Play ‘Sir Kalam’ highlights the power of the pen

The power of the pen is the main theme of the play Sir Kalam, which premiered at the Karachi Arts Council on Monday.

An award-winning playwright, at the pinnacle of his career, is sucked into the ratings business and is producing television plays that employ the short route to commercial success, compromising on ethics, morality, and more than anything nationalism.

Mansoor Kalam (Saiban Khaliq) is highly paid to write scripts that reduce characters into caricatures, are reductionist and borrow elements from Bollywood and Indian television. Quality does not exist in his plays, and he tells the stories of only the highest bidders.

The play takes its time to kick off. Instead of delving into the story, it furthers the narrative in a lighter vein, using Bollywood-esque elements and influences from Indian prime time television as a means to communicate the superficiality and futility of daily life. The first half of the play is a mesh of colours and songs, exaggerated satire of the pauses employed in such productions and the incredibly over the top acting. Ironic that though these scenes are meant as satire, the director allows them to engulf the whole production; they take up a large portion of the play and are used excessively to further the narrative of Sir Kalam.

In Sir Kalam, an award-winning playwright, at the pinnacle of his career, is sucked into the ratings business and is producing television plays that employ the short route to commercial success, compromising on ethics, morality, and more than anything nationalism.

The playwright Kalam Sahib is the peg of the entire play, and can easily represent any such person in any country, hell-bent on making it big at any cost. Each scene he is present in is shrouded in darkness, a testament to exploring and expressing the dark recesses within man. The trajectory of his unravelling is apparent to all as he continually ignores the stories he must narrate, primarily of the men who sacrifice their lives for the country along its borders.

The play is ludicrous at certain places, and eventually one becomes impatient waiting for the other shoe to drop and the play to proceed to the more serious matter at hand: the dramatisation or lack thereof of the stories that matter, of the real Pakistanis.

Satirising of what television is now airing — the caricatures, the action, the spectacle — all part of a “high budget Indian drama” required the actors of Sir Kalam to be over the top with regards to their acting, and they did deliver.

It is in the midst of this light-hearted depiction that the narrative cuts to a soldier injured in combat. He is bloodied and beaten, dazed and looking for his compatriots, who he is told have lost their lives in the battle with the enemy. And then begins the play’s descent into depicting the chaos in the average Pakistani’s life.

Organised by ISPR and The Insane, a theatre troupe from Islamabad, the play aims to highlight the “theme ‘Hum Sab ka Pakistan’ … and nationalism, human security and the importance of institutes, mainly the media.”

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