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Pakistan move to ban satirical play draws flak

Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: A Lahore-based theatre group has said it will defy a Government order banning its musical satire on the Islamic veil, and plans to hold a performance on May 1.

Madeeha Gauhar, who runs Ajoka Theatre, said the Government could not stop "Burqavaganza", described in the group brochure as an "outrageous musical extravaganza", from being shown in "private spaces".

"If it comes to that, we are also prepared to fight it out in court," she said, adding that the venue of next week's performance would not be announced until the last minute to pre-empt any attempts by the Government to stop it.

Earlier this week, the Minister of Culture Ghazi Ghulam Jamal said in the National Assembly that he had called for the video recording and CD of the play.

Ms. Gauhar said the Punjab Government had asked for a recording of the play, but as none was available, Ajoka had sent the script.

The musical premiered on March 24, and has been staged five times so far, including once at the fourth annual Indo-Pak Panj Pani theatre festival in Lahore earlier this month at the Government-run Lahore Arts Council.

Political commentary

According to Shahid Nadeem, the director of "Burqavaganza", the play is "a tongue-in-cheek" take on what "the world would really look like if the Jamia Hafsa brigade succeeds in its attempt to enforce its views on everyone".

He was referring to the students of the Islamabad women's madrassa who have threatened unilateral action to "clean up" Pakistan if the Government does not agree to its demand to implement the Sharia.

"It's a satirical political commentary on the situation in the country, where minor issues have become central and major issues have been sidelined, which probably suits the rulers," said Mr. Nadeem.

All characters in the play, male and female, are dressed in burqas. The play even has a cricket match with all players wearing the all-covering garment. One character, inspired by Osama bin Laden, is called Burqa bin Batin, which means "burqa from within".

"We wanted to show how politicians, religious scholars and even lovers who have to meet secretly, use the burqa to hide their true intentions," said Mr. Nadeem.

He said the idea had been with him for several years. It came to the fore with the veil controversy in the West, but according to him, "the last straw was Jamia Hafsa".

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