A chorus before the last act

Dawn Tuesday Review, 28 November – 4 December 1995

As this issue goes out for circulation, many of our readers are awaiting the last episode of Karb, which is to be shown on PTV tonight. We are almost sure that Sania (Samina Peerzada) will turn down the proposal of Wiqar Ahsan (Usman Peerzada). But still we are anxious for several other questions to be answered: will she be able to put her shattered life back into one piece? Will Jamal (Shabbir Jan) finally see how he has wronged her? And what will happen to Rashna (as much we may dislike her, we would still like to know that!) So, let us recall what we have watched so far and give it a little thought before we brace up for the final act that will drop the curtain on the play we have been living with for about three months now.

To begin with the question: whose tragedy is it? Apparently it is Sanias’s tragedy. She has failed to keep the man she loves or hold together the family she values above everything else. But if we look beyond her we can see that it is also the tragedy of Rashna (Amena Butt): an immature college girl who gets a crush on the first real man she meets after an unhappy childhood spent with a delinquent father and a battered mother. It is unfortunate that the man is already married and she is too immature to understand that the thing she is probably taking as an emotional excursion is actually a serious moral crime. And, as with all moral crimes, the offender has to pay the price with her soul. But then, is it a story about a temptress or a story about a seducer?

Jamal, the man who is responsible for the pains of both ladies in question, is not a lude villain. It is not because of an evil intention but rather, due to a weakness of resolution that he brings about the catastrophe. First he marries a woman (Sania) from those ranks of the society where, according to his own confession, he has never found himself at ease. And then, instead of living up the agony he has brought with his own choice, he jumps at the first opportunity of finding solace, even though it means a shady involvement with a girl who is young enough to be his daughter. Far from dissolving his own agony, he ends up bringing that immature girl also to the same state that he was himself finding unbearable: the state of being a social misfit.

Samina Peerzada, the director of the play, tells us that the script she has commissioned from Dennis Isaac is based upon incidents happening to a dear friend of hers. If the purpose of the play was to revenge upon the people (Rashna and Jamal in the play) who battered the life of her friend then Samina Peerzada has definitely failed. None of the two characters appear as flat villains. What Ms Peerzada has successfully achieved, however, is a perfect presentation – a display of “round characters”, a brilliant plot and an excellent execution.

The power of the script lies in the strong connection between the plot and the central theme: the agony (karb) of the woman living in a society which assigns too much power to men who are incapable of handling that power. The sub-plots are not only well-knitted into the main plot but they also illustrate the same theme. The problem of Sajjad (Imran Peerzada) and Tehmina is integrated with the main plot because it is used as a dramatic device for showing us the willingness of the main characters to bear the pains of others. But it also illustrates the main theme because here again the issue is the thoughtless use of patriarchal authority by a man (bigamy) and the last recourse of a woman against it (suicide). Neither bigamy nor suicide actually takes place in this incident but it serves as a curtain-raiser to the main plot which will involve bigamy and will also leave us to question: is Sania’s action similar to suicide?

The other sub-plot, the sad story of Ashfaq (Salman Shahid) and Jameela (Naima Khan) brings Rashna into the play, and into the lives of Sania and Jamal. This part of the play brings out the most violent aspect of male dominance. Yet, Jamal and Ashfaq have similarities. Both are pleasure-centered and friend-centered. (Remember the first episode when Jamal went out to have a chat with Tehmina while Sania had urged him to stay with her?) In fact, Jamal appears as standing on a continuum somewhere between Sajjad and Ashfaq. In simple words, Jamal is probably worse than Sajjad and better than Ashfaq while together all three represent different aspects of male power over the female in a patriarchal society.

But are we sure that Sajjad is not as bad as Jamal? What if his wife had actually died of her attempted suicide? Or, how can we say that Jamal would not have behaved in the same manner as Ashfaq does if he were in the same economic circumstances as Ashfaq is. After all, we know Jamal does not have a very pleasant disposition either, and that he too is given to outbursts of bad temper. Two things must be noted about the production of the play. One, that is has errors and silly mistakes. Other, that it is remarkable. About silly mistakes first. In episode 3, Agha Hasan (playing Qasim in the play) stumbled into spoonerism in one of his dialogues, confusing rishtay dari and talluq dari. In episode 12, the child talent playing the role of Moeez said kal instead of aaj and the mistake became obvious when a few lines later Sania continued with the correct aaj. These were script mistakes of the first order, but one could also have felt irritated when Sania (somewhere early in the play) asked her father the meaning of certain chances he has apparently been using all his life. One may wonder why the director allowed these errors to go unnoticed? Perhaps she was too busy paying attention to certain other aspects of production. For one thing, the acting in this play is so good that one feels like going out to visit Amena Butt and Salman Shahid, just to make sure these talents behave differently in their real lives!

On the other hand, the photography is far from being clichéd. Not only have we finally got rid of the monotonous waist-level shots of PTV cameras – Peerzada has tried here a marvelous range of angles, adjusting them to the requirement of each scene. In addition to that a careful viewer may watch out for images and photographic studies which are loaded with symbolic content.

In episode 11, Sania is distressed as her world breaks down around her. On the screen we see her stretched against a wall, an arm flung behind in distress as the other covers her eyes and part of her face, her cries half-stifled. This could have been the emblem of the play itself!

In episode 12 (the last to be shown so far) Jamal finally decides to do something to “improve” the environment in his home. Like a jury in session, he calls both his wives and, assuming a decisive mannerism which is unusual of himself, he pronounces his verdict. But all this while, he is standing with his back towards the two ladies, his face away from them. This specific positioning of the characters before the camera turns the whole scene into a caricature of male power, revealing its unnatural element.

Indeed, the mark of a good director is to be able to present an opinion on the situation with the help of the camera rather than by asking the actors to speak more words or make more gestures. Another very interesting example of this was the reflection of Jamal in a mirror, instead of Jamal himself, while Sania was speaking to him – a suggestion that he has been reduced to a mere reflection or shadow in her life.

“I will not be able to produce anything like it again,” says the director. You are so naïve, Ms Peerzada! Plays like this one are not produced everyday.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *