Meeting Manto`s mysterious occupant of Kamra#9

(Article originally written for Rabtt blog and can be found here

By Hammad Anwar

“About time!” was my first reaction when I heard about Manto`s play being staged at Alhamra Arts Complex by Independent Theatre Company in collaboration with Lahore Arts Council. Independent Theatre Company is a theatre group based in Lahore, Punjab, formed in March 2012. Founded by director, writer and actor Azeem Hamid and Danyaal Syed, it is a platform for aspiring young performing artists who wish to excel in theatre production and performance.   With his company, Azeem has successfully directed and produced 10 theatrical performances and has lectured as a performing arts lecturer at many well-known educational institutes and festivals in Pakistan. (Also aboread isn’t it?)

Kamra#9 is a 60-minute radio play, written by the great Saadat Hassan Manto which was a different choice to adopt than it is usually observed in Pakistan. According to Director Azeem Hamid, he wanted to do something different. This is because he believed that, most of the times, plays are either centered on societal matters or slaps ticked to comedy. Hence he opted to go for a simple story, a plain script, portraying a whole different side of Manto to the world.

The set was quite modest- a realistic one with an old radio, telephone and chairs. After sometime I witnessed some quality lighting which was done by Shakeel Siddique, who literally set the pace of play with classic lights.

The play focused on a new occupant of the room number 9 in the building who attracts interest from the brother sister duo of Shirin and Zaman (played by Zoya Uzair & Namwar Ayaz respectively) that live in room number 6. As the plot moves forward, Shirin becomes obsessed by the unseen and mysterious occupant of Kamra # 9. She uses her servants Rani and Fazlu (played by Ishmal Malik and Abu Bakr Siddique) to spy on the new neighbor while Naisr (portrayed by Faizan Naveed) also drops by every now and then as he is one of more suitable suitor for Shirin.

Whereas Shirin and Nasir took the center stage, there was a mature performance from the young Ishmal Malik who has won number of awards and has been performing in annual plays since her school days. She was a lead role in Hum Dekhain Gaay - a tribute to Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a meme which was staged for ten days with 16 shows. She also served as drama instructor at Rabtt where her students put up an amazing performance at Rabtt Graduation Ceremony 2014. “I'm particularly very excited about this experience as it was my first proper play in Urdu. For the first time I am able to understand the depth of Urdu literature and how different it is from English literature.” stated Ishmal while adding that the response has been great and she is looking forward to her performances in India.

The play was supported by live music by Moeen Ahmed on vocals and harmonium plus Rehmat Ali on the table which took the play to another level by touching chords, and lyrics of the beautiful ghazal, “Woh Mera Bhoolne Wala Joh Mujhe Yaad Aaya’.

It is heartwarming to see young people coming forward and taking up challenges like Manto`s work at the same time adopting acting as the only due recognition for their work. Kamra#9 will be staged in India during the last week of December 2014 while it is set to be presented in Islamabad in January 2015.