Stage Play “Kala
Pul” Tackles the Karachi Divide
By Ras H. Siddiqui
jubilant and confident cast is seen backstage
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
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
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)