Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Afghan Troupe Performs Shakespeare

NEW DELHI: That rigorous, devoted rehearsals for a play can make or break a performance is a no-brainer. But here's a case where dropping one rehearsal has been responsible for saving the performers' lives.
It was August last year when the Afghan theatre troupe "Rah-e-Sabz" was busy rehearsing Shakespeare's 'The Comedy of Errors' in Kabul. The troupe's French director Corinne Jaber suggested an early morning rehearsal on the day of Ramadan at The British Council. The ten actors and three musicians decided against the suggestion and agreed to meet at a later time instead. That morning at the time they were originally to meet, the British Council in Kabul was attacked by the Taliban. The gun battle that ensued between the Taliban and the Kabul policemen continued for six hours.
"A lot of these actors do two jobs and the time didn't suit them. After I heard about the attack, I laughed. Pure stress and trauma makes you react in incongruous ways," says Jaber, who has been working in Afghanistan since 2005.
The group, with the aid of the British Council, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and others, rehearsed in residency at Bangalore's Nrityagram. Having already performed at the garden city, Pune and Mumbai, it held a ticket-free show open to all in Delhi on Tuesday evening at the ICCR auditorium. The production will now travel to England and Germany, since it is a part of the Globe Theatre's World Shakespeare Festival 2012.
Among the group members, 21-year-old Farzana Sayed Ahmad is travelling internationally for the first time. The young, quiet actress who has two roles in the play admits the situation in her country is not conducive for female performers. The Taliban, opposed to the performing arts in general, is even more vehemently opposed to female artists. Jaber says they've had trouble performing scenes that involve women and men holding hands in Kabul. One of the actresses in the play, Parwin Mushtahel, received death threats and was forced to flee the country after her husband was murdered. A former TV and film actress in Kabul, Mushtahel had to relocate to Toronto. She never wants to go back, says producer Roger Granville, pitching in to interpret for her.
"I hail from Maidan Wadrakh province in Afghanistan which is very conservative. With my name and face in the papers and news channels, the Afghani society won't accept me there. But my family in Kabul supports me. It's a revolution for women and I am happy to be a part of it," says Ahmad.
Shah Mohammad, who plays Dromio of Ephesus in the play, says the theater scene in Kabul is rather underdeveloped. "Unless there are popular actors performing, it's an invite-only audience. Families don't let women take to the stage. Because of all this, the film industry suffers too," he says. A fan of Nana Patekar and Naseeruddin Shah, Shah Mohammad says actress Katrina Kaif enjoys uncontested popularity amongst young boys in his country.
Abida Frotan is eager that popular notions about Afghanistan change. "I want to represent my country as a good place. I hope we give an improved performance in London," she says.
The play, set in present-day Kabul, has been translated to Dari by writer Nahal Tajadod. No Elizabethan England here. Dromio and Antipholus, for example, are Afghan expats from Uzbekistan in this version.
Familiarity with Shakespeare, or lack thereof, was easily overcome. Actor Basir Haider had the story down pat. "I had watched Sanjeev Kumar's film Angoor which was based on this play. Later I read it too," says Haider, who is based in London. Jaber feels the story is easily transposable in the Afghan context. "The play opens with a father looking for a son. They know what it's like to lose a family member and then go looking for them," says Jaber, who first came to India as an actor in Peter Brooks' Mahabharata.
The Globe Theatre initially gave Jaber a choice between 'Richard III' and 'The Comedy of Errors'. "I discovered that Afghan actors don't want to do tragedies at all, so we picked this play," says Jaber, who also did another Shakespeare comedy, 'Love's Labour Lost', in Kabul earlier. With mirth and laughter, let old wrinkles come!

(Times of India article) (photo from Revolve Magazine)

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