Two years ago, a new educational institution was added to Karachi’s cultural landscape: The National Academy for Performing Arts. Envisioned by artist Zia Moyeddin, who serves as the Chairman of NAPA, the school is based inside the recently remodeled Hindu Gymkhana (a 1925 building designed by Agha Ahmed Hussein). NAPA is revolutionary for Pakistan, offering a bachelor’s degree in classical music, classical dance (Orissi) and theater.
Last night my mother and I attended the closing night of the stage performance of Shakuntala, presented by Third Year NAPA students and directed by theater instructor Zain Ahmed. Just that the play is an adaptation of a 2,000-year old play—written by a playwright Kalidas about a Hindu princess Shakuntala and that it’s being performed in Karachi — are both reasons enough to make sure one sees it. But the performance itself was strong.
Experimental theater is fairly new in Pakistan, but the director did an excellent job of creating a group performance where 14 performers played all roles. Student performers created background music and it was exciting to see a traditional play with a hero/ heroine converted into a larger canvas with no one performer taking a lead role.
With an open stage and few props, the short 45 minute performance was compelling. Using light, body movement, music, glitter and a six foot silk cloth, the actors were able to recreate the motion of water, transport on an elephant, and collective joy and grief. It was a vibrant performance and I was glad that I had scraped out the time to attend. Check out a review in Pakistan’s leading English newspaper, Dawn.