Sawa 14 August
Sawa 14 August is the new play from acclaimed writer Anwar Maqsood, and serves as a sequel to the well-received Pawnay 14 August. That production portrayed the struggle for the soul of the Pakistani nation by bringing together the characters of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, poet Dr Allama Mohammed Iqbal and Maulana Shaukat Ali Johar. It was hailed as a breath of fresh air for Pakistani live drama. Now, Sawa 14 August brings a new political boldness to the stage.
Based in the 1970s, the character of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah acts as a voice of reason, trying to steer the nation away from the decline ahead of it. He is stunningly portrayed by Zahid Ahmed as an ethereal, brooding master, increasingly frustrated with the figures he confronts. The two figures he confronts in Sawa 14 August are namely socialist politician Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and the man who would be his downfall, Pakistan military General Zia ul-Haq. Waseem Waheed actually looks like Bhutto in his role, and shows the man to be a flawed idealist who ultimately trips himself up. Gohar Resheed excellently acts as the sniggering, prudish, weasel-like Haq.
The full cast of supporting actors work splendidly together; Yasir Hussain as a Pathan, a Sindhi and an unidentified layman; Zainab Ahmed and Alizeh Rizvi and vivacious PTI supporters, and ten-year-old Samar Abbas as the future of Pakistan. The juxtaposition of modern realities and past politics highlights just how critical the late 1970s were in shaping the Pakistan of today. Maqsood’s writing is great – poignant realities and comic timing compete for centre stage and never leave us bored. The performance somewhat predictably climaxes with a moving monologue by the father of the nation in the English language, however the focus is never lost as he vents his anger which has built over the preceding hour and a half. Expect the audience to explode with applause typical of the reverence Jinnah is afforded in Pakistan.
One criticism to be levelled at the production is that it unfortunately demonstrates Pakistani history’s selective amnesia, as Zehra Abid wrote in The Express Tribune. Maqsood’s script addresses the loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), without concerning itself with the widespread human rights abuses which occurred in the lead up to that country’s independence. Likewise, Balochistan hardly rates a mention, and there is no Balochi character in the play – a glaring omission, when once considers that nearly every other faction in Pakistani society is represented in some way or another.
Regardless of this criticism, Sawa 14 August is a worthwhile production and certainly a success of showmanship. Director Dawer Mehmood knows how to keep us entertained, and Maqsood tells a great story. Sawa 14 August comes at a time of unprecedented introspection for Pakistanis, after a decade of decline and amid several ongoing state crises. This play highlights the fact that, despite this introspection, we still have a long way to go.
Sawa 14 August is currently being staged at Lahore’s Alhamra Hall, presented by KopyKats Productions. Tickets are selling fast – for more information, visit Sawa 14 August’s Facebook page or call 03455555221 or 03469177771.