Lights, camera, action — Azad Theatre takes the stage

LAHORE: The Azad Theatre troupe was nothing but a group of theatre cast-offs searching for a platform to perform and now, after a year of hard work, the group’s fate has changed.

They have been busy with regular productions and are now set to feature in a new film called Zinda Bhaag, which also features Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah. While their workstation is set in Lahore, these actors have been touring various regions of the country performing their latest play, Bacha Jamhura which is regarding the upcoming elections.

“It’s a neighbourhood discussion which tries to explore and show the benefits of voting,” says Malik Aslam, one of the stalwart members of the 22-member group who has written the new play. “We are going into the heart of those areas where people who are uneducated and unaware reside but are dominated by feudals, saint-worshipping and money culture, who will be able to see the benefits of voting.” He feels the reality is that while we may have 30% to 45% voter turnout, our rulers have a 100% rule on the government.


The actors have toured the country for their latest play, Bacha Jamhura. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Bacha Jamhura is a community play that revolves around Haka Baka, a semi-crazy but wise character and Bacha Jamhura, who initiate dialogue regarding the country’s situation and circumstances in the context of the upcoming elections. They further disclosed that the play has been backed by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung foundation, which a political non-profit organisation striving to promote democracy, civil society, equality and a healthy environment internationally. The play is 40 minutes long.

“Our goal has been to promote revolutionary and true theatre in a way in which we are able to sustain and revive our old theatre culture,” says Usman Zia, another member of the group. The group has been supported by limited resources coming from middle-class backgrounds and produced seven plays last year.

The film Zinda Bhaag, on the other hand, revolves around the theme of illegal immigration. Azad Theatre has been focused on the film and confessed that Shah has provided them valuable acting tips.

Sarfaraz Ansari, the art director of the group, explained that last year’s work had generated more interest from television, film and acting gigs, but the group remained committed to developing a viable theatre culture in the country.

“Coming from a theatre background, it was easy for us to adjust to film,” says Ansari, who plays a neighbourhood bookie who owns a shop in Lahore.” These are reality-based characters and issues people will be able to connect to.”

“Theatre has always provided the basis for cinema, this is because technique and quality can only be developed in theatre,” says Ansari. He added that colleges and universities showed an added interest for smaller and larger cities.

“It is important for theatre to be promoted and venues to be created so that audiences come and watch plays. If people only knew how much we had to struggle, they could understand the necessity to support healthy theatre,” he adds.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2013.