Of pauper as king | Pakistan Today

Of pauper as king

Nizam Sakka is one of those stories that can make for meaningful theater – if the producers choose so. The recent enactment of Nizam Sakka was by Theatre Hub. This is a play of two acts, and the difference between the two acts is stark.
The story is rather simple. A pauper, Nizam Sakka, saves Mughal Emperor Humayun’s life and in return Humayun makes him king for a day. The role reversal is used to create comedy. Setting up the scene, untastefully: The first act begins with too low a tone, becomes amateurish, and ends with one sexual innuendo too many to remain tasteful. The first part aims to set up the character of Nizam Sakka, a village pauper, his day-to-day experience of life and his experience of the Mughal Empire.
The first part sets up the audience – but it presumes the audience to be novices. There are good parts in it too, for example, the use of the song, ‘Chala Mera Jee Dola,’ with different lyrics at different moments was able to create genuine laughter.
The characters are Nizam, his wife and son with the setting of the village. The first part also attempts to show the relationship of the Mughal subjects to the Mughal rulers – and how the peasantry reacts to times of war.
The potential lies in exploring the tensions within the village environment (husband-wife, father-son, low caste-high caste, subject-ruler) meaningfully but unfortunately while some of it is done successfully, none of this is ever established because of the recourse to sexual innuendos taken at each step.
It is almost as if the writer and director lack confidence in being able to provoke humour from the contradictions within the script and resort to a formulaic escape.
From Mughal court to Sakka’s court: The second act, however, comes off better and more mature through its reversal through comedy of the practices and language of the Mughal court. The character of the royal jester shines. His sly punch lines such as calling out the practice of repeating orders of the king by saying, ‘Aik doosre pe aitabaar kiya kero! (trust each other!)’; his appearance of a challenge to Humayun’s authority within his court show the potentials of a play that could have been used to pun upon the relation between kings and paupers, of badshahs and their riyayas (kings and their subjects), to overturn it and make kings appear human.
The dance of the courtesan, well-crafted and showing finesse, is worth a mention. The most powerful part of the play comes when Nizam Sakka is brought to Humayun’s court. First, he denies knowing Humayun and wishes to leave, once Humayun is able to make him remember he becomes confident. When asked by Humayun to fulfill one wish, he asks for the floods in the river to stop. When Humayun says it is not in his control, Sakka pokes fun at him.
Punning upon the ‘rules of the court’: It is at the court when the play touches its highs. Whence Nizam takes the throne, the court apparently catapults into a frenzy of nonsense. But it is important to understand that all the courtrooms’ apparent nonsense follows a strict enactment of the ‘rules of the court’. It is here that the play partially attempts to offer meaningful social commentary through a comedic role-reversal.
One, when Nizam mocks the entire court for mimicking every nonsensical move he makes. It is used by the play’s writers as an attempt to satirise the culture of advisers that remains the set standard for modern government. Spoken from the pauper-kings’ mouth, the phrase “advisers must dissent” has a powerful symbolic value.
The second, when Nizam Sakka, the pauper king, is asked to decide a case. Here – the writers are able to satirise the practices around delivering justice. Of course, the choice of case and its theatrical enactment leaves questions. The case brought to the court is of a woman upon whom two men lay claim- one, a tailor, and the other a leather-worker. When the qazi asks for calling witnesses, Nizam makes a pointed remark, “witnesses make the case more complicated.”
Nizam resolves the matter by making the woman smell a leather strap, to which she is repulsed, and concludes she is the tailor’s wife. It is a pointed remark on the judicial system, but again, the presentation of the woman as a man’s object remains. The woman herself had uttered she was the leather-worker’s wife and that plays no part in Nizam’s reading of the case. However, one could consider this reading too much in a play intended for meaningful, but light-hearted humour. Regardless, it is important to ask theatre writers to ask these questions when re-enacting old scripts.
What need not be forgotten is that, although the play did close to a packed Alhamra Hall 2 audience, as a theatre-goer I felt cheated from watching what could have been a very good play by some formulaic scriptwriting.
Pakistan’s younger generation of theater producers would do well not to under estimate the intelligence of their audiences and recognize their own role in shaping audiences. Audiences need to be challenged by theater producers, not the other way round. Sexual innuendos, it may be repeated, may bring a few cheap laughs – but do not allow a play lasting impact.

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