The Contemporary Drama in Pakistan

In a conference, Usman Ali (who has won Taufiq Rafat Award of the best dramatist in Pakistan 2016) said ‘we are all divided into sects. How we can move forward? We are all enemies to each other. We are divided into various ethnic groups. Dialogue is absent. Drama incites dialogue. Why are not we interested in dialogues? We have to dialogue. We have to change ourselves’. His interest for dialogue played a prominent role in his work as a dramatist.

‘The Odyssey’ is a play by Usman Ali published by Aamir Riaz in 2016 Newline Lahore with an introduction by Elizabeth Kuti, Director of Center for Theatre Studies University of Essex UK. This play is dedicated very pertinently to Professor Shaista Sonnu Sirajuddin. Ali’s work is on fight against terrorism in Northern areas of Pakistan. The hero of the play has ill will against war. It shows writer’s feelings about war.

The Odyssey explodes on the page and it would on the stage. By explosion I do not mean the silly, bizarre theatricals of much contemporary theatre and film. This is more profound – its not just as if buildings or landscapes or people or bombs or spaceships exploded. It is as if reality itself had exploded – so intense is the search for understanding and meaning. At the same time it puts on stage ancient history and the absolutely contemporary, the widest vistas of human aspiration and the noisome drains outside the house, the casual violence of the street and the professional cruelty of power, the bright light of the sun and the dust it shines on. It is written with relentless dynamism. Someone asked for a blanket big enough to cover the cold world – this play seems to ask for a bandage big enough to cover the world’s wounds. (Edward Bond)

Excerpt from the Play

Through this play, Ali offers a glance into the problems prevailing in Pakistan. He talks about ‘war on terror’. He is against the war which has set Muslim against Muslim and which is swallowing countless thousands of innocents. The title of this play is borrowed from Homer’s Odyssey. Pakistani Odyssey is modeled on Homer’s Odyssey. The Odyssey by Ali is the story of modern day Odysseus who is struggling with the dilemma of life. It also discusses how war ruins families.

In the introduction of the play, Elizabeth Kuti points out ‘It is the work of a fine dramatic poet, who knows and uses form-in language, in stagecraft—with great assurance. His plays are mysterious, and full of feeling, with the ambiguity of poetry—and yet they also speak of a yearning to connect and to express in a vital, even a simple way, what it is to be human’. What is more significant about the play is the touch of Greek Mythology in a modern way by a modern dramatist. The Odyssey by Ali is the reworking of myth. It serves both functions of myth, to help human kind and used to convey cultural idea. It conveys the social behavior of society through its myth. The present condition of country can be seen in The Odyssey. The subjects raised in this play will resonate with today’s readers, especially those in South Asia.

Motifs of sensual violence, blood, death, wound, war and illegitimacy are very prominent in the play. It is packed with the vast information and backed by Greek mythology and literature. Ali’s thought process is clear and concise and supplemented by his command over English language, stippled with the right amount of wit. Ali identifies the obstacles, and then leaves the audience to ponder over them.

The Odyssey revolves around the blood. Ali makes the story horror type for the readers through blood. His characters are taking bath in blood, knowingly and unknowingly. Blood is a bridge among all the events in the play. Ali initiates the subject of cruelty and brutality. He explodes his idea about the society in which he lives. It gives the concept of social evils in which ignorance, lust for having sex, extremism, and barbarism is routed.

“Drama awakens compassion in the spectator’s sensibility for the characters by dissolving their shells of ego” Ali writes. Ali’s work is a mirror of Pakistani society. The Odyssey is a three act play. The story revolves around Odysseus, Penelope, Telemachus and Bali. It is the story of Odysseus's home in his absence. Odysseus is on fight against terrorism in northern area of Pakistan. In his absence his son Telemachus is fucked by Bali. Telemachus contemplates his father is responsible for his critical state. When Telemachus is ignored by his father for two years, he becomes shadow and falls into a smashed life. He indulges himself in destructive activities. Penelope, wife of Odysseus, is also prejudiced because of her husband’s negligence. Odysseus comes back to his home. He is told that his son is victim of HIV. By the same token, he is informed that his wife is conceiving an illegitimate child in her belly. At the end of the play, an explosive jacket is discovered from Telemachus. Play ends where Odysseus, Telemachus and Bali all are arrested by the police.

The language of the play is satirical. The whole society is being condemned in the play. Conversation between Penelope and his son is a big satire on society. The society, about which the play is written, is fond of wealth instead of human lives. Symbolic language is used in the play. Basement, stench, tree and songs are the symbols which are being used to enlighten the main idea of the story. Basement and stench implies the social evils. While tree and songs both are symbols of optimism.

On the whole, The Odyssey is a brilliant work by a great dramatist of Pakistan. It is full of hidden evils of the society. There is touch of Greek Mythology that makes Ali’s work unique and authentic from others’ works. This play dexterously highlights the plight and despondent condition of Pakistan.

Usman Ali is an Emerging Dramatist of South Asia
Written By Maria Musarrat
Reviewed by Muhammad Adnan

Share Your Comment

  • Z
    Zee 07 Sep, 2021 at 07:51 AM

    Does anyone remember an old ptv play Odyssey?


    • A
      Awais Haroon 05 Jul, 2021 at 05:13 PM

      A good analysis of a great play indeed! Taking characters from Ancient Greek literature and getting them worked up in Pakistan enmeshed in war on several fronts, in his play “Odyssey” Sir G Usman Ali has very artfully captured the scenario in a mind-blowing and soul-stirring manner!


      • T
        Tabich 04 Jul, 2021 at 06:58 PM

        This is quite enthusiastic, i jst want to say that uh people are real heroes of literary drama in Pakistan,keep it up high with the grace of Allah Almighty