Mehfil Theatre: Thinly Veiled Impropriety
Desirous to watch a theatre stage show, on Saturday evening I arrived at Taxali Gate. I had visited the area once before and the experience had not been amazing, by any stretch of the imagination. I walked swiftly, narrowly avoiding oncoming traffic, and also the people in the narrow streets. I was looking for Pakistan Talkies.
Very soon, about five men stealthily approached me and asked if I needed help. I told them that I was looking for Pakistan Talkies. One of them asked me if I was a Pashtun, I told him squarely that I did not want ‘it’. Another pointed towards the locked cinema and said, “The cinema has been closed for long but if you want a girl …” I turned around and walked straight out of Taxali Gate.
I called myself an Uber and decided to head home, as the plan to watch a theatre show did not seem to have worked out. When my Uber arrived I half-heartedly asked the young driver if he knew about any theatre by any chance. The question was an intended distraction as I did not want him to wonder why I was in Heera Mandi.
He surprised me and told me about three places, where I could find a few theatre huddled together. He added that he had been a student of Mass Communication and had engaged with parallel theatre, too. I told him about my job and it led to an exciting conversation about theatre, writing, and movies. He recommended the movie ‘Genius’ to me and dropped me off in front of Mehfil Cinema on Abbot Road.
After buying myself a ticket, I strolled in the empty plot in front of the cinema, which doubles as a park, until 11 PM. The full moon shone from above through the smog, while men gathered before the cinema, waiting in a fidgety manner. There were very few women among the audience.
Once inside the cinema hall, firstly, they played an instrumental of our national anthem. Then, elderly sweating men brought cold drinks out on round trays. The show kicked off with loud music from an Old Punjabi movie. I began to fear that I would be bored to the point of asphyxiation within the next hour. There seemed to be no air conditioners in the hall. Or if there were any, they were solely for decorative purposes.
Gangly, oily men appeared on stage and began a performance. They did not utter their pale jokes but screamed them into each other ears. One of them said,
“Hamara bhi kia naseeb hai Faraz
Yaar b miley to kanjar reshtadar b kanjar”
One of the cast members, a short swarthy man with a ridiculous moustache, enacted the role of a Pashtun, who was naïve and ignorant. He had a beautiful, healthy wife, with whom the others (Punjabis) flirted endlessly. Then, there followed loads of redundant jokes about Pashtuns and Punjabis, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. None of them could inspire even a shadow of a smile on my grim face.
After each interval of weak jokes and puns, a buxom woman in tight jeans would shake her body to some Punjabi or Bollywood song. The phallus-bearing crowd howled and yelled in praise. I observed that the men in the performance were malnutritioned and seemed to not have had a proper meal in ages. The women, on the other hand, were healthier and much more active in comparison.
After the first dance, there followed another redundant performance of two sons wanting their old ailing father to die early. However, when the old man sees a young woman, he is suddenly revitalized. It was quite obvious to see that the men in performance were predatory, while the women were being shown as naïve individuals, who could not understand the sexual overtures of the men.
This was followed up by another performance in which the woman pretended to respect her husband like a ‘Majazi Khuda’ yet had ulterior motives. Everything was spiced with cliché. My theory is that they never write a new plot for their performances and improvise their plays on the spot. And then, the same drama, a young girl shaking her body and caressing herself violently.
I tried not to sit there like an intellectual snob, who has all of it figured out, but the whole damn thing was annoying. There is nothing wrong with dance but what they performed on stage lacked all desired subtlety and sensuality. There was no romance and the music played high, like gunshots or mortars.
Quite later, in retrospect, I understood that the sloppy plot of the performance, clichés, and terrible screaming were not intended to amuse us. Everything was there to veil and parcel the violent dance of those young women. Despite everything, watching a desi theatrical show is an experience not to be missed.