Playwright, Director, Founder Ajoka
Note: This interview was a part of study conducted by Muhammad Ali Farooqi, Editor in Chief, Monthly Azeem English Magazine as part of his doctoral research on " The Images of Partition of Punjab in the Punjabi Theatre of Lahore: A Case Study of Ajoka ". Shahid Nadeem is co-founder Ajoka (theatre group). He is a veteran theatre director, playwright and social activist. He has great services for the promotion of theatre and social reforms in Pakistan. He has been awarded with numerous national and international awards.
1- How do you see the partition and how do you relate Ajoka theatre with it?
First of all, partition of Punjab is one of the major disasters in the history of the world. Making of Pakistan is a separate thing but this division had deep rooted consequences and are still determining the future of the people of the region.
Secondly, partition has affected the Punjab’s history, culture, living of the communities and some kind of stability. Our art has suffered. It is important for us to recognize and learn lessons from the partition and try to understand what went wrong. We should learn how the community descended into satanic and evil society who were living together from centuries and were contributing to world civilization. What was it from which people got passion and madness? We need to understand it and overcome its trauma.
Further you cannot underestimate the dramatic effect of the partition. So, our major agenda was to build peace between India and Pakistan especially in both Punjab. For that we wrote plays and collaborated with the Indian groups. That has been the major focus for Ajoka to build peace and to develop cultural and theatrical links between the artists from both sides.
2- How do you create the characters in the play? Do you take those characters from real life?
See, there could be various triggers from which you can find the story. While writing on partition, the intention is to explore the common history, common literature or common stories and from these we get the appropriate stories for theatre. The most interesting of the plays written on partition is Anni Maai Da Sufna. I got the idea of this play from an Indian politician’s talk about his grandmother somewhere in a conference. We connected the story of a Hindu who did not leave from here. In another project, we took almost 7-8 young kids to the Wagha border and they had a meeting with 7-8 Indian kids. Then out of their experience, we wrote a play for kids of both sides.
3- How do you maintain the narrative in your play?
As a playwright, the first thing is to write for your own people and society. Then the second thing is, you should not compromise the basics or fundamentals of your story. It means you are not promoting hatred or bigotry or not presenting the quarrels of different castes, people or religion. Being a good playwright, you cannot do this, you should respect your audience. If they are ignorant or prejudiced, it doesn’t mean you look down upon them for how ignorant people are. They are the product of society. They are brainwashed and are presented with distorted information about their history and religion. You are addressing their issues to be solved but not mocking them.
The third thing is, you shouldn’t look like an alien to them. It means when you are presenting something through theatre, don’t make them feel that you are presenting some other society’s story.
4- Share your experience regarding the audience’s response towards Ajoka’s plays?
Yes, there is an interesting story that I can recall. While writing the play Bullah, I developed a character of Banda Singh Bairagi. He was a warrior who took the sword to take the revenge of his gurus. On the other side, the Muslim considered him an ultimate villain. I found that character interesting because both Bulleh Shah and he were contemporaries and were resisting the oppressors of the time. One through poetry and the other through sword. I made these two to meet somewhere in Punjab. Here, I thought that people would react because Banda Singh’s character was not good for Muslims. But I was surprised that people loved that character very much besides all the biases and grudges.
5- Why do we need to convey the theme of partition to our young generation?
History is a continuous phenomenon. Every new generation has to take the baggage of their ancestors. The future generation would inherit this land from us. And Punjab is always going to be a problem because the people on both sides are sharing the same culture, language and heroes. That is why they need to be aware about what has happened and why it should not be happening again? They need to know the factors of that temporary insanity. It would help them to understand the partition in a better way.
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