Musharraf recognises Kolkata theatre group as cultural ambassador

The Indian Express, 27-Nov-06
Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay

Kolkata, November 26, 2006

Spandan with Prime Minister of India.
Spandan with Prime Minister of India.

Musharraf recognises Kolkata theatre group as cultural ambassador

Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay

INDIAN Peoples' Theatre Association (IPTA), the leftist theatre group which can boast of its association with such illustrious actors as Ball Raj Sahni, Utpal Dutta, A. K. Hangal, to name a few, has made history.

In Pakistan. Spandan theatre of IPTA which went to Pakistan to take part in the World Performing and Visual Arts Festival, was recognised by Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf as the cultural ambassador of India. This is for the first time that the Pakistan government recognised a cultural mission from India.

Before its departure for Pakistan the group met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who conferred on them the status of'cultural ambassador of India to Pakistan.

In a signed letter to Sangram Guha. Director of the Group, the only theatre group from India which performed at the festival, Musharraf said: "I came to know that the prime minister of India wished to your journey and giving you the cultural ambassador status to Pakistan. I am also giving you the reciprocate status to be here. Today I was there at Lahore to see your performance, but my schedule does not match with the show timing. So I really missed it." the Pakistan President wrote to Guha.

Musharraf, who earlier expressed his desire to watch the group's play Operation Flush, came to watch their performance on November 13. "It was because of a faux pas on the part of the organisers that we could not get the President in our audience." Guha told Newsline. "We came to know that the President was in the auditorium but we could not move out of the green room because of security. Later in the evening a messenger came to meet me at my hotel and handed me the letter from the President," Guha said.

Musharraf started his letter thus: "I really feel happy that your theatre is performed in Pakistan. I was interested from the beginning of the festival to see your performance. I could not go through your whole script, but my official experts briefed me the whole thing. I am truly surprised by your aptitude and sincerity." Operation Flush is based on the plight of Iraqi prisoners it Abu Ghraib prison of Iraq. In the play an Iraqi woman. Sajida Maqmal, who was tortured by American soldiers at the prison files a case against Lt Colonel Nathane Saffan, the US officer in charge of Abu Ghraib,who incidentally is a real life character. But though the officer is sacked from the US army he is rewarded heavily by the American government.

At the end of the letter Musharraf said how he was trying to get rid of the negative image Pakistan had by holding such festivals. ''I believe that culture and art are the true identifications of a nation, the mirrors through which its real values and traditions are reflected. You can understand now to be here for a couple of days that showcasing Pakistan's culture through such festivals is the best way to get rid of the misconceptions that have been haunting Pakistan and its people in today's global scenario," the Pakistan President wrote.

The festival that started from November 9 and came to an end on November 20, was organised by Raffi Peer Theatre Workshop of Lahore. Two thousand two hundred artistes from 40 different countries performed in various fields in the festival.

Guha said his shows, held on November 12 and November 13, were received with thunderous applause. "We distributed the synopsis in Urdu before the show, not only inside the hall but outside also. And on both the days the auditorium was packed up. And at the end of the shows the hall was vibrating with slogans like Allah Ho Akbar'.

It was a tremendous experience that we had there," the playwright said.

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