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October 20, 2020

A comic portrayal of pathetic lives after love

Karachi

October 20, 2020

A short story by Krishan Chander must have provided a dependable foundation for the solid performance of the actors, but it was the adaptation of the story into a play and its direction by Zarqa Naz that equally contributed to the success of ‘Ishq Ke Baad’ (After Love), which was staged at the Arts Council of Pakistan on Monday as part of the Karachi Theatre Festival 2020.

Though Chander, being a progressive writer, is best known for his portrayal of human sufferings, he is equally good when he pens humour or satire. ‘Ishq Ke Baad’ is a comedy that shreds all the romantic notions of love by imagining what would have happened if the three pairs of legendary lovers — Laila Majnu, Romeo & Juliet and Heer Ranjha — had united instead of meeting their tragic fates.

The entire play, except for the final scene, takes place in the dream of a writer (played by Hammad Siddiq) aspiring to write something great on the theme of love. In the dream, he first encounters Laila and Majnu, then Romeo and Juliet, and lastly Heer and Ranjha to find all of them united but living pathetic lives.

With the first pair, the writer finds that Majnu is embroiled in the traditional Saas Bahu (mother-in-law/daughter-in-law) conflict between his mother and Laila. As Laila had eloped with Majnu, she did not bring any dowry, which saddens Majnu’s mother and she wants her son to separate from Laila and marry another girl.

Meanwhile, Laila has also found that a family needs money to work and mere statements of love are not enough to keep lives going. As she longs for a new dress, the unemployed Majnu can only promise her the moon and the stars.

The story of the second couple is more distressing, as both Romeo and Juliet are found to be cheating on each other. It is revealed that after getting married to Juliet, Romeo had come to Karachi, where he is a successful trader living an affluent life. However, Juliet cannot tolerate his snoring, while Romeo complains that she does not cook for him.

The condition of the third couple is a bit different, as both Heer and Ranjha are loyal to each other. However, it is again highlighted that to sustain their lives they need financial resources, which the couple do not have because they had to elope from their village to Karachi, where Ranjha has to work as a labourer.

However, he is currently unemployed and the couple are starving. In this part, the play temporarily loses its comedic atmosphere and a rather sombre mood is created as Heer and Ranjha talk about how different their lives could have been had they been living in a world where social justice was the norm.

The brilliant acting by the entire cast kept the audience focused, while the spontaneous delivery of dialogues during the bickering between the couples amused the audience throughout the play and generated loud laughters every now and then.

After meeting the three couples, the writer, who is still in his dream, prepares for his bestseller book on love. But then the couples arrive and object to the writer’s plans because he intends to depict them in a negative light. They start thrashing the writer and he gets restless during his sleep only to find his angry wife trying to wake him up.

As he wakes up, he realises that his wife was one of the characters he had seen in his dream. No! She was not Laila, nor Juliet nor Heer of his dream. She was Majnu’s mother, the cruel mother-in-law of Laila. This ending was the icing on the cake, and as the entire cast assembled, they received a well deserved standing ovation.

The roles of Majnu, Romeo and Ranjha were deftly played by Rahil Siddiqui, Nadeem Baig and Danish Irshad. However, the roles of Laila, Juliet and Heer were not enacted by three actresses. A single artiste, Aisha Bukhtiyar, played all the three roles and stood out, as never did she appear to be the same person.