KARACHI: The Pillowman produced by the Nida Butt’s theatre company, Made For Stage, the play has been directed by Rouvan Mahmud, who has also played the lead role.
With a black tent providing a screen over the venue of the play obscuring signs of any major activity from view at the MAD School on Zamzama, the guests walking into the performance area came face to face with a man sitting in what appeared to be an interrogation room with his head covered by a pillowcase.
The Pillowman is an award-winning play by Martin McDonagh and revolves around a writer named Katurian Katurian who writes short stories often depicting violence against children. He is interrogated by two police offers, one playing the good cop, the other the bad, about the connection of his stories to children’s murders.
Katurian has a mentally-challenged younger brother, Michal Katurian, who eventually confesses to the murders citing Katurian Katurian’s stories as his inspiration. Throughout the play the audience are also told some of Katurian’s stories: The Unsolveable Puzzle, The Little Green Pig, The Tale of the Town on the River, The Little Apple Men and The Pillowman; and we see how Michal Katurian was influenced by them.
The audience is also told Katurian’s own story of how his parents experimented on both Michal and him by providing Katurian a loving, creative environment to grow up in, encouraging his foray into writing from a very young age. On the other hand, they tortured Michal since from the age of seven. Katurian would hear Michal’s muffled screams but weren’t aware of his existence which eventually influenced his storylines to become increasingly grisly. Eventually Katurian he discovers Michal and rescues him.
Later on he also takes Michal’s revenge from his parents by strangling both of them while they sleep.
However, the adapted version of The Pillowman by Rouvan Mahmud included changes to the names of the officers interrogating him. The good cop, Tupolski, is called Gibrael (played by Momin Zafar) and the bad cop, Ariel, is called Israel (played by Imam Syed).
The interrogation (and the play itself) opens and closes with the sound of the azaan in the background and initially one feels that scene also reflects how writers and journalists were persecuted during the Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. The director, Rouvan Mahmud, refused to comment on whether the political undertones in the play were intentional. He said "It was a political work of art without a deeper meaning to it.”
Rouvan Mahmud’s real-life younger brother, Rafey Mahmud, played Michal, and was so convincing that he startled one of the guests in his opening scene. Imam Syed, a television actor, who played the lead character in Made For Stage’s last production, Karachi, did justice to the complexity in his character. The audience hated the bad cop, Israel, at the beginning of the play but sympathized with him at the end of it. Momin Zafar’s performance as the good cop, Gibrael, was strong as well. He was able to convey Gibrael’s aloofness and disdain for everyone, but himself, successfully.
Although the venue cannot accommodate more than a hundred people at a time, and the stage is set right in the middle of the audience, it is precisely this close proximity that lends the performance of the play an intimacy that manages to involve its audience completely.
Rouvan Mahmud has acted in over a hundred productions both on film and stage and has recently returned to Karachi after spending six years in New York studying and practicing his art. The Pillowman is his first directorial venture in Karachi. It will be performed from the 27th to the 28th of this month followed by a second installment from the 4th to the 7th of October at the MAD School.