The Theatre Maven

MAG in conversation with Dawar Mehmood, the brains behind some of the most successful and talked-about theatre plays
  • 11 Aug - 17 Aug, 2018
  • Rabia Mushtaq
  • Interview

Theatre-lovers know him as the guy who brought Siachen to several cities around Pakistan. He is one talented bloke who excels at mimicking the greatest actors of all time. He handles political satire and drama like a boss and knows his job way better than most self-proclaiming thespians in the country. MAG sat down with the theatre maven Dawar Mehmood in Karachi, days before his next play – Kyun Nikala – is set to be staged in the city of lights.

Tell us something about yourself. What do you do when you’re not doing theatre?

I enjoy farming when I’m not doing theatre. Whenever my play ends, all I need are two to three months in between and in that time I’d rather spend time in my farm than go for a vacation. Also, I am a very anti-social guy and rarely give interviews. Spotlight is something I simply detest and believe that my work needs to speak for me. After a play ends, I usually take a bow, say thank you and run away, especially the day I have to open a show, I feel very nervous.

Apart from direction, you’ve also acted in plays; why haven’t you acted recently?

I’d love to act but it’s very challenging. The worst part of acting is that an actor has to depend on so many things. He may have a bad director, a bad writer and the worst production ever. So there are several elements that an actor depends upon. After dealing with all such issues, it gets difficult for an actor to do method acting. So I just can’t do it. Method acting is not an easy job.

You went to many lengths to bring the best out of your actors working for Siachen. Was it your idea to take the cast up at 35,000 feet to make them perform great?

Yes! Initially, I selected the cast of 21 actors who’ve never acted in their life. They were all pampered kids but since I had to make them experience survival, I made them live in a house, made them sign a bond paper stating that if you quit then you have to pay Rs. 5 million. So they were locked there for 90 days, guarded by military police provided to us by the ISPR and were made to live in difficult conditions. After 15 days 70 per cent of them said we don’t want to do it. But they were trained and turned into fighters. So my idea to cast nobodies and try to turn them into somebodies worked well.

You’ve taken your plays across Pakistan. How different is the audience in all the cities?

The audience in both, Islamabad and Karachi are kind of similar but the only thing is that Karachiites are not a forgiving audience. If it’s a bad play on the opening show, you’re finished; they don’t give a second chance to poor plays. They like intelligent humour, so you can’t perform lame humour in front of them. Audiences in Islamabad are relatively forgiving. Most of the time they’re pleased with the work that I do and it’s my hometown so I get that advantage. But the worst audience I have ever faced is from Lahore. The viewpoints they have are very different. More than political satire, they want drama. They want a hero, heroine, villain and an entertaining climax. However, I have a lot of respect for both Punjab and Karachi’s sense of comedy.

What happens after any of your play doesn’t work well?

I start fixing it, but it takes a toll on me. When you do not give your all to a project, it shows somewhere or the other.

What is your most memorable play till date?

Financially, Dharna and Siachen; and critically, Aangan Terha.

Financial success or critical appreciation. What feels better?

Critical; it makes you sleep well at night. Aangan Terha was that one for me. Everyone appreciated that play, critics, haters, exes, everyone loved it. Not a single critic said anything against it.

Tell us something about your upcoming play Kyun Nikala?

The play is about a Bengali cook and his story. He works at a minister’s house, and the plot features the arrival of the JIT report. The story is about the cook with a situation that also focuses on the life of politicians before elections and what happens in the process. So it’s going to be a fun play, because Anwer sahab has written one for me after three years.

How would you change the state of acting and performing arts in Pakistan?

I want to make private theatre auditoriums in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad; with multiple theatres, light design, sound design, revolving sets and dorms. It will be a place where there’s comedy, musical, serious drama and people will get to pick and choose what they want to watch. I also want to bring an acting and film school to Pakistan. Students will get a bachelors and masters degree that will be recognised around the world; even in Hollywood.

Do you think our film industry has revived in any way?

What makes you think it has revived and will work? Chaapa (copied content) never works. A copy will always be second best. You are copying a country that copies another country, that again copies another country. India takes up French, Iranian and Turkish movies and they package it so beautifully by bringing in the best faces, best show, best sets, best frames and take up good stories and make magic. It does well for them but not for us.

Do you plan to make a movie?

I might. I’m really not sure. Producers are asking for the rights of Pawney 14 August and Sawa 14 August. I’m a tough negotiator and have so many rules that I cannot change. Also, I don’t need faces, I need actors, so I’m a difficult man to work with. If I ever do sign up for it, I will not do it as a director but as a creative head, acting coach and observer. •