphor also for how the nation is split into factions. The colourful, “burger”, English-speaking representative of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf provided comic relief. Punjab and Sindh had representatives, but those from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were not included and were sorely missed. Jamaat e Islami’s dharnaas were highlighted by the burqa-clad character shown to be a female JI representative. Maqsood remained gentle on the Muttahida Qaumi movement.
The brilliance of this play lies in not just the ingenious way in the subject matter has been dealt, in which Maqsood has sensed the pulse of his audience. In addition, the acting is praiseworthy. The stately Umer Sultan, particularly, was very convincing as the Quaid (and by that word I mean Jinnah), with few dialogues but such powerful facial expressions that they made one emote and connect. Talal Jillani was good as Iqbal, but his role should have been given better emphasis. Aamer Agha as Maulana Shaukat Ali provided laughter, fun as well as profound poignancy. But to me the surprise star performance was of the young lady acting as the air hostess. Her timing was superb, and timing is what makes theatre what it is.
Maqsood’s dialogues would need a separate review. Some of the really worth remembering ones would include Iqbal being told that “jis raat tum ne Pakistan ka khwaab dekha tha, us raat tumhain sona naheen chahiye tha” (the night you dream of Pakistan, you should not have gone to sleep).
Pawnay 14 August made audiences laugh and made them cry. It revitalized patriotism. It left a lump in your throat on every second dialogue. It raised questions that need to be raised. It was not overly simplistic at any stage (pun intended) but was also not unnecessarily complicated. It left us, most importantly, not just with pain but hope.