World Performing Arts Festival Pakistan

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World Performing Arts Festival Pakistan

Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop

Around the world in 11 days

By Afia Mansoor


Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop
Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop

It was that time of the year again when performers from all over the world come to visit Pakistan at the most prestigious Arts Festival of the country. The 26th World Performing Arts Festival held by the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (RPTW) in collaboration with Telenor for a second consecutive year has certainly come a long way.

The great showcase of theatre, music, dance, puppetry and cinema enthralled people from all walks of life from November 22 to December 2 at the Alhamra Cultural Complex, Lahore. This year it was certainly an uphill task to arrange such an event with international performers, considering the state of affairs in the country and the forbidding travel advisories for participants who wanted to come down to Pakistan.

Nevertheless some 21 countries participated with some 350 foreign delegates and 300 local participants to present a fabulous mélange of performing arts. The credit goes to the organisers for providing a delightful feast of international arts so that it felt by the end that one had actually been to a trip round the world through exotic countries and cultures.

The opening night was held two days before the event was opened for the general public and inaugurated by the Governor Punjab. It was a night to present a colourful summary of the highlights over the next 11 days. Bushra Ansari and Sajid Hasan played the hosts while performers Nighat Chaudhry, Ali Zafar, Roxen’s Mustafa Zahid, Saeen Zahoor, Punjtani Dholiyaas and Annie Princess swayed the crowd. Atif Aslam also came but enjoyed Ali Zafar’s singing while sitting in the common crowd.

This year Usman Peerzada, the CEO of RPTW announced that the organisation would take the festival to other major cities as the Sufi Music Festival was also organised to a highly appreciative audience in Karachi early this year.

Some glitches at the festival were experienced as the performances schedule kept being updated till the last day as some international groups could not make it due to security and visa concerns. Also, some performances were disturbed by noise from other performances in the nearby camps which, according to the RPTW, was unavoidable due to space constriction at the venue since an event of this scale needed a bigger venue.

Music: Eleven concerts were held each night according to a different theme. The Folk Night saw performances by, among others, an ever vivacious Arif Lohar, Saeen Zahoor who has quite a huge fan following with urbanised youngsters now, Krishan Lal Bheel and Zarsaanga. The World Music Nights had performances by many artistes from around the world including the Caravan Quartet from France which performed gypsy jazz, Peter Pankee from Germany who is a world music wizard and Hildeguun the Banjo player from Norway.

The Ghazal Night was a treat for lovers of the softer genre with Tina Sani being the show stealer. The Pop Night was a full house with a string of performers including Abrarul Haq, Roxen’s Mustafa, Annie Princess and Ukraines pop diva Kaamaliya. It was Abrar, however, who stole the show from right under Kamaaliya’s pretty nose with his hour-long live performance. The Rock Night was another showstopper with a teeming crowd of youngsters who thronged to see Ali Azmat and Atif Aslam apart from Roxen, The Call and Overload.

Theatre: Twenty-one groups of theatre performed this year including five each from India and Pakistan and the rest from countries such as Austria, Netherlands, Canada, UK, Romania and many more.

Some outstanding plays included the Nati Binodini by Theatre and Television Associates India. The play is about Binodini who is born into a brothel and is sent off to learn dance and song by her mother to keep the kitchen fire burning. She ends up in the Bengal Theatre and is mentored by her Manager Girish Ghosh to become a fine actress at a time when women hardly came into the profession.

The play traces her arduous journey where she can’t completely get rid of her past and ultimately has to sacrifice her love and live to the cause of good theatre. The play was unique as the life of Binodini is narrated by her older self and enacted by four women in parts depicting her youth.

Despite its running time of two hours, Nati Binodini never lost its compelling grip over the audience. It received a standing ovation on the first night of its performance.

Troubadour by the Phoenixplayers of India was a play that described itself as an original collage voicing the beauty and truth of the Rumi’s stories and verse. It was also a tribute to the storytellers of ancient times called Tarabdaars who sang, danced and talked about the ‘Beloved’.

