Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: Frontier Culture

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The Rebirth Of Frontier Culture

Restrictions + Nishtar Hall

By Sher Alam Shinwari


Frontier culture
Frontier culture
Frontier culture

During the previous MMA government in the NWFP, Nishtar Hall remained shut for five years causing a serious setback not only to performing artistes but also dealt a severe deathblow to cultural activities in the Frontier capital.

The rationale behind the closure of Nishtar Hall was not without reason. Some unscrupulous sponsors and financiers exploited unsuspecting theatre buffs by staging dramas with vulgar dances, immoral dialogues and below-the-belt humour that was in utter contrast to the social norms and traditions of Pashtun society.

It aroused indignation among the stakeholders and even a stratum of the artistes raised their voice against these so-called ‘art promoters’, urging the then government to purge stage of such people who were minting money in the guise of holding ‘cultural activities’.

Once Nishtar Hall closed down, a large number of artistes, singers, musicians and performers lost their sole means of income. It was claimed by the then MMA leadership that Nishtar Hall was the main source of obscenity and vulgarity throughout the province. An under-construction open-air theatre (initiated by the then governor NWFP Iftikhar Hussain Shah) also fell prey to the decision.

The action compelled artistes, singers, musicians and other people associated with cultural entertainment either to leave the city or seek some other means of livelihood. Case in point is that of famous Pashto singer Gulzar Alam who was allegedly tortured, beaten up and forced to leave the city by certain quarters.

The recent reopening of Nishtar Hall by the ANP-led coalition government has served as the first raindrop on a parched landscape. Says Gulzar Alam, “It is a wise decision in every respect. While the stage performers will get new life, the colossal damage done to Frontier art can’t be undone overnight.”

“The government, general public and artistes’ community should sit together to devise ways and means not to let any such move happen in the future,” says ghazal icon Sardar Ali Takar. “Closing Nishtar Hall was a death sentence for many. Cultural activities are like a breath of fresh air for society, and one cannot stop breathing. Art can curb militant tendencies which are presently spreading in the Frontier province.”

Immediately after Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti’s maiden speech in the NWFP assembly, the provincial culture department issued a notification to reopen Nishtar Hall, while constituting a supervisory committee with some code of ethics under which the users of the facility would be bound to ensure compliance and policy while using the hall.

The committee comprises the director of the culture department as chairman, Prof Muhammad Khamis as member, Shazma Haleem as member and administrative officer Nishtar Hall, ex-officio member has been tasked with keeping an effective check over obscenity and vulgarity during the programmes held at Nishtar Hall, and to ensure that cultural shows/dramas being staged there are in conformity with local cultural norms and Pashtun customs.

Outstation female film artistes will be allowed on the stage only after acquiring a prior permission, local artistes (male and female) are required to be properly attired during performance, vulgar songs, dialogues and objectionable performances cannot be presented and all the shows/dramas must promote/project local culture and art.

The organisers will have to seek security clearance from the district administration before applying for permission to hold shows/dramas at Nishtar Hall while all kinds of dances will now be strictly prohibited on stage. The rates of reservation, duration of the programmes and other rules and regulations for reservation of the hall and holding of programmes shall remain unchanged for the time being.

Tariq Jamal, Peshawar TV artiste and president of the Frontier’s artistes’ organisation, Awaz, maintains: “It is an age-long allegation against art that it promotes vulgarity in society. First we need to educate our people on the concepts of art and culture. A society without cultural activities is like a body sans soul. The reopening of Nishtar Hall is akin to the rebirth of Frontier art; the artistes should put their hands together to resist any such action in future with full force.”

Naushaba, another senior female TV/radio artiste, observes, “The reopening of Nishtar Hall is not the only issue. Artistes’ security and their financial support along with some concrete steps are needed to fully revive cultural activities not inside Nishtar Hall but throughout the NWFP.”

Pashto ghazal maestro Khyal Mohammad opines that the performing arts shapes people’s lives covertly and overtly. “It needs strong support both from the government and the stakeholders so that it can be saved from ruin and to preserve it at any cost. Nishtar Hall should also serve as a place to train new talent.”

Zahida Hina actress/script writer comments on the code of ethics thus: “A censor board comprising culturally sound people including writers, intellectuals and senior artistes to streamline cultural activities at Nishtar Hall needs to be formed. Female artistes were the worst-hit during the closure, and they still need to be properly compensated and encouraged.”

An official in the culture department of the NWFP revealed that a full-fledged culture directorate will be set up and a Culture Task Force (CTF) has also been constituted which will deal with all issues related to artistes and culture in the Frontier.

Nishtar Hall Echoes With Music After Five Years

The city’s lone theatrical hall echoed with music and glowed with clusters of artistes for the first-ever mega awards ceremony that drew entrainment-starved Peshawaris after a dry spell that lasted five long years.

The second awards ceremony was arranged under the auspices of the Pakhtunkhwa Adabi Saqafati Malgari (Pasm), a literary-cum-cultural association founded six years ago. More than 40 awards and shields were given away in various categories. Prominent singers Khyal Mohammad, Khalid Malik, Janas Khan and Nazia Iqbal also sang popular numbers on the occasion while some artistes presented humorous sketches.

Awards were conferred on Badar Munir, legendary hero of Pashto films; Ismail Shahid the father of comedy, Mahjabeen Qizilbazsh the melody queen, Zarsanga popular folk singer, TV artistes Alamzeb Mujahid, Zahoor Jan, Khan Bahadar, Khalid Khan Khattak, Fauzia Javed, pop singers Humayoun Khan, Sitara Younas, Zeb Khan, Shuakat Memood , Ivan Shafiq, Maaz Khan Wisal, along with TV producers Aziz Ejaz, Abdul Qayyum Khan Hoti and Fahmeed Khan. Scriptwriters and poets Shamsul Qamar Andesh, Asghar Lala and Masoodur Rahman Abid were among the recipients of the Pasm awards. Zarshad Ali, a prominent folk singer from Charsadda, was given a special award for his immense contribution to Pashto folk music.

Jahangir Adil, the chairman of Pasm alleged that the NWFP culture department was misusing millions of rupees and not a single penny was passed down to the poor, deserving artistes.

Syed Aqil Shah, minister for sports, tourism and culture, and Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the minister for information, while responding to the demands of Pasm, assured the artistes’ community that recommendations would be made to allot plots, arrange cultural exchange foreign tours and also to launch a Pashto Abasin TV channel that would trigger cultural activities.

“We expect much more from this government because artistes have suffered a lot, just giving away a shield or certificate will not bring any good to them. I admit there should be something for encouraging artistes and promoting artistic activities, but something should also be done for them to keep their kitchen fires burning,” said TV artiste Ismail Shahid. — Sher Alam Shinwari

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