After the pandemic, we haven’t fully recovered but we did survive 2020 and 2021. And trust me when I say that theatre is here to stay. However, the vacuum caused by the physical shutdown served in many cases as a spur for increased creativity and resourcefulness. Productions did not stop completely but instead went online, showcasing the potential of modern technology to bring theatre to wider audiences despite a lack of traditional performance spaces. Therefore, with enough care, we attempted to watch the much-awaited play in the joint stage trilogy, written by one of the most revered playwrights Pakistan has boasted, Anwar Maqsood, and directed by none other than Dawar Mehmood, titled Sarhey Chauda Agust – that revisits history in the aftermath of the Partition of India (Hindustan). The sequence commenced with Pawnay Chauda Agust in 2011. Following this was the second release, known as Sawa Chauda Agust two years later in 2013. The former was a captivating tale chronicling what Pakistan aimed to be and instead what a disastrous turn things have taken. Expanding on the same, Sawa Chauda Agust was a basic historical narrative tied around everything that could and did go wrong with the country during the 1970s and ‘80s, the decades that were led by two heads who added most to the country’s rupture and ruin — Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Zia-ul-Haq, respectively.
Although it primarily came across as a political comedy featuring opposing leaders, the underlying theme was a historic ode to the power of unity
Fittingly premiered on Pakistan’s Independence day on 14 August at Karachi Arts Council, this concluding rendition is the culmination of the much-coveted Kopykats Productions-and-Maqsood trilogy, the theme of which centers around the great divide of the Subcontinent, featuring Jinnah and Gandhi, who led not only the batwara (Partition) of the Subcontinent, but also the divide between identities, communities, families and memories, leaving behind years of simmering tensions between the two sovereign states. It was not only a movement, a shift, a dislocation. It created a geography of trauma. Jinnah (played by Omar Kazi) and Gandhi (played by Tanveer Gill) navigate across Kashmir, Delhi, Lahore and London, collecting people’s responses as to whether the split was a good decision after all. History tells us that both the opposing leaders desired to break free from the colonial British Raj and never aimed for a separation amongst themselves, both strongly advocating the idea of religious co-existence. However, fate played its card when Nehru disagreed, eventually leading to separatist views between Jinnah and Gandhi, with Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other – the same communities that had coexisted peacefully for almost a millennium across the Indian Subcontinent. This unfurls a series of legal proceedings regarding the culprit of this decision – demarcating Pakistan from British India and its implications such as who is to be blamed for the devastation of partition, and the reason for subsequent formation of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
This political-cum-comic offering was a stellar work of theatrics, especially when we see Jinnah and Gandhi steering through several countries. The dialogue delivery brimmed with wit and satire, as is always the case with Anwar Maqsood’s writings, bringing out some of the biggest laughs. Although it primarily came across as a political comedy featuring opposing leaders, the underlying theme was a historic ode to the power of unity. Despite the fact that the divide took place 75 years earlier, it still casts a long shadow over the hearts and minds of the region.
The real representation and the associations pegged with people, times and notions were in sync. And the disorder and confusion that both the leaders face in Kashmir is another climax in the play that kept the audience engaged, as it busted many myths, especially the one which reflected that people were eager to migrate to Pakistan. Jahanzeb Ali Shah, who played a Kashmiri freedom fighter, did justice to his role as he was able to bring out the best emotions required by his character. Gandhi and Jinnah delivered the most sincere moments that showed the range these performers possessed. The play’s humour and wit are by far the biggest strengths and the cast helped deliver these perfectly. Set change was required at regular intervals whereas immensely immaculate effort was also evident on special effects and lighting. The music, by Abbas Ali Khan, was phenomenal too.
The production received genuine applause from full houses. Every part of the series of Chauda Agust was a clear result of creative endeavours rather than the need to bring out something to complete a run. The writer-director-duo has over the years become karta-dharta of the theatrical landscape in Pakistan so it can be safely said that it is nothing short of a masterpiece. It is definitely one of the major not-to-be-missed shows of the year, which is worth pre-booking.