‘Likhay Jo Khatt Tujhay,’ (Letters Written to You), a dramatic rendition of fictional & original letters from Urdu literature, was performed in Islamabad last night. Featuring the veteran actress, Sania Saeed and Qissa Khwaan’s founder, Tajdar Zaidi, the dramatic reading took place at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA), as part of the National Theatre Festival 2017. Wajih-Ull-Hussnain Nizami, Shahdab Younis and Irfan Khan, with their tabla, sitar and guitar, provided the background music and performed three classical Indian raags: Raag Bhairvi, Raag Darbaari and Bheem Plassi.
The performance began with Tajdar Zaidi introducing the audience to the concept of the show. The love letters were meant to evoke nostalgia, for a time when waiting was an essential part of communicating with the beloved. Unlike a theatrical performance, Tajdar Zaidi and Sania Saeed remained seated the entire time, reading out the letters from their respective sofas. The focus was on their diction and expressions, which masterfully conveyed the mood of the letters.
The first reading by Tajdar Zaidi was of the poem ‘Lahore’ by Majeed Amjad. Next, Fikr Taunsvi’s set of ‘Love Letters’ from the girl ‘ABC,’ (Sania Saeed) to the boy ‘BCD,’ (Tajdar Zaidi), described a tumultuous love affair, which exists solely in the form of letters thrown to each other’s rooftops. With their overdramatic allusions to lovesickness, the letters had the audience in stitches. The hilarious affair ends with both ABC and BCD getting married to someone else.
Changing the tone, Tajdar Zaidi read out Josh Malihabadi’s letter to Zaheen Shah Baba, which seriously reflected on life. Shifting the mood back to the playful, Sania Saeed, read out a Shafique-ur-Rehman letter titled, ‘Mangetar Kay Naam Khat’ (Letter to the Fiancé). The letter from a woman to her friend’s brother, attacks him for engaging in disreputable conduct (such as drinking at clubs) and then launches into a defense of her own friendships with several men.
The next set of letters, titled ‘Tusi Ka Tota (Tusi’s Parrot)’ by Colonel Mohammad Khan, was introduced by Tajdar Zaidi as his and Sania Saeed’s personal favourite. The letters concern the return of F.A. Tusi’s (Sania Saeed) yellow parrot, which has flown into the house of Khadim Hussain (Tajdar Zaidi). Hussain, a teacher with a sense of humor, toys with Tusi by persistently asking him for proof that the parrot is his.
Following this, the mood shifted to a serious exploration of love, with Safia Jaanisar Akhtar’s letter to her husband read out by Sania Saeed. Rent with emotion, the letter fully conveyed the agony of a long-distance relationship. In similar vein, Tajdar Zaidi read out the letter Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote to his wife, Alys Faiz, while in jail. This letter, however, had a more hopeful tone to it, with Faiz describing what he would do when reunited with his family.
The performance concluded with the letter Amrita Pritam addressed to Sahir Ludhianwi after his death. Narrated in a serious tone and a low voice by Sania Saeed, the letter addressed the sacredness of a love which adheres to the boundaries set by society and religion. Pritam’s descriptions of their love were deeply sensual, frequently alluding to the fragrance of her lover. Her loss is touchingly described, as is her hope that the love of her life will return, even if only in her dreams.
The simple stage, with Sania Saeed in one corner, Tajdar Zaidi in another and the musicians in the middle ensured that the audience wasn’t distracted by an elaborate set. The effective use of overhead lights and side-table lamps shifted one’s attention to the readers or musicians, as required. The sound system could have been improved, since those at the back of the auditorium could barely hear the last two letters. Nevertheless, the performance will not be forgotten anytime soon and at the end of the two hours, the packed auditorium gave a standing ovation while enthusiastically applauding the performers.
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