AAMER WAQAS CH talks to Madeeha Gauhar, who says that a few people struggled individually for the promotion of arts and kept their spirits high despite the half-hearted patronage by the state
A joka Theatre was set up in 1983 when all forms of political and social dissent was made punishable. Ajoka performed its first play Badal Sircar's Jaloos in a house lawn in 1984. Since then Ajoka has never looked back. Madeeha Gauhar is its Artistic Director, who talks about maladies which afflicted the local theatre and its promotion in the present times.
Following are some excerpts from her talk:-
"Since 1947, there has been an active discouragement by the State of the performing arts, which projected confusion for the people and the artists alike. The government functionaries and their cronies aimed at a separate identity for people completely divorced from their pre-Independence lifestyle. The whole idea was based on their own concept of Islam, which undermined the role of the performing art in the cultural identity of the country. The government was never clear about its direction and consequently, we landed in the quagmire of a manufactured identity, which was a mixture of our own fabricated ideas about arts and stress on the Islamic values. On the other hand, we were making deliberate efforts to disassociate ourselves from our deeply rooted traditions. This dissociation was wrong as one cannot deny cultural continuity despite nations have carved out separate homelands. Resultantly, ours was a wasteland for performing arts as nothing could be sustained when most of the governments had had an anti-performing art attitude.
"On the other hand, individuals struggled and kept spirits high despite half-hearted patronage by the state. It is pity that huge structures were built, but nothing tangible was done towards the promotion of arts. Myopic views of our rulers made the serious workers to take back seats.
"Even now, it is not all hopeless. People like Khalid Ahmed, Sheema Kirmani and others continued to work against all odds. There is nothing which the government did for them. We were not allowed to perform and often refused permission to stage plays. Two years back, we were not allowed to stage Bhullah, which we did recently. Now there is a change, but it depends on its continuity. If the Punjab Governor has taken a decision of arts academies, then specialists with credibility, vision and skill should be consulted and involved to work for them. I have an apprehension that bureaucrats would play with it.
"We cannot do everything as we don't have funds, facilities and infrastructure. The private sector can do it, but lacks the initiative. If the corporate sector can hold fashion shows, they can be involved here as well. However, this is not culture what people are perceiving these days - having a fashion show followed by a dinner and a few claps. Pure commercialism is not art in any manner.
"Banning or arresting a few people is not the solution. Let flourish all things and give viewers the right to reject. Our duplicity is evident in another way. The affluent are having mujras at their residences, but no action is taken against them. The mannerism of action against artists of stage was simply condemnable. It all started at Alhamra Arts Council and no body sized them up then. At least, these places should not have been misused. It flourished and people went out in private complexes. They were encouraged by Art Councils when we were not allowed to hold our performances. Professionals were out, and ridiculous censorship was stamped on them. We would not have crossed our limits.
"Now, the environment is very encouraging. Motivation and freedom is a prerogative of an artist. Our collaboration with the government has been very successful. We have done two plays (Bhullah and Bala King) with Arts Council. We can change the trend if the government pays the expenses of productions, provide facilities and pay actors."