This isnít The Theatre of War

Theatre from Af-Pak. NSD's Bharat Rang Mahotsav will see troupes from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sanskrit classics and animal fables will be dramatised. Israelis are there, too, playing clowns

Last week is a long, long time ago in Kabul, which is when the last bomb explosion happened in the capital of Afghanistan. But members of Parwaz, a puppet theatre group from Kabul are wholly immersed in play rehearsals. "We prefer to look ahead to performing inIndia which we'll be visiting for the first time," says Ahmad Nasir Formuli, 25, of the group. Parwaz's plays The Wolf and the Goat and The Hedgehog and the Rabbit will be staged at the ongoing Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the annual festival of the National School of Drama. Parwaz isn't the only group from a conflict zone participating. From Israel comes a clown show called Odysseus Chaoticus and Pakistan is presenting the Urdu version of Kalidas's epic Shakuntala .

"When the bombs go off, all of us freeze in mid-dialogue. But only for a few seconds; we start acting immediately and try to ignore everything else," says Formuli. Their 70-minute play is a rendition of Afghan animal fables capturing the innocence of childhood. "In The Wolf and the Goat, the mother goat fights a wolf which has captured her kids. We perform in schools. Children love it because they rarely see puppets," adds Formuli, who was a child during the Soviet Union occupation of Afghanistan. Surprisingly, many girls audition for theatre in Kabul. Parwaz itself has two women actors. There are a handful of theatre groups in Kabul but acting isn't a career option, says Formuli, "because of the war". He is supported by his family but soon, he will need to get a job and quit acting.

Theatre director Zain Ahmed is grimly aware that the war against terror is dangerously close, yet far enough away from Karachi, his hometown. "Culture is the first casualty of war. Theatre has been affected in Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar but in Karachi, which is in the south of Pakistan, things are still peaceful and we draw huge crowds," he says. Shakuntala, performed by actors from the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in Karachi had packed houses at the 450-seater Arts Council auditorium. And nobody questioned why a Pakistani group was tackling a Sanskrit classic. "Shakuntala is as much a part of Pakistan's culture as India's. Pakistan wasn't born on a blank slate, it is on this land that Hindu and Muslim influences merged and influenced each other," says Ahmed, 37.

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