Claiming to revive theatre in Pakistan, Stage Nomad carriers a critical responsibility of improving the mindsets that pervade our society. However, with their play Apartment #746, they seemed to have lost sight of this vision.
The play began with Abbas and Amna preparing for their worst nightmare, which soon turned into my worst nightmare. Their take on comedy really made me question whether I can blame our Pakistani awaam for the mindsets they possess.
Abbas and Amna had stolen their furniture from Zaviar, their rich neighbour who was travelling to France. What pushed them to do so was the visit from Sheikh Ibrahim, a rich but almost-deaf man interested in seeing Abbas’ paintings. It was essential to please the Sheikh in order to unlock the door to a river of money that would sweep Amna’s father off his feet and convince him to let Abbas marry his beautiful daughter, even though Abbas was cheating on her with his real love Zara. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Only, it really wasn’t.
The entire play was based on there being no electricity in Abbas’ and Amna’s house, which was essential for the director, Meesum Naqvi to be able to make fun of every possible stereotype that could be associated with the characters. After all, as humans we find it easiest to be at our worst when no one can watch.
Once the lights were out, Shakila, or Shaz as she liked to call herself, walked into the apartment of the couple to save herself from her fear of the dark. But of course, for the sake of ‘comedy’, her character fit right into the stereotype of being a nosy neighbour who knew everything except how to mind her own business. Along came Amna’s father, another stereotypical character of a Fauji who is insanely stern, almost inhumane. But he too melted at the sight of another woman, namely Shaz, because men in our society seem to have nothing better to do. And Shaz was clearly asking for it, an argument thrown at the face of every woman in our society.
To our surprise, and to theirs, Zaviar came back sooner than expected from his trip to Paris. With his entry, my remaining hopes for the play also came crashing down sooner than expected. Portrayed as a homosexual man, Zaviar walked in wearing suspenders, treading into the room with his hips pushed out, because apparently that’s how gay men walk. His ‘gayness’ was further endorsed by the frequent instances of dry humping occurring between Zaviar, Abbas, and Fauji sahab. For some reason, it’s funny to assume that gay men are into all men. Because that makes so much sense. You’d think that was it, but they wanted to give us the perfect cringe for sparing time to watch their production. A dialogue talking about two extremes led to Abbas asking Ibrahim Qureshi, the electrician confused to be Sheikh Ibrahim, what lies in ‘darmiyan’. The director thought it would be a good idea for Ibrahim Qureshi and the rest to look at our homosexual Zaviar as an answer to this question. Like really?
As though we didn’t already have enough people on stage, Zara joined the mess, causing panic on Abbas’ end. A whole ton of lies and narrow escapes eventually failed and Zara found out about Amna being Abbas’ fiance. Acting like Abbas’ maid, since no one could tell otherwise in the dark, she slyly assumed Amna to be herself, i.e. Zara, revealing the truth about her relationship with Abbas. You’d think as a woman she wouldn’t objectify her gender, but the director clearly had other plans in mind. Zara goes on to explain how Amna was a ‘paka hua aam’ that fell into Abbas’ lap, and ‘ab aam goud me gira hai tou khana tou pareyga.’ The extent of cringe I felt in my gut was exacerbated by the electrician’s remark, ‘amm thora bach jaye tou mujeh bhi de dijiye ga.’ Clearly that’s all a woman is worth: being shared amongst men.
As women, we fight the battle of female objectification in society every single day. From being compared to a lollipop, all the way to being an unsealed juice box, we’ve heard it all. Meesum Naqvi’s marvelous performance has added being a ripe mango to our list of all possible inanimate objects a woman can be.
Our society faces a number of issues that make us question our sense of morality. Tackling these issues needs widespread education and awareness. Our media, our movies, our plays, our art, all share the responsibility of bringing about the change in mindset Pakistan needs. Producing plays that make it okay to laugh at homosexuality, women objectification, and stereotyping, add to the problem our country already faces.
While there is no denying that a lot of effort went into the direction of this play, a misdirected effort cannot be solely appreciated. Kudos to the actors, directors and the organization for trying to revive theater in Pakistan, but I hope they realize that comedy has a lot more to it than just plain mockery.