By: Asif Khan
Directors like Faisal Malik fall among those few and far between, set of people who are committed to quality theater in Pakistan and now with two back to back string puppetry festivals, he successfully becomes a front ranker who is enlivening this dying trajectory of theater in Pakistan. To know what exactly brings him to this artistically rewarding than financially remunerative field, Social Diary tracked him down for a tete-a -tete.
How active do you think theater can play its role in generating social awareness?
Like other trajectories of performing arts, theater has its own dynamics. If, at one side it has the ability to entertain people then and at the same time it may equally contribute in generating social awareness. So treating it as just ‘social’ or ‘pseudo intellectual’ theatre is therefore not appropriate as it has a lot more to offer.
What side of theater attracted you which made you its devotee?
It’s the versatility of theater that always magnetizes me. This is an idyllic platform that gives me ample space where I have the liberty to give life to my thoughts, vision, perception and ideas.
What was the idea behind the formation of Thespianz Theater (TT)?
As a professional organization it was year 2005 when the foundation of TT was officially laid down to be able to give the dying industry of theater a new lease on life. Most of the plays that the theater had been churning out in those days were pure masala stuff and there was hardly any work which catered to social issues. So we decided to bridge that gap with our plays based on social messages featuring various social issues like education for all, gender inequality, women empowerment, drugs prevention, piracy, water scarcity, HIV Aids etc.
What brings you to “String Puppetry” and why do you think it needs to be revived?
No matter how technologically we get advanced, we can’t let our past get extricated from our lives. Just like various NGOs, working for the survival of endangered species and some other who are committed to their mission to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth, similarly TT intends to save the art of string puppetry that has long remained a part of our rural culture.
Your festivals have been running successfully, drawing all type of communities being your audience. How challenging the experience has been for you?
With 300 performances and each dedicated to some social issue, was undoubtedly a big challenge that we had undertaken during first festival. Besides, performing in 79 different areas across Karachi was apparently an unachievable task, as well, but we successfully made it happen, courtesy to my dedicated team. We made sure that there leaves no area in Karachi, where we could not perform. TT considers its String Puppetry Festival, a mighty big achievement as it turned out to be the longest festival of its kind. Now our 2nd festival, which has already started from 14th of January 2019, will continue unabated till 31st July with more performances than the last year as we have planned 330 shows in 11 areas. Later we intend to take it to other cities.
Where do you draw the inspiration and richness in your subjects from?
It’s nothing but the richness of our culture that you see in our subjects. I believe, the more we remain close to our roots, the more we grow as nation. The other important objective behind organizing our festivals is to augment the resilience in the people through social messages that our performances are enriched with.
Your play Sindbad garnered huge appreciation. How hard it gets to live up to the rising levels of expectations of the audience?
The story was message oriented, and the children being the target audience. It taught them about the mischief of telling lie and how bad the habits of stealing and theft could become in life. We would feel utterly paid off, if our efforts could contribute in bringing the much desired harmony and peace in the society.
How blessed are you in terms of your team?
With writer and associate director Nouman Mehmood along with an array of cast including Thespianz’s trained puppeteers like Sheikh Sameer Nadeem, Zeeshan Afridi, Azhar Ayyub, Rashid Aziz, Azhar Rana, Shoaib, and Shakir, I may safely assure our fans that the string puppetry is in safe hands in Pakistan. All of the dedicated members of my workaholic team know their jobs well and they are committed to its progress on professional lines. Arts Councils and other departments of government should come forward to lend their support to us, as the collaborative efforts are key to promote arts which is an utterly forgotten and most neglected field.
How do you deal with conventional attitude and conservative mindset of the arts councils, unaware of the aesthetics of contemporary theatre?
With patience of course!!! Well by bringing in the right infrastructure and ample sources of funding, these organizations can do exceptionally well but it’s like ” bus ek sanam chahiye aashqi kay liyehe“. Once that amount of love, dedication and devotion is invested, then things are going to change overnight.
What does future hold for the theater?
The magic of theater can never ever shy away. Sitting for few hours and being immersed into an utterly different world, is really addictive and captivating at the same time. All we need are good issue based stories, dedicated teams, nice execution, good theaters, government support and private sponsorships, which are prerequisite to its survival.
Is there any scope for puppetry in Pakistan? How is your initiative, promoting this?
People in Pakistan are very interested to watch and enjoy the puppetry but they are scared to adopt or even consider it as a profession. Unfortunately no sponsors are ready to bear the necessary expenses of the technical things. However Thespianz is committed to take this legacy ahead not only in Pakistan but also in other countries through its performances, based on social issues and delivering messages of peace and tolerance, resilience in the society, interfaith, acceptance, pluralism etc.
Where do people get the necessary training in puppetry in Pakistan? Is it something that is easy to master?
Those who are interested in Puppetry trainings, should keep them connected with Arts Councils, where such programs are being held. Although number of such programs are few and far between but that’s all we have. Thespianz also offers its platform where you may found a number of workshops designed to offer basic and advance level trainings. However its not that easy to master due to a lot of technicality involved. But for those who are fully committed, it’s not that difficult too. With its varied programs, Thespianz is encouraging youth of different academia to bring themselves for trainings and workshops.
What steps should be taken to promote puppetry in Pakistan?
Puppetry should be made a part of syllabus and curriculum in arts schools. Regular workshops and trainings should be held in Arts Councils. At its own individual level, Thespianz offers a series of unique trainings in this field. We are also working to have our own Puppet Museum which would be used for promoting puppetry. For this Museum, Thespianz needs support and strong help from private and government sectors.