Ajoka emerges from ‘ban’ to steal the show
By Sachal Afraz
ISLAMABAD: The Ajoka theatre group was allowed to perform their play ‘Dara’ at the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) from June 17 to June 19. This ‘permission’ came after much controversy and debate as the PNCA had decided to ‘ban’ the group last month.
Advocates for the Ajoka Theatre group claimed that overturning this ‘unofficial’ ban required a lot of hard work. Human rights’ activist Tahira Abdullah told The Express Tribune that, “It was not easy, we had to use political pressure and threaten legal action. It was not a debate of ideologies. It was a passionate battle. We won.”
Tahira claims that their lawyer had offered to represent Ajoka for free and assured them that it was an open and shut case in their favour.
When the issue had been taken to the Standing Senate Committee on Culture, Ajoka was further criticised and condemned for allegedly “ridiculing religious ideologies”. The play under question at the time was Burqavaganza, which has still not been staged at the PNCA. None of the Senators in the Committee have seen the play they feel is offensive to Islam.
Director Ajoka Madeeha Gohar said, “First of all the PNCA does not have the authority to place a blanket ban on our group. Secondly we told the committee that each case should be dealt on its own merit; our fight for the right to perform Burqavaganza should have no bearing on our permission to perform other plays.”
Director General PNCA Tauqeer Nasir, who himself is a veteran actor, had initially refused to allow Ajoka into the hall and urged senators to officially support his ‘ban’ on the troupe.
Nasir was present at the first performance and now said that he liked the play. When asked if he was still in support of banning such performances, he told The Express Tribune, “No, no, it is about history, as long as it is history it is fine.”
Script writer Shahid Nadeem said that all events depicted in the play were historically accurate and that much of this truth had ‘disappeared’ from our history books.
“Ajoka feels that enlightening the public and youth about the truth of Mughal
history could go a long way towards promoting inter-religious tolerance and pacem,” he said.
Minister for Culture, Aftab Hussain Jilani said: “The debate between the orthodox and the liberal has always continued and will always continue.” Jilani expressed the hope to see more from Ajoka and added, “This is the first live play I have ever seen and I must admit, I am moved. I started imagining myself in the Mughal era and became very emotional with every scene.”
The performance was widely appreciated by the audience and frequently punctuated with applause.
Source: The Express Tribune