Sitting in the very last row at the Al Hamra auditorium, I kept nudging my friend throughout, reminding her how incredible it was to see such a play in Lahore. Jhanjhar di Panwaan Chankaar is directed by, and also stars, the renown Sarmad Khoosat along with Samiya Mumtaz, Zain Afzal and Iman Shahid. The play made for a refreshing break from the cliched stories that we see in theatre and on screen, as it challenges cultural stereotypes and norms.
The very first thing that you notice about the play is the intricate detail in the ultra-modern, minimalistic white sets. Hamza’s (Zain Afzal) voice activated studio apartment will remind you of some of the newer condos that you may have seen in downtown Manhattan or Toronto. From the padded wooden floors, the staircase to Hamza’s bed to the indoor urban gardens – the key details set the mood for the plot.
The characters are well developed and intriguing. Zain Afzal plays the character of a blind man who has grown up wanting to be an independent successful musician. Samiya Mumtaz plays the character of Mrs. Sohail, an overbearing and loving mother who has dedicated her life to Hamza’s childhood. She has been protecting Hamza all her life to the point where she controls his decisions, a character that reflects the maternal aspect in our society strongly. Sarmad Khoosat plays the role of an actor, Zaman, who has learnt over time to embrace himself rather than live in conflict.
The plot is strong and well written, while the script is humorous yet powerful, as it focuses on the overbearing mother-son relationship. We see how Mrs. Sohail’s love and care, which enabled Hamza to grow up to be an educated intelligent man, is also the reason why he feels secluded and isolated. Hamza wants to feel loved and heard and not controlled. He wants to be able to stand up for what he believes in, and be able to live his life how he pleases; this he finds through his friendship and time spent with Zaman. Zaman fills the void of a close confidante in Hamza’s life, someone who strengthens his belief in his ability to face his fears and realize his dreams. What deserves a standing ovation is that the nature of the relationship between Zaman and Hamza is depicted as incidental to the plot, and not the central focus. In this pluralistic world, we’ve moved beyond simply accepting diversity to embracing our difference in abilities, sexuality and societal roles.
The acting is compelling and moving. Sarmad is so natural in his character that even after the play it is hard to imagine him not being that amazing diva who can dance so well in high heels! The timing and delivery of the lines between Zaman and Mrs. Sohail is what made the audience roar with laughter. Zain holds the fort together with his impeccable performance as a blind man. The emotions between Hamza and Zaman run high and a lot is said through their emotive expressions.
Walking out of the theatre, one could not help but deliberate on the lessons that Hamza and his mother’s turnaround story bear for each one of us. It is not just a beautiful performance guaranteed to entertain, but one that is much needed in these times of confusion and hate. Jhanjhar di Panwaan Chankaar teaches us to not judge, to accept our differences, and to support each other in ways that can empower.
Verdict- A strong 9/10.