Anwar Maqsood Won’t Write a Chauda Agust Because We Haven’t Yet Seen an August 14 “Worth Celebrating”

Photography: Stephan Andrew/WhiteStar

The room is lined with books – shoulder-pumping Urdu tomes with historical odysseys in English, the works of Iqbal and Faraz on one wall, Shakespeare and William Dalrymple on the other. Another wall is lined with a selection of paintings, freshly framed, obviously new to this room. There are black and white photographs in frames and on the walls, and when I scrutinize them closely, their subjects are some of the most famous faces in the country. A thick sheaf of papers rests on a chair.

It is thanks to this sheaf of papers that I meet the legendary Anwar Maqsood, who turned 81 last September.

He is one of Pakistan’s most beloved and iconic playwrights and the thick pile of notes encompasses the last screenplay he wrote for the theatre, a production titled Saarhay Chauda August. He is currently in the process of fine-tuning it and, knowing Maqsood’s penchant for perfection, it is likely that he will continue to do so until May this year when the play is due to be staged.

Maqsood had once focused his creative energies entirely on television and much of Pakistani television classics can be attributed to him; gems such as Half half, silver jubilee, Studio Dhai, Studio Pawnay Teen, Aangan Terrha, Half Plate and Unrestrained chatter among them.

Anwar Maqsood is one of Pakistan’s most beloved and iconic playwrights and minds and a screenplay by him tends to be in a category of his own. He returns to the theater in May with the third and last play of his “patriotic” Chauda August trilogy, in which Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi face off in court

In 2011, however, he turned his attention to acting, at the insistence of a young group of comedians called Kopykats Productions. Their first collaboration together was a patriotic story called Pawnay Chauda Agust [A Quarter to 14th August]. Intertwined with the wit, sarcasm and emotion that were quintessential Maqsood, the play had been a huge hit.

Many other theatrical productions followed, including a sequel to the first, titled Sawa Chauda August [A Quarter After 14th August]. More than a decade later, he wrote the final part of the trilogy, which has now grown to a ‘hot saarhay‘ [fourteen and a half].

What about Chauda Agust [14th August] itself, the date on which Pakistan gained its independence? “I won’t write this,” he said solemnly, “because in my mind, Pakistan has yet to see a Chauda Agust worth celebrating. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah created Pakistan with hard work and high hopes, but nothing came of it.

Maqsood says this solemnly, his eyes sad and it reminds me of the past several times when I watched his TV interviews where he spoke equally sorry about the ruin of Pakistan. His language was always precise, his observations true, and anyone with even an ounce of patriotism is likely to feel sad hearing him speak.

His plays have the same power. It is now commonly accepted that one should have a thick wad of tissues on hand when going to see a play written by Anwar Maqsood. There’s a lot of humor, but there’s also a deep underlying sadness that surfaces in some scenes. Will this new drama also follow similar lines? “There are some lighthearted moments but the story this time has very serious undertones,” he says.

Scenes from Pawnay Chauda Agust and Sawa Chauda Agust

He begins to tell me the story. The first two parts featured a range of historical figures together: Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Gen Ziaul Haq, Allama Iqbal, Maulana Shaukat Ali and Jinnah, among them. The final will pit Jinnah against Mahatma Gandhi.

“A lawsuit has been filed asking who is to blame for the formation of Pakistan,” says Maqsood. “The argument is that if Pakistan had not been formed, India would have been expanded and flourished. Jinnah and Gandhi are summoned to court and in their quest to discover the culprit, they visit four different regions: Kashmir, Lahore, Delhi and London.

Their first stop is Kashmir, where the two pass the Line of Control [LoC] and enter an apple garden where there are no apples. The trees are withering.

“Jinnah meets a young boy who greets him with a salaam. ‘jeetay raho [Live long]’, he has answered. The boy replies: ‘Mujhay dekhein. Main gyara ya baara ka ho gaya hoon. Kashmir mein bachay ko koi aur dua dein, koi aisi dua dein jo puri ho jaye [Look at me. I’m 11 or 12 already. Bless a kid in Kashmir with some other prayer — one that could possibly be fulfilled]’.”

Maqsood’s eyes fill with tears as he recounts more of Jinnah and Gandhi’s experiences in Kashmir. He speaks softly, stopping at just the right moment and I find myself crying too. This is the power of Maqsood’s pen. Did you cry every time you read this part of the script to someone? “Yes, every time. My heart is pained by everything that is happening around me. You will cry,” he says.

