Every year, the World Performing Arts Festival in Lahore welcomes dance, theatre and music groups from all over the world. This year, Sheema Kirmani’s feminist troupe, Tehrik-e-Niswan, has adapted Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, in the belief that the classic absurdist play is particularly well suited to contemporary Pakistani society.
Lahore welcomes the World Performing Arts Festival every year
A trained dancer, Sheema Kirmani thinks that the arts can be used to fight against the rise of conservatism in her country, which has crept in as part of “the right-wing swing all over the world”.
She is worried that although she was encouraged by her parents to learn how to dance and later started performing, young girls today do not have the same freedom.
She says it is “unfortunate” that conservatism and religiosity have taken hold in Pakistani society and with her work she struggles against this trend.
Providing food for thought
Her feminist dance and theatre troupe, Tehrik-e-Niswan, which translates into English as “the women’s movement”, often performs street theatre in suburbs and villages to raise awareness and provoke change.
Kirmani thinks that street theatre “influences people because it provokes them to think. It gives them food for thought and helps them maybe see an alternative to their lives because we present all kinds of issues -- maybe a situation where women are fighting for their rights or have achieved something.”
An important aspect of community work for Kirmani is that a dialogue is created in which women can talk about their issues. But she is quick to add that although there is a message in each play; community theatre is also about entertainment -- about song, music and dance.
Waiting for change
Kirmani’s feminist troupe does not only perform community theatre. At the Lahore cultural festival, it is staging an adaptation of one of the classics of the Theatre of the Absurd.
A great fan of the Irish dramatist Samuel Beckett, Kirmani has adapted his classic “Waiting for Godot”, which she feels corresponds to the mood in Pakistan today. Her version, “Insha Ka Intezar”, plays with the notion of Inshallah, the idea that, God willing, things will change.
“Everyone’s waiting for something to happen, for some change to happen -- maybe for a great leader, a great messiah, a revolution, or an idea.”
The artist feels she can help things change by struggling against those influences in society, which are “still very tribal and feudal, to make people think differently” and to use the arts to ultimately “create an environment of harmony, tolerance and peace, allowing people to become better human beings.”
The festival continues in Lahore until Nov. 23.