“A guilty conscience needs no accuser,” a popular proverb that is attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates, highlights the significance of self-reflection and the weight of conscience in person.
For decades, the phrase has been used to explain the discomfort and guilt one feels if they have committed a mistake. Regardless of whether or not they have been accused, every individual has the potential to self-reflect and be aware of their wrongdoings; however, it’s not as easy as it’s made out to be. You see, remorse is a messy game, and while most people can feel it, it still shows up when one is most vulnerable and made accountable for their actions.
National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) latest production, An Inspector Calls, is an Urdu adaptation of English dramatist JB Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls, explores the same guilt within a supposedly close-knit affluent family that appears kind, friendly, and warm at first, until an inspector knocks at their doorstep, exposing secrets and the selfish, self-centered side of the rich.
Also starring Nazr ulHasan, Masooma Nadir, Ashmal Lalwany (Salman), Yogeshwar Karera (Sarfaraz), Anusha Khalid (Sara) and Khalid Ahmed (Hayat Fazaldin), the murder mystery offers some hard-to-digest truths to the audience, some of which can lead you to question your own life and the times you have been jealous, hypocritical, or taken part in the exploitation of others.
The Inspector’s plea
It’s intriguing that a play set in 1912, shortly before the First World War, still holds a powerful warning in the contemporary world. With its ideas of social responsibility and guilt, the story encircles the life of a young, beautiful woman who commits suicide. Investigating the reason for her death, the whimsical inspector inquires each member of the family until they are compelled to confess their contribution to her demise.
Keeping the trademark of JB Presley’s work, this Urdu adaptation also presents ideas in a prominent manner—leaving the spectators to evaluate their own lives and not misconstrue the entire purpose. Time and again, the inspector goes on a spree and repeats his passionate plea for a more honest and compassionate society, like a recital in front of an audience.
In a way, Nazar stole the show; with his eerie performance, but also frightening demeanour, which although felt repetitive and monotonous at times, still proved to be effective—in breaking the bubble the family lived in, and reminding them and us, that our actions will always have consequences.
An ode to Pakistani women
According to Ahmed, the director of An Inspector Calls, this play maintains its relevance in Pakistan because of the rising inflation, poverty, injustice, and discrimination in the country. In a conversation with The Express Tribune, he also pointed out the oppression faced by women in today’s society and how this production aims to emphasise their troubles. “This is Napa’s presentation for International Women’s Day,” he explained.
And while watching the “secrets” unfold throughout the investigation, it appeared Ahmed was right. The anonymous woman, who went by many names, was revealed to be a victim of many—some who exploited her underprivileged status, others who stripped her of her rights due to their own grievances and insecurities. However, the biggest crime against her was still the lack of humanity and respect shown by the family members, who proclaimed themselves to be the epitome of morals and ethics and ironically the guardians of women’s rights too.
Being the “other type of woman”, as Sarfaraz’s character put it, Suraiya Jamil, which was her first and assumed initial name, represented all the working women in Pakistan, who live hand-to-mouth and are left isolated to survive in a violent and male-dominated world where their “honour and dignity” holds more privileges than them.
The play also highlights the role of power and corruption in minting the plight of the lower socio-economic class. A snobbish matriarch, Hayat’s wife, maintains her unbothered, wonky self, puffing cigarettes and dismissing all accusations during the show. Only later, it’s revealed that she’s also the head of a local women’s charity, and rejects the young woman of any help, while she is at her last breath. Her character might be the best representation of how hierarchy works in the world, where power, misuse of law, money is the biggest hurdle against justice and accountability.
Even though the play closes on an open note, the storyline’s objective does not suffer. With the limelight shining on the housemaid working at Hayat’s place, the director made certain that people left the theatre with a complete picture of whom the play is really for—the working class.
An ode to Zia Mohyeddin’s last wish
“The rehearsals for this play already commenced during the time Zia was alive. He was extremely happy about the play as it was one of his favourites,” said Ahmad, while detailing the importance of holding An Inspector Calls as a tribute to Napa’s late founder and president, Zia Mohyeddin who passed away on February 15 at the age of 91.
He further stressed the value of continuing theatre performances in Napa. “Zia not being here today is extremely disheartening; to be under his guardianship was a great privilege. He was someone who knew the inner workings of theatres well and everyone valued his opinions. There is a void now, which will be impossible to fill again, but if there is a way to honour him, it’s to show that the students at Napa, who spent the most time with him, are trying their best to uphold the mark left by him.”
The show will run from 10 to 19th March in Napa!
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