‘Koel’ written by renowned pioneer of modern Urdu fiction Dr Enver Sajjad and directed by Kulsoom Aftab was presented at the ongoing NAPA Performing Arts Festival held in Karachi. This play was also produced for television under the direction of Saira Kazmi. Koel’s storyline was a beautiful blend of conflicting emotions, and the fusing of various shades of love, logic, rationality and loneliness.
The story revolves around a famous scientist, physicists Dr Waheed played by Adnan Jafar and an emotional, love struck student of science, Zarina played by Farheen Zehra and his butler, Saleem, who has been with him for 15 years and who has learned to work like a robot controlling his emotions as the doctor has ordered him. Saleem is only human and sometimes his feelings and attachment to Dr Waheed slip out for which he apologizes.
But the major character of this play is the koel bird, who predicts the changes in the emotions during the storyline. Dr Waheed has formed a bond with the bird, although he never mentions this. The way he interacts with it, sometimes talking to it, sometimes just by looking reveals how important she has become to her. Somewhere in the play, he also says he will not let her go….stepping out of his character. And then when he in a fit of emotion sets her free, he seems quite sad and disappointed. This reveals that he is human and has emotions no matter how latent.
But since to the logical and rational almost cold Dr Waheed, emotions have no place in his life, and would only hamper his path of work if he ever succumbs to them he fights with them and tries to keep within his shell.
Zarina, who is a highly emotional girl, believes she and Dr Waheed are made for one another; she claims that he just doesn’t know it yet. She stalks him but he refuses to acknowledge her, shunning her existence at the few meetings they have. Zarina tries to seduce him into the world of emotions by pleading to him and telling him that he is breaking her heart. Even this doesn’t melt Waheed’s heart.
Her desperation is seen when she tries to connect with spirits of other great scientist like Einstein and Isaas Newton through a Oujia board to ask for a solution but fails there as well. Despite all these failures, she is determined to make Dr Waheed fall in love with her.
Waheed who is completely devoid of emotion is unaware that she has made an impression on his subconscious and unbeknownst he develops feelings for her, which are alien for him and he feels frustrated. He seeks psychiatric help from an expert played by Nimra Bucha, who tries to unravel this complex cold personality.
Throughout this, the doctor’s bird the Koel sits quiet in her cage in his study, but with the entrance of Zarina and emotions in his life, the bird breaks its silence and starts singing. This is a beautiful depiction of changing of seasons or situations. The koel’s song is considered one of the most beautiful songs in this part of the world. Her voice is not only sweet, it is said that she sings out when the summer is becoming sweet with the blossoming of flowers, ripening of mangoes and everything is caught in a web of emotionality and sensuality.
The koel also plays an important role Dr Waheed’s life. Her sudden song surprises him, and it is at that moment that he realises that a change is near. And he is right, he evolves emotionally and his life is thrown into a different dimension of feelings. And his whole life changes…
Waheed’s life and work is affected by this new unexplainable phenomenon that Nimra Bucha tells him is love. Waheed is extremely upset since he considers love to be equivalent to death and tries to fight it but fails. The play ends with his death, and the spirit of Zarina, who died while pursuing the object of her love in an accident, telling his butler that now he couldn’t tell her that the doctor is not at home.
The butler insists, as he has been programmed by Dr Waheed, to tell the spirit of Zarina, ‘But the doctor is not home!’
The strong script, the wonderful acting skills of the actors and the use of lighting to highlight the different moods of the play was visually extremely interesting.
The title of Dr Enver Sajjad’s play – ‘Koel’ –brings back memories of lazy, delicious summer days, when the beautiful melodious voice of this bird reverberated from far away and one felt a strange sense of calm and happiness, snug in the comfort that life is simple and serene.
There are many myths and folklore attached to this melodious bird and many have held it in great reverence. People use to predict that a seasonal change would follow the chirping of this bird. Others held that the koel was calling out to its mate, and would play a game with her calling out and ‘asking’ her ‘Who is your mate?’ To which the bird would reply ‘Tu, Tu!’ (You, you.)
The play ‘Koel’ ends with the death of Dr Waheed, who fought love and succumbed, only to be transported to Zarina’s world where she claims no one can keep them apart now.
The threatre where the play was performed was jam packed revealing that a good performance supported by a good script will pull viewers away from the variety aired on TV.