By Mahtab Bashir
The play was first performed in March 1998 to mark 100th birthday of Brecht, a German writer. Written in 1941, ‘Arturo Ui’ is a savage and witty parable of the rise of fascism and Hitler, in which his story is recast in terms of a small-time gangster’s take-over of the city’s trade.
In Shahid Nadeem’s Punjabi adaptation, Ui is replaced by Bala King, an unemployed pehlawan (bodybuilder) gang leader, who decides to leave Taxali Gate Adda and try his luck in Badami Bagh.
Badami Bagh is ruled by self-righteous businessmen, ready to trade all principles for business gains and lucrative contracts. Bala and his gang exploits the vulnerability and contradictions of these groups, aided by their muscle power. He bribes, blackmails and intimidates businessmen and shopkeepers to accept his protection at a very heavy premium.
Bala Pehlawan changes his name to Bala King, receives lessons in public speaking and political science and eliminates all opposition, circumvents law and public opinion and eventually establishes his total control over the area. The rise of Bala King and the inability of the people in resisting his dictatorial advances show the weaknesses of society and its vulnerability to violence, blackmail and corruption.
‘Bala King’ shows once again that Brecht is as relevant in Pakistan today as he was in Germany and Europe in 40s. The play, though an adaptation, is very meaningful for Pakistani audience, where the spectre of autocratic rule looms large, violence and crime appear to pay politically and where a complacent and acquiescent majority seems helpless against the forces of corruption, crime and violence.
Directed by Madeeha Gauhar, ‘Bala King’ is full of music, song, dance, humour and vibrant colours of the rural lifestyle. It is indeed a bold and unique theatrical attempt by Ajoka, both thematically and in terms of style.
“At a time when acts of hatred have struck fear in hearts and polluted the air of this once serene city, Ajoka Theatre plays help sooth the nerves and enlighten the minds by baring the good and bad in human nature. The play ‘Bala King’ reflects rural society’s development more candidly,” said Khizra Anum, an Ajoka theatre lover.
Today (Wednesday), a classic production titled ‘Bulha’ will be staged.