Jesus: The Guantanamo Years by the Irish comedian and columnist Abie Philbin Bowman was an hour-long play where Abie played the part of Jesus Christ who returns to Earth as a comedian and lands up at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Abie engaged the audience in a scathing, sarcastic and witty commentary on Al-Qaeda, Christianity, The Guantanamo prison guards and Monty Python the comedian; ripping each apart to pieces. The play’s content had adult strains and was blasphemous towards Christianity which sure shook my sensibilities to a good measure. However some of his jokes including those about the dumbness of the prison guards on terrorism were hilarious as Abie said, “When the guard brought me breakfast in the prison one day and I took it he said… you’re the only one who isn’t on a hunger strike today. I told him it’s Ramadan.”

Abie apologised at the end for any offense he caused with his script saying he believed life and religion should never be taken too seriously and that the bright side to things should always be kept in perspective hence the reference to Guantanamo Bay; one of the most depressing places on Earth.

Coppercity 1001 by the Editta Braun Company was a performance by artistes from Austria, Germany, Slovenia, France and Jordan. Watching this mime-cum-puppet-cum-drama performance was a uniquely surreal experience. So dexterous were the performers that their show was a spellbinding sequence of artistry. The story was about a copper city whose citizens are accursed due to their prejudices. The story is narrated by Shehrezade from the Arabian Nights and is a symbolic comment at societal hypocrisies.

The Pakistani offerings that received full audiences included RPTW’s Patay Khan. The play was a musical narrative from the court of King Akbar and had aplenty innuendoes towards the socio-political happenings in the country. It was greatly enjoyed by people from all ages. Salman Shahid’s BrownBread Theatre presented two short plays by the name of Glad Tidings and Abdullah; the former, written by Bilal Hassan Minto was a humorous and ironic story of a woman who wants to escape repressive elements like the Lal Masjid brigade. The latter was a comic play about a wealthy family and their religious old servant.

Puppetry: Nine puppet groups performed at the festival including six international entries from Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Netherlands and Sri Lanka. The highlights of the puppet performances included The Smallest Woman on Earth by Krepsko from Czechoslovakia. The story was about a woman who falls in love with a man who has a fetish for small women and aims to find the smallest one that ever existed. The human character of the play metamorphoses into a smaller and smaller woman to finally become a tiny string puppet yet her love remains unfulfilled. The props and the ambience of the play seemed to transport one straight to a magical world where illusions became real.

HerzKasper by Florian Feisal of Germany was a funny story about a fearless puppet called Kasper who is not frightened of anything and saves his friend Zap from a ghost, the devil and a crocodile. The way Florian handled two puppets and delivered his own part as well left the children speechless. He was particularly skillful while inside the giant crocodile’s tummy that he maneuvered himself.

Bulgarias Pro Rodopi Art Centre presented The Chick with a Trick about a hen who lays a bonbon instead of an egg. Panicked, she goes to her friends the duck, the doctor, and the king but they’re all busy with their own troubles and in the end she realises that there’s nothing wrong in being different. The performer, Desislava Mincheva, played all the characters skillfully and threw candies at the children in the end for which she was applauded generously.

The local performances included skits by the RPTW, Pakistan National Council of Arts, Lahore Arts Council and the folk puppeteers from rural Punjab.

Dance: Seven dance performances were held of which Joana De Soza from Canada, Sharmistha Mukherjee from India and our own Fasih-ur-Rehman and Nighat Chaudhary presented Kathak. Wahaab Shah with his entourage performed a variety of dancing skills ranging from the contemporary hip hop to acrobatic rhythm. However, at the opening night of the festival one felt that Wahab’s troupe could have improved with their synchronisation.

Compagnie Drift from Switzerland performed a one-hour dance-cum-mime production titled Unkaputtbar (Indestructible) which was a treat to watch. Four huge, air-filled white plastic dominoes formed the backdrop. They were translucent enough to reflect the changing colour of the lights to reflect a changing mood of the performance. The four-man group performed acrobatic intermezzos very skillfully, keeping all riveted.

Cinema: Fifty films from various countries were screened during the festival and acclaimed Indian art film directors Govind Nihalani and Anwar Jamal attended the festival. The RPTW also arranged a producer’s meet to facilitate a discussion of Pakistani film-makers with the Indian counterparts.

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