He changes tactics for more humorous scenes. The trip to Lahore offers a lot of hilarity – I won’t mention the jokes here as they would end up being spoilers. There’s no denying, however, that the upcoming piece will be a powerful one, the kind that needs to be sold out day after day.

It is for this reason that Saarhay Chauda August has been delayed several times. Both Maqsood and Dawar Mehmood, CEO of Kopykats Productions, wanted to stage the play to a full house rather than an auditorium operating at half capacity due to the pandemic.

“It’s the last,” he thinks. Your last game? Would you ever really stop writing? Maqsood rephrases. “The last in this series. I might write again after this, but it won’t be for this series. I’ve been writing for 60 years now, and I just want this play to go well.

He continues, “I love and respect the Quaid-i-Azam with all my heart and it saddens me that young people today don’t even know who he is, the sacrifices he has made.”

His work has always inspired patriotic love among his audiences and yet, in the face of Pakistan’s perpetual turmoil, does he sometimes feel that his efforts have been in vain, that there is no point in spreading the nationalism in a country mired in so many problems?

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I have always written what was close to my heart. I could have worked anywhere in the world, but I chose never to leave Karachi. Jaisa bhi hai, hum burray nahin hain magar badqismat zaroor hain, humein kabhi achha aadmi nahin mila [Whatever it may be, we’re not bad but we have certainly been unlucky, because we have never been able to find a good leader]. All over the world, a new day is dawning and it is full of hope. In Pakistan, every new day is worse than the last.

Earlier there were rumors that he was working on a script for a movie with Shehzad Roy. We had also heard that he would be working on a theatrical script in collaboration with Sania Saeed. What happened to these projects?

“My scripts take time and effort, and most people don’t have that kind of time anymore. They are in this rush to make money, to flit from one project to another. It’s endless,” he said.

Do you sometimes miss the time of yesteryear when the recording of a single scene was preceded by hours of rehearsals? “We rehearsed for five days before shooting scenes for Sitara aur Mehrunnissa“, he remembers the realization of the romance he had written, with Atiqa Odho, Sania Saeed and Sajid Hassan.

“It took us four or five months to record all the drama. For Half Plate, we rehearsed as Khalida Riyasat knew each line by heart. And now all of a sudden everyone’s been wiped out, everyone’s gone.

Remembering the late Moin Akhtar, with whom he worked a lot, he says: “Sometimes when I write a good screenplay, I regret that agar Moin hota toh yeh achha karta [had Moin been around, he would have been able to do justice to it]. No one could take his place. »

I observe that likewise, no one can write a screenplay like he does. Did he ever have any qualms, perhaps early in his career, that his latest work could match his past successes?

“Writing has always come naturally to me,” he replies. “For six years at school, I studied with Khawaja Moinuddin, who wrote screenplays such as Taleem-i-Balighan and Mirza Ghalib Bunder Road By. He told me that what I wrote would always be very different. I would write an essay on Mirza Ghalib and he would find himself laughing. Likhtay raho [keep writing], he told me. And that’s what I did.

That doesn’t quite answer the question I asked him, but I conclude that he may have always had such an innate genius for writing that he was never assailed by the doubt of himself.

Has he ever been arrogant when each successive project was a success? “No, not arrogant, but I think I become like a child sometimes, worrying about every little detail. I don’t want anything to go wrong with my script.

And did he ever, in a career that was always stellar and ahead of his time, feel an ounce of pride when people stared at him, riveted by every word he spoke? “I’m more concerned that they understand what I’m saying,” he smiles. “I watch who I speak to and change my way of speaking accordingly.”

We return to the subject of Saarhay Chauda August. Kopykats Productions tends to show their pieces in cities across Pakistan as well as key locations around the world. With Gandhi at the center of this latest offering, did he have to alter the script to make it politically correct and not offend the feelings of Indians in the audience once the play aired internationally?

“Everything is in a good mood. I don’t think they will be offended,” he said.

While there may be some jokes that tend to be politically incorrect, it’s a known fact that Maqsood doesn’t like it when someone tampers with his script. “Meray alfaaz buss koi na badlay [No one should change the words that I have written]he often said. It’s a grievance that has led him to sometimes walk out of projects.

A screenplay by Anwar Maqsood, after all, tends to be in a league of its own, knitted with the humor and poignant sadness that defines his work, leading to halls full of audiences, standing ovations, laughs and much more. of tears.

Saarhay Chauda August will run for 90 minutes and theater in Pakistan, after suffering for two odd numbered years due to the pandemic, is set to be reborn with enthusiasm. This is the magic of Anwar Maqsood’s pen.

Originally published in Dawn, ICON, February 20, 2022

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