Adapting this controversial play in Urdu and setting it in 1970's Pakistan was a thrilling and challenging task to say the least.
Renowned television director Haissam Hussain who has many blockbuster projects to his credit took over the reins as the director of the project, infusing it with an eastern flavour. He proudly affirms, ‘through the play I share with the world Pakistan’s love for music, dance, its intense appreciation for life and literature, our passionate, tough women and knack for bawdy comedy and romance’.
The play’s UK based producer Susannah Harris Wilson enjoys a long standing association with Pakistan. She came to the country in 1964 and taught at Kinnaird for 5 years. She left for England thereafter only to return to Pakistan in the 80’s when she taught at LACAS and produced plays such as Amadeus and Romeo and Juliet. Susannah wished to showcase the acting talent of Pakistan on the prestigious pedestal of Globe Theater while negating the negative stereotypes often associated with the country.
When quizzed about the challenges of translating the Shakespeare comedy, the girls proclaim how it was difficult to depict the intimacy between Kate and Petruchio keeping in view the cultural sensitivities of Pakistan. They had to hence do with the couple holding hands instead of Petruchio kissing Kate in the street as was portrayed in the original script.
The dichotomy of east and west has been a topic of much discussion and interest in popular culture and giving a western play an eastern twist would seem an incongruous prospect to some. However if we comb through the seams of Taming of The Shrew we find that elements of the play bear resonance in Pakistani culture.
The running theme of the play for example illustrating a father’s insistence on getting his eldest daughter married off before the younger one, has a very strong eastern disposition. The leading lady of the play Nadia Jamil says with a wide grin ‘Shakespeare was a Desi (Southasian) at heart!’
Taming of the Shrew has been touted as one of the most misogynistic plays of Shakespeare for showing a woman being manhandled and browbeaten by a tyrant. In that vein it has often come under fire from feminist critics who have rebuked Petruchio’s oppression of Katherine to ‘tame’ her from a shrew into a submissive woman.
The makers of the play were bent upon showing an equal balance of power between Kate and Petruchio. While Petruchio is very stubborn in his ways, Kate learns to play act submissiveness to appease members of society rather than actually caving in. Nadia Jamil’s very telling delivery of Kate’s notorious monologue was one of the defining moments of the play where she says her lines in an ironic manner as if she’s indulging in a form of game play while continuing to retain her feisty charm.
Putting together a play in a country where theatre is a fairly neglected medium comes with its fair share of problems. Most of the other groups participating in the world Shakespeare festival were backed by a professional theatre company and their respective governments. For Pakistan, financial hurdles posed the greatest crisis as a lack of funds almost incapacitated the progress of the play. The response of local financiers was abysmal and the producers sought a bulk of funds from overseas to facilitate the project.
As theatre is not a lucrative profession in Pakistan it cannot be relied on as a full time career. Many actors turn to television projects to make their ends meet. Others manage day jobs before coming for evening rehearsals. Tremendous sacrifices were involved on the part of the play’s cast and crew. While the lead actress Nadia Jamil gave up on a television play shot in New York, actor and choreographer Osman Khalid Butt quit his job and shifted to Lahore from his home in Islamabad for the duration of the play’s rehearsals.
The hard work and conviction of the entire team enabled them to shine at The Globe Festival and gain laurels at the other venues of their UK tour which included Oxford, Bradford and Yokshire. For Pakistani theatre this play has been a turning point in many ways. In the word’s of the play’s lead actor Omair Rana, ‘It is an era of change, may the change be constant and positive.’
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