KARACHI, March 31: Translating a work of art is a thankless job. As the cliché goes, if the translation is not faithful to the original version it loses its contextual perspective; if it is not beautiful like the original text it mars its linguistic charm. This was felt while watching an Urdu translation of Turkish poet, novelist and playwright Melih Cevdet Anday’s play titled ‘Khel Ek Raat Ka’ written and directed by Fawad Khan at the National Academy of Performing Arts in-house theatre on Saturday evening.
The play is more of a psychological inquiry into the character of a man (Saqib Khan) who has had an unpalatable past and is unable, or finding it hard, to reconcile with it. Layers of his character are peeled off with the help of a woman (Sanam Saeed) who, when the play
begins, he brings to his home after spotting her standing on the street in strange circumstances.
The conflict in the play is highlighted through the incessant use of dialogue during the course of one night between the man and the woman once she reaches his place. She is initially perturbed about what the man thinks of her. He swigs down brandy giving the impression that he is in a world of his own and is not pushed about her life. She does her best to make him know as to who she is and at the same time tries to explore the man’s life.
From here begins a storytelling game where the woman first tells him about how she got where she got, her baby girl, her husbands and their ill-treatment of her, etc. This of course cannot be corroborated as the man keeps pricking her conscience making it difficult for the audience to know whether the woman is divulging the truth to him. As she narrates her tale, the man starts pressing his typewriter’s keys noting down the sequence of events.
The man himself, as alcohol takes its toll, discloses his life story by making it sound like someone else’s. Again, it is difficult to ascertain whether what he’s revealing is false or not.
Later in the play two similar characters appear as if they’re the alter egos of the main characters. The woman blames the man himself for coming to a point where he has lost hope in happiness. The hallucination, with intermittent acts of dancing and getting physically closer to each other, makes it further convoluted to recognise as to which of the four characters are real.
Khel Ek Raat Ka, in terms of conceiving the idea for local audiences, was a decent endeavour. The problem is: translation is a tricky business. What a certain phrase sounds meaningful in one language can sound awfully plain in another. For example, when the character of the man says to the woman ‘hum bister pe chalein’ he is trying to imply ‘I want to go to bed with you’. Obviously hum ‘bister pe chalein’ comes across pedestrian when it is used in the sexual context. Plays that have a high psychological quotient must be dealt with clever
verbal communication. The translator has to have mastery over both languages (the original and the one in which the translation is attempted) which means he should know, at least, the equivalent or corresponding phrases and idiomatic expressions of both languages.
Actors Saqib Khan and Sanam Saeed had their moments and were good in patches. But Saqib Khan all through the play spoke in one guttural voice, even after consuming alcohol. Sanam Saeed looked in a hurry to finish off her lines. Having said this, their hard work did pay dividends as they managed to have the audience’s attention.
The director’s passion for his work was evident too. For future projects if he’s to choose small spaces to do his plays in, more concentration on flawless footwork will be required.
The play was part of Napa’s ongoing arts festival.