Dropped from fest, Pak play finds a stage, and a full house, in Delhi

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The venue was different and smaller, but Lahore-based group Ajoka Theatre did stage its play Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh in Delhi Saturday. Ajoka and another Pakistani group, NAPA Repertory Theatre, had been removed Thursday from the line-up of the 15th Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the annual theatre festival of the National School of Drama, due to security concerns arising from tensions at the Line of Control.

The initiative to stage the play at an alternative site was taken by a handful of theatre lovers and private individuals such as Delhi-based mediaperson Shahnawaz Malik and his friends.

"Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh was created especially for the Bharat Rang Mahotsav to mark the birth centenary of Saadat Hasan Manto, and our actors were keen to present it before the Indian public. The plays weren't cancelled because we were being targeted, they were cancelled because that's the mood of the time. But now, we will not go home despondent," said Ajoka's director Madeeha Gauhar before the play began at Akshara Theatre.

The play deals with the life and stories of Manto after he left Mumbai for Pakistan.

An audience of more than 250 crammed the 150-seater Akshara. A second performance was held at Jawaharlal Nehru University later.

The first India performance of Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh was to be on Wednesday in Jaipur, where a parallel festival of the Mahotsav is being held. It was called off following a protest at the venue. Subsequently, both Pakistani plays that were part of the Mahtosav in Delhi were withdrawn. NSD chairperson Amal Allana had told The Indian Express that the Ministry of Culture had decided this keeping "law and order" concerns in mind.

However, on Friday, as the Ajoka team faced the prospect of returning home without presenting their play, Gauhar was told that some theatre lovers wanted to organise a staging. "I was saddened when the play was cancelled. I posted this on Facebook and a friend from Mumbai, Rukmini Sen, responded and transferred Rs 20,000 to my account, insisting the play be staged. With the help of other like-minded people, we booked Akshara around 11 pm Friday," recounts Malik.

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