Sawa Chauda August: A Masterpiece

The last few years have seen a revival of theatre in Pakistan especially in Karachi. It has been a mixture of hits and misses but at least the engine has started and there are many more theatre plays coming through now then one would have thought possible maybe just 3-4 years ago.

A huge amount of credit must go to the up and coming generation of Pakistan. Their interest, energy and devotion has certainly helped. Taboos have been broken and you see new faces also participating and delivering phenomenal performances on stage.

Some of the best works that I can recall have been Karachi – The Musical by Nida Butt, It Runs in the Family ( I forget the name of the director ) and Bombay Dreams by Shah Sharahbeel. Avanti was also good. The last year, apart from one play Dhaani (in which we saw brilliant performances from Sanam Saeed and Sarwat Gillani who was performing live on stage for the first time) has completely been dominated by 2 individuals. The legendary Anwar Maqsood and the young director Dawar Mehmood who brought the legend’s work to life on stage.

Pawnay Chauda August (The first installment of a trilogy) and Aangan Tera have been extremely successful with sell out crowds and fantastic reviews. After all it was Anwar Maqsood’s written work. While I missed Aangan Tera, I did watch Pawnay Chauda August and the second of the trilogy this year ‘Sawa Chauda August’. Both plays establish beyond any doubt exactly why Anwar Maqsood is such a legend. Brilliantly written and the message quite well delivered. While I feel the first part was just minutely better – they were both excellent plays beyond words.

Sawa Chauda August ran from August-September in Karachi in the Arts Council and is now going to go to Lahore and Islamabad as well. The show I managed to catch was sold out. Seats were all gone but people lined up the stairs without a care just as long as they could view the play. The anticipation was high from the previous part’s success and stand out performances of all the three main characters i.e. Iqbal, Maulana and Jinnah. We were typically welcomed with the wit of Anwar Maqsood sharp as ever. A resounding welcome for the master, a big thank you for all the sponsors and the crowd for helping to support the growth of theatre and quip or two about some of the ‘CEOs’ in the audience and then curtains were raised and thus began the second part of the trilogy.

While Pawnay Chauda August has Jinnah visit Pakistan with his compatriots from the days of the struggle for independence i.e. Iqbal and Maulana at an airport – this time around the father of the nation visits a railway station along with two people who will forever be etched in the history of Pakistan as instrumental in transforming the nation towards an end that till now is price that we are all heavily paying. Bhutto and Zia. 

To let them have their say in this saga of a beleaguered nation, ZA Bhutto, Ziaul Haq and Mr MA Jinnah were exhumed and resurrected. The author left it to the audience to decide if the rebel, dressed like a communist mandarin, complete with stripe-on-collar and Mao cap, was a symbol of nihilism or represented some kind of political rectitude. He also left it to the spectators to determine if the soldier in civvies, who destroyed the basic principles upon which this country was founded, actually encouraged religious intolerance and symbolised political regression.

A lot of issues are highlighted and touched upon ranging from the break up of the country and the Independence of Bangladesh to the rising discrimination and  attacks on minorities and sects to the corruption and terrorism issues. Poverty, freedom of speech and youth following mindlessly are also touched upon. Just as in the first play the delivery of emotion from all the actors is absolutely amazing. Especially in one scene where Bhutto (played by Yasir Hussain) after constantly being provoked by Zia (played by Gohar Raheed) with his cheeky remarks delivers an emotionally charged response which was actually almost the actual Bhutto’s energy and manner of delivery. The actor playing his part did well in emulating the gestures, tempo and speech of Bhutto. The actors playing Zia and Jinnah (played by Zahid Ahmed) were also brilliant and more or less spot on. And the play wasn’t completely driven by the three main actors. The comic relief of first the ‘Pathan’ waiting for or rather searching for ‘Khyber’ express with a bird cage in hand was well timed throughout the play. The same actor returned as a Sindhi in the last third of the play and the comic relief got even better. The accents were nailed, the jokes were hilarious and the message got through.

Overall a 9.5/10 for the play and right up there on top of some of the best performances overall that I have had the fortune of seeing.

Kudos to both Anwar Maqsood and Dawar Mahmood for what has been a fantastic partnership thus far in delivering a very high quality of work. In bringing out the best in terms of the actors and their performances and for directing and executing the overall story and flow of the play in a perfect balance of emotion and sarcasm.

And kudos to the overall theatre community and their patrons for reviving this wonderful art form. I think especially in a city otherwise deprived of entertainment this certainly does prove to be a breath of fresh air.


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