Seeing the plate half full
KARACHI: Those of us who have had the pleasure of watching writer Anwar Maqsood’s tele-drama ‘Half Plate’ on PTV in the 1990s would agree that it’s one of those high-quality pieces of writing where literary humour blends with bitter reality like a dream to create a work of art that’s not a tragicomedy but something beyond that, something that defies classification. CopyKats theatrical adaptation of Half Plate (titled Haaf Playt), written by Anwar Maqsood and directed by Dawar Mahmood, had a plateful of rib-tickling moments on Tuesday evening. Did the team have too much on its plate? Perhaps.
The play tells the story of an old couple Mirza Nafis Barelvi (Yassir Hussain) and his wife Bano (Maryam Saleem). Mirza is a compulsive, unsung poet and columnist. He is not a well-off person, a fact that has always made his wife a bit churlish. She doesn’t hold punches when they exchange heated arguments and brings up the issue of Mirza’s past suggesting his father used to make kebabs to earn a living. Mirza doesn’t like to be reminded of the days gone by. He hits the roof at the very mention of his father’s occupation.
The couple has a son Karim Barelvi (Ishtiaq Rasool). He, like his father, is into poetry and is always clad in a sherwani. They live in a rented house owned by Butt Sahib (Zahid Ahmed), a simpleton who doesn’t understand high-falutin Urdu. They haven’t paid the rent for a long time, and whenever Butt Sahib enters the house to inquire about the outstanding payment Mirza comes up with something or the other to distract him.
Mirza also has a student Tamanna (Alizeh) who writes faulty ghazals but catches Mirza’s eye because of her charm. His son Karim and Butt Sahib are also not unaffected by it. At the fag end of the play Bano’s cousin Iftikhar (Gohar Rasheed) pays a visit to Mirza’s house from Canada. He was once engaged to Bano. He has come to Pakistan with $15,000 to give to Bano to alleviate her suffering. His offer, however, is turned down by Bano who says her husband has given her everything and she’s happy with whatever she has.
Haaf Playt had a typical Anwar Maqsood stamp on it. There were a lot of moments when the audience chuckled or laughed. The dialogue was more funny than satirical because the literature quotient was less than the original TV version, understandably so. The writer also kept the script sound contemporary by touching upon issues such as terrorism and the foreign currency rate. At one point when Bano takes a shot at Mirza that her sister’s two sons are surgeons working in America, he replies that more Americans have lost their lives at the hands of those two surgeons than due to acts of terrorism.
Ishtiaq Rasool as Karim Barelvi did a fabulous spoof of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem ‘Hum Dekheinge’ when Butt Sahib comes to ask for rent. His response ‘Hum de deinge, lazim hai ke hum bhi de deinge, woh qarz ke jis ka wada tha’ was a terrific performance. His equation with his father when offering Fateha for their supposed uncle’s departed soul to sidetrack Butt Sahib was no less funny.
This is no criticism of the young actors but it has to be said that watching the play involuntarily reminded this writer of the inimitable Moin Akhtar and the fabulous Khalida Riyasat. The young pair seemed to be aping the two great actors rather than following the way they absorbed the characters of Mirza and Bano. Mind you, there’s no comparison. Yasser Hussain and Maryam Saleem did a decent job mainly because they managed to keep the audience’s attention. Having said that, it’s time Yasser Hussain learned that instead of following the character (as he successfully did in Angan Terha) he tried to follow the actor Moin Akhtar. This means that he should avoid being a mimic. He is a good performer. Zahid Ahmed, on the other hand, looked and sounded like Butt Sahib and not like Arshad Mahmood. There’s a difference.
Maryam Saleem has issues with her tone. The way the late Khalida Riaysat projected her voice in the TV drama was exemplary. When she (Riyasat) was squabbling with her husband, she was a different kettle of fish. When she was trying to dissuade Butt Sahib from maligning Mirza, she slipped into a different garb. There was no monotony in her voice. The good thing with Maryam is that she comes across someone who is a hard-working performer and a quick learner. And it was only the first performance on Tuesday.
Anwar Maqsood and Dawar Mahmood deserve to be congratulated for keeping the essence of the play intact.