Naach Na Jaane by Kopykats Productions, Anwar Maqsood’s prequel to his well-loved Aangan Terha currently being staged in Karachi, starts off with the original drama’s soundtrack played out.
There are pigeons fluttering in cages set on a makeshift terrace, a wooden takht with a gao takiya rolled on to it, round wicker chairs and a small kitchenette in a corner. It’s an immediate nostalgic throwback to the classic drama from the ‘80s.
You almost expect Shakil to suddenly come and recline bemusedly, dodging the commentaries of his acerbic wife, played by Bushra Ansari. You almost expect the late Salim Nasir to flit amongst them, playing the coquettish Akbar to the hilt.
The original Aangan Terha boasted a stellar cast but Akbar was always the showstopper, serving out hilarious one-liners with a sardonic raised eyebrow, politically incorrect to the core, one of local drama’s most iconic characters. Salim Nasir can no longer come on stage – but actor Yasir Hussain does.
Does the prequel do the original justice?
One would have thought that it would be difficult to match the late Nasir’s powerhouse performance but Yasir tries so well. One almost feels that the actor is wasted in the TV and film projects that he has done so far. Give him a meaty, stimulating script and he pirouettes right through it.
“I have to admit that I am not usually offered scripts that I like,” reveals Yasir. “Just because I have good comic timing doesn’t mean that I should be slotted in the same role over and over again, of a boy who is simply a joke machine with no background story or characterisation to him. I want to play characters that are different and challenging and they don’t always have to be funny.”
Naach Na Jaane may be a laugh out loud comedy but it also makes one sentimental, remembering the legends that the acting fraternity has lost. “I had to leave in the middle of the play,” an emotional Anwar Maqsood told me.
To reenact a role that was once played by Salim Nasir is of course very challenging. “He was brilliant. He played Akbar with such finesse, never making him too feminine or allowing him to be too macho. I don’t think that I could even do 2% of what he did in the original Aangan Terha. But I have tried very hard,” says Yasir.
His performance could be considered an ode to the late Nasir. Yasir, in his own way, is brilliant as Akbar, having perfected the body movements and dialogue delivery and convincingly taking the story forward from where the original plot ended.
For enthusiasts of the classic Aangan Terha, the play is a poignant walk down memory lane. Some of the best scenes from the drama are repeated on stage. Mehboob Ahmad, enacted by Abdullah Farhat, is still flirting with his neighbor’s sister; his wife Jahan Ara, played by Sara Bhatti, is still cantankerous; her mother still comes to stay with them and the house is still leased out to a ‘sahafi’, originally played by Qazi Wajid.
Qazi Wajid, in fact, immediately comes to mind when the character that he once played haggles with Akbar about his rent for a single room in Mehboob Ahmad’s house. Naach Na Jaane may be a laugh out loud comedy but it also makes one sentimental, remembering the legends that the acting fraternity has lost. “I had to leave in the middle of the play,” an emotional Anwar Maqsood told me.
A quintessential Anwar Maqsood play
The story moves away from the original plot as it begins to traverse Akbar’s past, spiraling back to a time when he was part of a dancing academy, toured Germany and China with his troupe and returned to Pakistan to the post-Bhutto Zia era where classical dancing had been deemed un-Islamic and he had no choice but to go job-hunting. The political satire in the story is markedly less than in most of Maqsood’s scripts but the witticisms are hilarious.
In one of the most memorable scenes, Akbar encounters Imran Khan, played very well by the film’s director Dawar Mehmood, who has often played the PM in past plays. It is a scene that is quintessential Anwar Maqsood, mixing comments on Khan’s prowess with jibes at his achievements as PM.
At one point, there is a declaration, ‘Hum naya Pakistan banayein gay!’
And it is asked, ‘Uss mein naya kya hoga?’
Pat comes the reply, ‘Hoga toh sub purana, buss keh dein gay keh naya hai!’
Pure Anwar Maqsood.
And it is precisely to get a taste of Maqsood’s inimitable candor that draws full houses to the writer’s collaborative efforts with Dawar Mehmood’s Kopykats Productions. Maqsood has very evidently enjoyed writing Naach Na Jaane. Dawar Mahmood’s direction and cast have worked hard to do justice to it and the effort shows.
Perhaps the only gripe that I do have against the play are the pointed jibes at fat-shaming. In a world that is increasingly inclusive, it is hardly acceptable to make fun of a fat woman dancing bawdily on stage.
“They have worked very hard although I did make some changes here and there,” says the playwright, who is infamously reticent with his compliments. “Yasir is very good, very diligent. He enjoys playing characters and he has given his all to Akbar.”
Was his script changed at all this time, I ask him. Maqsood has always been fiercely protective about his scripts and frequently in the past, he has been upset when Kopykats Productions has tweaked his script. “A lot of my dialogues were removed actually,” he says, not sounding very perturbed. “They wanted to add in dance sequences in the story. Those weren’t mine.”
The dances were quite ostensibly not Maqsood’s style but they did uplift the play simply because they were choreographed so well by Wahab Shah. Wahab Shah himself performed in them and he truly stood out.
Perhaps the only gripe that I do have against the play are the pointed jibes at fat-shaming. In a world that is increasingly inclusive, it is hardly acceptable to make fun of a fat woman dancing bawdily on stage. The dance lasts for about a minute and is not imperative to the story at all. It’s the sort of slapstick comedy that doesn’t fit well in an Anwar Maqsood script which holds its own with its wit. Maqsood is quick to point out to me that this particular dance was also not penned by him.
Regardless, Naach Na Jaane has been written quite clearly by Anwar Maqsood and it delivers a story written for and understood by the Pakistani audience. Unlike many other plays shown recently at theatres in Pakistan, this is no reenactment of a Broadway musical. It’s not overly dramatic with elaborate sets and there is no live chorus echoing through the auditorium.
It is just the prequel to a timeless drama, a story that is intrinsically Pakistani, a story carried so well by its hero Yasir Hussain but where, above all, the script is hero.