Malpractice in family planning, child-mortality, purdah system, partition, women abuse, illogical Islamic laws…….social stigmas they are indeed and also issues taken up to form the subject of plays…plays that defy these practices and more importantly, plays that create an awareness amongst the old and young alike. And the lady who leads the pack, the voice of a billion suffering from injustice in society, revolution in its purest form….Madeeha Gauhar. Founder of Ajoka theatre and now its artistic director, she is a theatre activist from the land of culture, Karachi, Pakisatn, in the truest sense. Her tireless endeavours as a socialist has taken its inspiration from her mother, Khadijah who was a dedicated human rights activist and a dedicated social worker. She is the proud recipient of the International Theatre Pasta Award in 2007, the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz by the Pakistani government in 2002 and many more. She has taken her plays all over the world as well and received critical appreciation as well as the snide of the extremists. But she goes strong
Was theatre a childhood passion? How did your journey begin?
Ever since school, I have been acting in plays. While in college, Kinnaird College, I was the President of the Najmuddin Dramatic Society. It was there that I truly honed my skills and expertise as an insightful actress. At 17, I acted in my first TV serial, Zanjeer by Anwar Sajjad. After completing my masters in English, I taught in a government college and then joined the Women Action Forum where I got the opportunity to put my beliefs into practice with great fervour.
At that time, Zia-ul-Haq was in power and his oppression was at its peak. The WAF began many protests and rallies. We were a group of five, all at the receiving end of the brutal baton charge. I was arrested and jailed twice. I realized that it was time we did something more impactful to bend this tyranny. Also, TV was becoming a outhpiece to promote these social ideologies and theatre was not encouraged. I opted out of TV myself in favour of theatre.Hence Ajoka Theatre was born in 1983. It was a theatre with the objective to do socially meaningful theatre and to provide entertainment with social relevance. Our first play ‘Juloos’ was performed in defiance of the strict censorship laws. That’s how it all began. We have established ourselves as a non-profit making non-commercial democratic organization.
How would you define theatre?
Theatre has been my whole life. It gives an expression to my creativity. It is a medium of sensitising society about certain issues that have been overlooked for a long time. The message is put across in a wholesome manner. Theatre makes you laugh, it makes you cry, and most importantly it makes you think. I am proud to be a part of it.
Your recent play ‘Burqavaganza’ was accused of ridiculing Koranic injunctions on the veil. In the face of such baseless accusations, what is it that keeps you going?
There is a small minority in Pakistan that goes against our work. Greater majority is on the middle of the road. They want meaningful productions to take place. The government this time was simply not sure as to what they were doing themselves I believe. The society at large does watch our plays and it brings about a change in their thinking. That’s a good start. We fight for the cause of humanity and shall continue to fight.
What constitutes a good performance for you?
Good, strong, meaningful content is the most important element. The play should communicate itself. The presentation may look beautiful but if it has no substance it will fail to move you.
Any message for theatre pasta readers?
Support theatre. See good theatre. Look for substance. Try to understand what a character says and then work upon it. Theatre will thrive as long as the audience thrives.