By Maliha Rehman
‘Saadhay Chauda August’ declares the poster and for many theatre aficionados it sends out waves of excitement. Long before the coronavirus wreaked havoc over the world and Pakistani theatre came to a halt for nearly two years, thespian group Kopykats Productions would often collaborate with scriptwriter Anwar Maqsood and bring out theatrical performances that would break records and run to full houses. The first collaboration had been Pawnay Chauda August all the way back in 2011 and while many more plays followed, the most successful and memorable remained the ‘Chauda August’ series.
Saadhay Chauda August is going to be the last in this trilogy, following Sawa Chauda August which was staged in 2012. According to Anwar Maqsood and Kopykats Productions CEO Dawar Mehmood, the script for the play has been in process for several years now. It had to wait in the shadows while the pandemic persisted.
“We have wanted to stage this final part for many years now but Anwar sahab didn’t want to do it at that point,” says Dawar. “So we worked on other plays. Then, we he finally agreed, the coronavirus came along. This play has been delayed thrice.”
“This is going to be the last play in the trilogy,” confirms Maqsood, “and it focuses on a discourse between Jinnah and Gandhi. A court case is filed, investigating who is to blame for the formation of Pakistan. The complaint is that had Pakistan not been created, India would have had been extensive and would have become very powerful. Both Jinnah and Gandhi are questioned and in order to find out who is to blame, they visit four places: Kashmir, Lahore, Delhi and London.”
“People will laugh but yes, they are also going to cry. There’s a lot to cry about, when you think of why Pakistan was formed and what it has become.” – Anwar Maqsood
He proceeds to narrate the experiences that the two have on visiting the various cities – spoilers that will not be mentioned here. In Maqsood’s quintessential style, the script is strong patriotic, peppered with witticisms. Many of his past theatrical scripts have also been heavy on emotion, with the audience dissolving into tears during certain scenes. Is this story going to be the same? “People will laugh but yes, they are also going to cry. There’s a lot to cry about, when you think of why Pakistan was formed and what it has become.”
Maqsod’s ability to make his audience laugh, cry and stay riveted cannot be doubted. However, given the success of the first two dramas, is there pressure that the third and final part of the anthology should be just as big as a success? Dawar Mehmood, who will be directing Saadhay Chauda August observes that the pressure is “of a different kind”. He says, “The main concern is how to balance the humor element along with the sensitivity of the story that we are tackling. It was easier to manoeuver the story with personalities like Zia-ul-Haq, Bhutto and Maulana Shaukat Ali in the first two parts but here, our main characters are Jinnah and Gandhi. They have to be depicted in a very balanced light particularly in the current political scenario where there is so much intolerance and political friction between Pakistan and India. We have to do justice to both characters while being sensitive to both Hindu and Muslim sentiments.”
He continues, “It’s a fantasy match with two world-class barristers having a go at it, Jinnah and Gandhi. I haven’t been this excited for a play in my 17 years long career as I am for this one. It all started from here, Pawnay Chauda August where we sold tickets for Rs 300 apiece. People say that if a drama is a hit, a sequel should not be made but we did that and it was an even bigger hit. It is also said that if part one and two go well, leave it at that and don’t make a part three. But we had to come full-circle, we had to stage the final show in the series. This is the biggest play that I have ever worked on. We have Abbas Ali Khan back with us creating the musical score, Wahab Shah is doing the choreography and Anwar sahab has written a beautiful script.”
It’s a fantasy match with two world-class barristers having a go at it, Jinnah and Gandhi. I haven’t been this excited for a play in my 17 years long career as I am for this one. – Dawar Mehmood
Is Dawar afraid that the attendance for the play may be low because audiences may be afraid of the coronavirus infection risk while sitting in a jam-packed, enclosed hall? “I don’t think so. I think that the halls will be packed. During the past two years, I did get opportunities to stage this play with the hall operating at a 25% and 50% capacity, but I didn’t see any point to that. We were investing so much time, effort and finances and we wanted the hall to be full. Unvaccinated people will not be allowed to attend and everyone will have to wear masks, of course.”
Maqsood agrees. “I would want this drama to be seen by a hall that is fully packed with people.”
Saadhay Chauda August is going to be approximately 90 minutes long and is scheduled to be staged around the second or third week of May in Karachi. Following this, there are plans for the play to be staged in key cities across Pakistan as well as internationally.