Decolonizing storytelling: Betaali Prem Katha goes onstage on August 12

Amina Baig
Friday, Aug 05, 2022

Karachi : The one thing that kept coming up with the young directors featured in National Academy of Performing Arts’s (NAPA) Young Directors’ Festival earlier this year, was how they wished to work with fresh material that was more relatable to their location, situation, and generation.

While the study of classic methods and masters is essential to all the arts – how can one, e.g., want to draw the human body and never refer to Michelangelo? – evolving that knowledge into your own voice is the next step is both essential and inevitable.

Fawad Khan, both accomplished actor-director, NAPA alumnus, and current NAPA Repertory Theater Director, has championed the plays held up as the classics in theater, and argued that they will always be relevant. His next play, Betaali Prem Katha, both written and directed by him, explores styles closer to home.

“All my theater education at NAPA was very western, and I wanted to look for forms that were closer to us,” says Khan.

The real inspiration for this particular work came from Intizar Hussain, who wrote about the subcontinent with longing and nostalgia.

“At the time he started writing most writers like Manto, Krishan Chander, Ismat Chughtai were all writing in a form that had its roots in the west,” he elaborates.

“They were inspired by Maupassant, Chekhov, Flaubert, Gorky etc. Intizar Hussain started looking for forms that were rooted in our culture. And he wrote stories in the way of the Sufis, Gautam Buddha, the Mahabharat, Quran, Kathasaritsagara and even the way his grandmother used to tell stories. This was both a search for one’s own roots as well as an attempt at decolonizing our literature.”

Khan hopes to give his audience an evening flushed with entertainment, in what he says he hopes is a “nautanki-style” play.

As for the moral of this play, Fawad Khan hopes the story and its messages will unfold onstage successfully.

“If I could explain in a few words what I wanted to convey with it, I wouldn’t have had to write a two-hour-long play,” he says. “I’m not trying to be artsy, but what I hope to convey is too complex.”