The story is set in the Mughal era and takes a comic angle on Shahzada Salim (Prince Salim) and his love affair with the courtesan Anarkali (literally meaning “pomegranate blossom”). Although famed for her dancing skills and her mesmerizing beauty, she is a slave girl and a lowborn. Hence, Shahzada Salim’s father, emperor Akbar forbids him from seeing her. Troubled by his inability to freely express his love for Anarkali, Salim becomes distraught and disoriented, and begins to fantasize about a time period in the future where love, peace and harmony would prevail, and people would be free to love whoever they wanted. Soon thereafter, he comes across an uran katola (time machine) which, to his delight, can take him to any time period of his liking.
Shahzada Salim rides the 'uran katola'
Overjoyed, the prince hops onto the uran katola and begins a journey to various time periods. One by one, he is shown the interactions between lovers in each time period, which are all hilariously portrayed. Salim is first taken to the centuries-old period of Heer Ranjha (one of several popular tragic romances of Punjab). Next, he travels to the era of actors Nadeem Baig and Shabnam, somewhere in the 1970s. Finally, he visits our period, 2015; and gets a glimpse of “modern love” between the young teens of today. The entire sequence of Shahzada Salim’s journey to the various eras and his reaction to the romances in each period is uproarious. The interactions between Heer and Ranjha, Nadeem and Shabnam, and today’s teenage couples are a joy to watch.
Although the play delivers major laughs throughout, its ending is solemn and thought-provoking. After witnessing the love stories of the various time periods, Salim reaches the conclusion that no era is perfect, romantically or otherwise; each period has its own share of problems. But more importantly, he realizes that over the centuries, real love has lost its purity, and has now been replaced by deceit, pretension and materialism. The world which he pictured as a place of love, peace and prosperity has been marred by dishonesty, selfishness and hostility. Salim’s concluding line gave a brilliant ending to the play and left an impact on the audience: Ye ibtada-e-ishq nahi, ye ikhtatam-e-ishq hai. (This is not the birth, but rather, the death of love).
The cast received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd at the conclusion of the play. Although this was their first ever show at the PNCA, the students of Comsats Institute delivered an outstanding performance. Particularly remarkable was Taha Humayun, who played Shahzada Salim.
The next play, “Devta”, is scheduled to be performed by the students of Preston University on Wednesday, 4th March.