KARACHI: Brecht finds echoes in Karachi

By Salman Siddiqui

KARACHI, April 16: The third (final) year students of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) put up an outstanding performance of ‘Insaaf ka daira’ at the Karachi Arts Council auditorium here on Wednesday.

Written by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who coined the term ‘epic theatre’, ‘Insaaf ka daira’ was originally written as the ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ and was translated into Urdu by Zahida Zaidi. Napa faculty member Zain Ahmed directed the play, which comprised 12 of his students.

The performance employed the Brechtian concept of a ‘play within a play’ and began with the dialogues by the narrator, played by Ali Kazmi, who informed the audience of a decaying society set in the backdrop of a governor’s palace in Georgia.

Governor Georgi Abashvili (Ali Sheikh) and his wife Natella (Bakhtawar) are more concerned about the expansion of their mansion than the sufferings of their subjects. They bask in the flattery of their most trusted lieutenant, the antagonist Arsen Kazbiki (Rauf Afridi), who subsequently plots their downfall and usurps power after having the governor executed. Thus begins the tale of how “those who have had no share in the fortunes of the mighty often have a share in their misfortunes.”

The royal couple had a child, Michael, whom the governess left behind at the palace in the midst of a civil war and fussing about what clothes to take along during her escapade.

The heroine, Grusha, played wonderfully by a rising star, Shagufta, is a maid and takes the child into her care. She falls in love with a soldier, Simon (Afraz), who is sent to a war of which he has no clue whatsoever.

Grusha runs away with the child from the palace and ends up in a marriage with an ill man in the hope of gaining acceptability in a society that looks down upon single women with a fatherless child. But the governor’s wife, Natella, who had been looking for the child in the hope of claiming the inheritance left behind by her deposed husband, files a case and demands custody as the rightful biological mother. The case ends up in the court of a corrupt magistrate, Azdak, who actually is the real star in the play since he ingeniously decides the matter by drawing a circle on the ground and declaring that the woman able to pull the child out of the circle would be declared the rightful mother.

The actors’ dialogue delivery was distinct and complemented the flow of the play. From a direction point of view, a jump between the acts was not evident even though only three acts of the five in the original were staged. Simple props were used as the set. The acting was good, but the singing of some performers seemed a little off key – though it must be remembered that they are majoring in acting.

Karachiites gave a resounding applause to the performers and many were hopeful that many more such performances would become the norm in the city.