Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First Urdu play recreated at NAG

Originally printed in DAWN on 22nd March 2009

By Jonaid Iqbal

ISLAMABAD, March 19: An appreciative audience watched the lecture and musical performance of the first Urdu play Indar Sabha performed at the National Art Gallery on Thursday. The programme is part of a series of lectures and performances organized by the Theatre Department of National College of Arts (NCA), Rawalpindi campus as an exercise to generate a new literary renaissance through folklore traditions.

This aspect of the new study was also explored in the second of four lecurers and performance workshops organized by the department.

The sond lecture in this series was on the first Urdu play Indar Sabha, written in 1855 by Agha Hasan Amanat Ali. This was followed by a performance of the same musical drama.
These two presentations served as an apt hark-back to our past literary and musical traditions as the nation prepares to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the historic Pakistan Resolution four days hence.
Indu Mitha, the well-known classical dance exponent, choreographed the music and dance part of this drama that, incidentally, could also be called the first Urdu opera. Some snatches of this opera were performed by some of her students in the three acts we witnessed Ms Mitha successfully demonstrating the secular nature of arts, dance, music and literature which prevailed in the Muslim courts, particularly that of Nawab Wajid Ali Shiah in Oudh.
As the opera was being performed on a make believe stage of the National Art Gallery lecture room, Mehwish Bandaley sang from Amir Khusrau to the accompaniment of dances by Farosk Hashmi, Noor Cheema, Amna Mawaz, and Ayesha Iqbal. Mahnoor Khushnood recited lilting poetry.

To revert to Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, he was an accomplished poet, writer and artist of great repute in performing the Moghul kathak dance. In the words of Russian Oriental scholar Anna Suvorova, who in her lecture informed the audience that Urdu theatre was born at Lucknow. She said the splendour of this city (Lucknow) vied with the most magnificent courts of the world, including the Moghul Court, of which Oudh was a vassal but later came under the suzerainty of the colonial empire founded by the East India Company.

In her talk Anna Suvorova also referred to the popularity of Indar Sabha which had many features of folk theatre as well as its derivation from the popular dance drama Rasleela, combining kathak dance with Hindu mythology about Radha and Krishn. In fact the popularity of Indar Sabha spread to Europe where it was adapted as an opera with different situations yet retaining the theme.

National Language Authority Chairman Iftikhar Arif who chaired the lecture programme referred to Anna Suvorova as an orientalist of international standing, international stature as well as specialist in Islam in the South Asian Subcontinent and also acknowledged as reputed scholar of South Asian literature in Russia.

In regard to the popularity of the Urdu drama Indar Sabha, 70 editioons of this play are preserved in tIndia Office Library at London, in addition to several editions of the play in the India and Pakistan subcontinent.

The book Early Urdu Theatre written by author Anna Suvorova was also launched on the occasion. The 204-page book added to eight pages of indice, as well as appendix containing summary of selected Urdu plays staged by Parsi Theatre.

Claire Pamment is doing a fine job of work in developing theatre at the centre of renaissance of arts and literary revival in the federal capital, Iftikhar Arif told Dawn on the sideline of the performance.

Indu Mitha also paid compliments to Sarmad Sehbai as a problem solver and said, " When something went wrong she found Sarmad at her side to clear the confusion."

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