Tense moments with Death and the Maiden
Karachi: The third NAPA theatre festival closed with Fawad Khan’s Raagni, and if anyone wondered whether this year’s closer would leave as much of an impression as the previous couple of years’ did, the answer is yes. The best, as they say, was saved for last, and was a happy surprise in terms of direction and actors, and the overall treatment of the story.
Adapted from Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden by Shoaib Hashmi – presumably sometime in the ‘90s – Raagni does wear a vibrant, busy face, but leaves an aftertaste of disquiet, which is down to the story. However, could this impact have been achieved without a strong set of actors and a director who knew exactly what he wanted?
Through this year’s run of the festival, the local plays, especially those produced by NAPA alum, had a grand, ambitious quality. Ambition is good, but without a clear sense of direction, can fail to achieve anything of substance. One of Fawad Khan’s marks as a director has been his creative ambition, which was obvious in Khwab Tha Shayad, more subtle in last year’s Khel Ek Raat Ka, and always the element that kept his productions from being well-rounded.
Raagni bears the Fawad Khan touches – the stage, for instance, was more closed in, letting the audience feel they were in lead characters Saba and Salman’s home, and lent the environment a ‘walls closing in’ feel. The manner in which the final conversations between the characters were played out was interestingly divided, keeping the very crucial scenes tense and tight. The final scene has a surreal quality we have come to expect from Fawad Khan. Where the surrealism could seem forced in his earlier productions, in Raagni the director plays his cards, and plays them well.
What Fawad Khan has been blessed with in Raagni are great actors. Nazarul Hassan seems to get better with each performance – just the right amount of expression, one of the best voices, and the ability to really be his character without hamming it up. And though we’ve never really seen Zain Ahmed onstage as an actor, he is really quite good. As a frustrated but devoted husband, Ahmed manages to communicate all this simply through his expressive voice.
Bakhtawar Mazhar, while average as the Mafioso D in Stumped! really shines as the neurotic, traumatized Saba in Raagni. When she recounts a terrible memory, we can see the tears in her eyes, when she is beside herself with rage, it’s rage you can literally taste. NAPA definitely needs more skilled female actors, and Mazhar is someone we hope to see more of.
A real bag of mixed nuts this year, Raagni was a good note to end on, and a promising one to begin with.