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Pak play unveils burqa, in Delhi

New Delhi, Jan. 13: Taking the veil off conservative traditions and power play has earned Shahid Nadeem’s Burqavaganza a ban in Pakistan.

For the theatre director in his 50s, it is reaffirmation that his Ajoka Productions is doing what it does best: ask uncomfortable questions.

“We address serious issues,” Nadeem said in Delhi where he staged his play at a packed Kamani Auditorium yesterday as part of the National School of Drama’s Theatre Utsav.

“We talk about things people don’t want to talk about. Things they don’t want to address. But we do so in an interesting manner.”

The play satirises the tradition of wearing the burqa which, Nadeem says, “prevents women from (taking up an) active role in society”.

It shows young men in veils sneaking out of educational institutions, offices and homes for discreet dalliances with women friends.

Ajoka has taken the government to court over the ban.

“The problem is that most auditoriums (in Pakistan) are either government-owned or closely controlled…. We have been told all of them are booked for seven years, after Burqavaganza was stopped,” Nadeem said.

In Delhi, it’s been a hit. The tickets were sold out and many serious theatre buffs made phone calls in vain to “well-connected” people in the National School of Drama.

This is the first time Burqavaganza has been shown in India. In Pakistan, it was staged in a big city only once — in Lahore last March — before it was banned. Ajoka then performed the play at the human rights commission auditorium just to defy the ban.

“The minister of culture was forced in the National Assembly to announce that the play had been stopped for a bit,” Nadeem said. “But they couldn’t give it in writing, so we have shown the play in the provinces.”

The play is not just about dress codes for women but also about the hypocrisy of the powerful. “I use the burqa as a metaphor,” Nadeem said. “The burqa is also being used by world powers to hide what they are really doing. They are using the burqa to pretend they are fighting for justice or democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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