Stage Play “Kala Pul” Tackles the Karachi Divide
By Ras H. Siddiqui

The jubilant and confident cast is seen backstage
The cast of the play

Every once in a while, creative writing juices flow in the English language through the Pakistani-American community here in the San Francisco Bay area producing something noteworthy. In the past couple of years, local playwright Wajahat Ali has tackled the post 9/11 impact on a Pakistani family with his “Domestic Crusaders” and rattled quite a few critics and observers with that effort. And now Karachi born actor and writer Saqib Mausoof has taken a different route with “Kala Pul” (Black Bridge) producing results not unlike Satiyajit Ray’s “Distant Thunder” to expose the impact of 9/11 in Pakistan.
In this play, in a unique way the World Trade Center attacks have lead to the death of one member of a family in Karachi. But that is not all or the only focus presented at the Cellspace on Bryant Street in San Francisco on May 6th. 9/11 plays a minor role in Kala Pul but its impact on an already divided ethnic, religious and economic city is certainly felt distantly.


Saqib Mausoof (right) congratulates the cast of Kala Pul

The narrator (Ali Mumtaz) introduces us to Karachi by quoting Sir Charles Napier: “One day she will be the Queen of the East,” he had said a century ago. The main character Arsalan Mirza (Brian Dean) is introduced as a hero/antihero who has not outgrown his violent past. He lives in hiding in Dubai and comes back to Karachi after consulting with the wise Parvati (Ashok Malani took over that role in the absence of Ijaz Syed). Arsalan wants to find out the truth about the killing of his brother Hamza and to avenge it. He returns to his home after 12 years and finds his grieving father Abu (Rak Pakala) who is delighted to see his son. Abu curses apolitical party and its leader for the mess that has been created, and calls him a traitor. “Mir Jaafar kahin ka,” says Abu. Arsalan also finds out that his sister Alia (Maheen Adamson) has become quite independent and has taken over the responsibility of running the household. His youngest brother Osman (Atif Naqvi) is exhibiting extreme religious tendencies, but what is noteworthy is that their father figure Abu, the immigrant Mohajir from India shows little support for any extremist views. Between Abu, Alia and Osman, Arsalan gets quite a homecoming, but it is when he meets his old friend Nizam Elahi (Khurram Anees) and his wife Mona (played by Tania Ahmad) and her sister, the vivacious Zoya Kamal (superb acting job by Aaliya Dadabhoy), that things get really interesting.
There is plenty of beverage consumption during this play, but the local stuff is missing. “No Desi in this house,” says Nizam, after Arsalan asks for a Murree. There is also a great deal of healthy profanity in this script, along with adult innuendos, so this play can be deemed for mature audiences only.
Divorced Zoya takes interest in Arsalan and volunteers to show him around.
Next, we are introduced to the liberal and intoxicated Karachi at a French Beach Party through Zoya’s ex-husband Naufil Kamal (Muder Kothari), who hits her after an argument. Zoya’s interest in Arsalan matures after he is perceived as protecting her.
A high energy Bollywood style dance performance by four dancers from “Dhol Rhythm” pleasantly distracts the viewer next, as we get ready to enter Day2.
We are introduced to ICEY (Sonny Harris) who runs his own “Security Company.” He recalls Arsalan’s past and offers to forward his request for information. We next see Arsalan sharing a beach view with Michael Lopez (Ali Mumtaz), a gay, Christian DJ who is also in the business of selling the light weaponry which Arsalan requires. They talk turtles, drugs and guns; “Some kind of revenge killing?” inquires Michael, as he completes a transaction to be delivered later with the help of Linda Perez (Rabia Razak), also known as “Madame X.”
Arsalan is arrested and beaten up in a lockup by a Police Inspector (Muder Kothari), and is saved by Suleiman Brohi (Ashok Malani) in the nick of time. Suleiman, is a multi talented individual, calls himself a trader, a Sufi mystic and self-proclaimed Karachi historian. In the meantime Arsalan’s young brother Osman is showing increased extremist tendencies (TV reports are helping him there). Arsalan and Alia (reluctantly) visit their murdered brother Hamza’s grave.
There is some inference of or discussion on the significance of Kala Pul throughout the play as the bridge that divides the lifestyle of Karachi’s rich and the less fortunate. But in this two-hour play, little time is devoted to the poor side as we are to visit the Nando’s Chicken fast food outlet. Alia is full of information here on how you can find anything in the world that you want in Karachi, Pakistan now. “The only thing that you cannot find here are parking and Osama (Bin Laden),” she says.
We are also introduced to journalist Rab Nawaz (Muder Kothari) who is full of information too. He informs Arsalan that his brother was probably not murdered by the fundamentalist Lashkar. He brings up the volatile situation in Karachi, Daniel Pearl’s murder and of course America’s CIA, India’s RAW and Pakistan’s ISI. Here we also learn about Maulana Zahoor (Saqib Mausoof) who heads the Lashkar fundamentalists. Saqib Mausoof does not make just a cameo appearance playing the role of the Maulana Zahoor character here. “We don’t do drive by shootings,” he say to Arsalan absolving his organization in his brother’s murder. He also tries to recruit him for the cause. “Choose your side now,” Arsalan is told.
All the main characters have been introduced in this writing and the “Khitchry” (or goulash) ingredients have been identified in this play. From here on, the scenario of weapons, drugs, extremists of all hues and the partying rich come together in a volatile ending. Saqib Mausoof is not one to hold back, either in language use or content. Kala Pul comes to a wild climax where the innocence of the sea turtle’s return to the Karachi beaches is the only significant presence remaining. Things are calm after the strike of the scorpion.
It is not the purpose of a review to give away the storyline. The acting in this play was not by seasoned professionals but it was still collectively impressive. Saqib has penned a powerful mix here in Kala Pul. Those of us older viewers (who refuse to give up on the Karachi of our youth) will be disturbed by this play. But then again maybe that is the intent of the author. Kala Pul is a symbol of separation here, but it could also become a bridge of hope and understanding as well, if the people in Karachi want “the Queen of the East” idea to re-materialize to bring the city back from the brink.
(This performance of Kala Pul was dedicated to the stateless Bihari refugees stranded in Bangladesh for over three decades. It was sponsored by FOSA)


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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