Guest Post: The Pakistani-American Theatre Scene

Posted on July 2, 2006
Filed Under >iFaqeer, Pakistanis Abroad, TV, Movies & Theatre
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By iFaqeer

I just heard that the Ma-Yi Theatre Company presented a reading of, The Good Muslim, a new play by Rehana Mirza, at the Phil Bosakowski Theatre in New York.

The Good Muslim explores the unlikely friendship that blossoms between Nora, a 25 year old club-hopping atheist, and Farzana, a sheltered 19 year old Muslim girl. The result is a humorous new take on cultural domination in the modern world.

Rehana grew up in multicultural home–Filipino mother, Pakistani father–and soon after 9/11 launched a theatrical company called Desipina, with her sister Rohi.

I have not seen the play, so I cannot comment on it yet. But there are two other pieces of theater I am familiar with and never tire of talking about. These are just some examples of the vibrant Pakistani-American theatre movement that is beginning to take roots in America.

The first is a two-act play about Muslim-Pakistani Americans called ‘The Domestic Crusaders’.

The Domestic Crusaders focuses on one day in the life of a modern Muslim Pakistani-American family of six eclectic, unique members, who convene at the family house to celebrate the twenty-first birthday of the youngest child. With a background of 9-11 and the scapegoating of Muslim Americans, the tensions and sparks fly among the three generations, culminating in an intense family battle as each “crusaders” struggles to assert and impose their respective voices and opinions, while still attempting to maintain and understand that unifying thread that makes them part of the same family. The three generations of the family include: the grandfather, Hakim, a retired Pakistani army official who harbors a terrible secret; Salman, his son, a middle-aged corporate engineer trying to maintain his pride and self-respect; Khulsoom, Salman’s wife, longing for her homeland and wishing to impart her traditions, values, and morals to her American-born children; Salahuddin, the eldest child, stubbornly clinging to his ideals of success, as well as his anger and resentment towards his father; Fatima, the middle child, passionately advocating her Islamic identity, while rejecting the traditional stereotypes and biases of her mother; Ghafur, the youngest, the golden child abandoning his family’s expectations in order to discover his own path. These individuals are “The Domestic Crusaders”!

“One of the blurbs I have read on the former mentioned it as this era’s “Fiddler on the Roof”. There’s a lot in that comment that one could unpack–the experience of this generation’s most newsworthy immigrant community, the playing out of a religious community’s interaction with “modernity”, timeless and ageless family dynamics…one could go on and on.” (See reviews here and here).

Another example of this notable phenomenon of Pakistani-American theatre is Kala Pulliterally “Black Bridge”, named for a bridge leading one of Karachi’s poshest localities. (See reviews here and here):

Kala Pul chronicles cultural, political, and religious conflicts of fictional characters in 21st century Karachi. It is a gritty tale of fugitive Arsalan’s return to present day Karachi after the violent death of his younger brother which has been blamed on religious extremists. In the ensuing four days he discovers that his younger sister has become a successful professional, his younger brother has turned into an extremist and his best friend has become involved in money laundering. He parties with the Karachi elites, is beaten up by the police, is kidnapped by religious fundamentalists and helped by the catholic minorities. The play is a kaleidoscope on the vibrant cultures of Karachi, described as one of the most violent cities of the world. The title, Kala Pul, is based on a bridge in the city which connects the affluent parts of the city to the lower income area. Arsalan grew up under the shadows of the Kala Pul, caught between the two worlds of haves and have nots, one world of MTV inspired ‘burgersâà ¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ and other of the left behind fodder for the Kalashinikov culture.

Together, these plays are the answer, really, to VS Naipaul’s contention that “The novel’s time is over. Only nonfiction can capture the complexities of today’s world.” Taken with “The Kite Runner” and even Updike’s “The Terrorist,” it makes one wonder whether, maybe, we need to turn to a different class and generation of writers, instead of turning repeatedly to the traditional staples of Sir Vidyadhar and Salman Rushdie, et al.

iFaqeer is a writer, blogger and journalist who currently makes his living as a technical writer based in Silicon Valley, USA. (See more at iFaqeer’s blog).

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5 responses to “Guest Post: The Pakistani-American Theatre Scene”

  1. ABCD says:

    great initiatives…. why don’t we have more of these…. please do more posts on young pakis in usa

  2. Sadia says:

    Excellent. Glad to hear of it. As a mother of an aspiring actress I wish you and your venture well. I’m glad to hear of the plays, sound neat. Good luck, Hugs, Sadia

  3. Phil says:

    Desipina has an amazing team there.

  4. As a response, I would say that Domestic crusader went from a lowly start in Oakland libraray to 3 shows at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, one of the premier stages on the west coast, and then to San Jose state. The reponse was overwhleming. I got my start as an actor in wajahat’s play, had fun playing an ailing grandfather with a secret.

    My own play Kala Pul is an adaptation of a film script. We had two shows, 400+ people, well recived, reviewed in dawn and no I am seriously looking for funding for a feature lenght movie. So in short, without tooting my own horn too much, these are not really undergroudnd efforts, and secondly, speaking for my own play Kala Pul I can tell you that content rules over quality becuase there are very few voices that even touch the issues and I firmly belive that Paksitanis are the silent majority when it comes to Muslim issues.

  5. MSK says:

    This is amazing. First I am hearing of it. Is this mostly underground, why not more info on it. Also, just how big is this… are they performing just for friends or family or is their serious market penetration?

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