Dushman: a befitting tribute to Ibsen

Hamaara mohsin, hamaara saathi, Dr. Hadi, Dr. Hadi…” were the opening lines of Ajoka Theatre’s play Dushman, an adaptation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. The play was directed by Madeeha Gohar who said that it was a tribute to the father of modern theatre, Ibsen, as 2006 marks his 100th death anniversary. The opening lines were being chanted loudly in a true jalsa-jaloos manner by some youths who were followed by five other people. The public rally begins with the compere introducing the main guests – Nazim Shadab Nagar Colonel Jabbar Ahmed and his brother Dr. Hadi Ahmed. The public meeting is being held in honour of Dr. Hadi, who through his research discovered that Shadab Nagar’s water has miraculous qualities, which led to a sharp rise in Shadab Nagar’s employment rate, business, tourism and real estate value. One of the guests, Ehsan-ul-Haq, who is the owner of a local newspaper, cable channel and a hotel, recites a poem in honour of Dr. Hadi that begins with, “Har taraf karaado manaadi, awaam ka hero Hadi…”. The nazim is then asked to come and say a few words about his brother, Dr. Hadi. In the manner of a true politician, the nazim takes off on a spree of self-praise, telling the spectators how he was committed to serving the nation and although he was not in the army any more, he was still a ‘mard-e-mujahid’ waging a jihad against the enemies of the city and the country. The use of words such as ‘jihad’ and ‘mard-e-mujahid’ reminded one of how such words are used not only by the religious fanatics, but also the politicians in order to play with the masses’ religious sentiments. He then goes on to say that due to his brother, Shadab Nagar will soon turn into Asia’s Switzerland as a multi-national company is interested in signing a deal worth millions of dollars with Shadab Nagar’s City Council. The protagonist of the play, Dr. Hadi is shown as a shy man who is embarrassed by all this attention. The ceremony ends with everyone hanging garlands on Dr. Hadi’s photograph. The ambience of a typical jalsa was captured beautifully by the director, including the throng of chamchaas surrounding both the nazim and Dr. Hadi.

After the ceremony, the nazim is shown as complaining in a jovial manner to the chairman of a public welfare committee how the whole ceremony went overboard by creating such hype about his brother, when it was he who masterminded the business aspect of Hadi’s findings. The chairman admits that the nazim is the real hero and soon they would honour him too. He also informs the nazim that two more patients were admitted in the local hospital recently, showing the same signs that have been found among many in the recent past. They dismiss the symptoms as an allergy.

The plot takes a turn when the next day Dr. Hadi gets a report from a Danish laboratory where he had sent samples of Shadab Nagar’s water, which confirms his suspicions. It says that the water of Shadab Nagar is contaminated, although Hadi is not yet sure about the source of the contamination. He immediately calls his brother and tells him to come over. Meanwhile, Ehsan-ul-Haq and a reporter from his newspaper come to interview Hadi, and are soon joined by the chairman of the public welfare committee. He tells them the alarming news. The media men seem excited as it has given them a new lead story for their paper and cable channel, while the chairman thinks that his brother would not like this news. Hadi is confident that his brother would support him since he has already found a solution for the problem: a water purification plant. When his brother arrives, the others leave saying that the two brothers must talk it out privately. After Hadi finishes telling his brother about the report and how the water is the real reason behind the sudden outburst of skin diseases and stomach diseases among the people of Shadab Nagar, the nazim mocks his suggestion that the water of Shadab Nagar be sealed off for the next few months, purified, and then released for public use again. Jabbar then accuses Hadi of being jealous of his political popularity and wanting to be nazim instead by creating such a big scandal, which would put the blame solely on the nazim of Shadab Nagar and would be the end of his political career. This accusation reflects the thinking of a politician that anyone who opposes him/her is only out to get his/her seat and power. The nazim does not want an early political death, but at what cost? The cost of human lives. It shows how politicians are least bothered about public welfare and are only interested in their political careers. Jabbar then warns Hadi not to go public with the report, or else he would suffer the consequences. The consequences include Hadi’s dismissal from the post he holds in the City Council and also his wife’s termination from the government school where she teaches. Hadi remains adamant that he would not compromise on his principles.

The media is on Hadi’s side and publishes his report. Ehsan-ul-Haq – the media person – is of the view that the public is on Hadi’s side and it would create an avalanche in the city’s local politics, toppling the ruling party and making way for the Opposition. But the nazim threatens Ehsan that if he continues to side with Hadi, the city government would have no choice but to withhold government advertisements from his media organisation. This brings out the issue of the state of press freedom in Pakistan. It shows how there is only a show of freedom of the press here and in reality, when the government needs to, how easily it can pressurise the media to kill a story. When Ehsan does not budge, the nazim further threatens him that his hotel would be shut down as there are complaints of tax fraud, etc. When these threats do not work, he tells them that the source of contamination is nuclear waste, which means that the army is responsible for it. Therefore, if this secret is made public, it would pose a threat for the defence services. Ehsan is worried that if he opposes the military, there would be dire consequences. Spin journalism then comes into action.

At an emergency meeting of the City Council, the tables are turned on Hadi. A report by the National Science Laboratory – a laboratory no one has ever heard of – is produced out of nowhere, contradicting Hadi’s claims. Hadi is then accused of being a Western agent, citing research of a laboratory that has five Jewish scientists, is funded by the Americans, and its board of directors include some Christian clerics. In Pakistan, it is quite common to blame anything that goes wrong on the US, the Jewish lobby and Christians. The play highlights the struggle between hypocrisy and greed on the one hand, and the ideal of personal honour and integrity on the other. It also shows how the majority is not always right and how some high-ups would manipulate the public by blaming everything that goes wrong on the West. The hero, Dr. Hadi, an honest man trying to serve the citizens is turned into a traitor, an enemy – the ‘dushman’. The real villains are shown as the heroes. Ironically, the photograph on which flowers were showered in the first scene is now greeted with rotten eggs and stones.

In the end, Hadi and his principles are left alone. The play made one wonder about the importance of ethical choice without any fear of reprisal. Is it possible to make such a choice in today’s world? An honest man is treated with contempt while the dishonest rule the world.

Madeeha Gohar must be given full marks for her direction, as she brought out multifarious issues to the forefront, including the hypocrisy of politicians, state of press freedom in Pakistan, the power of the military, spin journalism, use of religion and anti-Western statements to play with the masses’ emotions, etc. The actors did justice to their characters. The lighting and the sets were befitting. All in all, the play was a treat to watch and one must praise Ajoka Theatre for bringing to light such issue-based plays.

Anyone who missed it can see it on November 12, 2006, at Rafi Peer’s World Performing Arts Festival 2006, where it will be performed again.


Popular posts from this blog

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part V)

The myth of September 6, 1965

Freedoms and sport