Hatim Tai and his fantastical quest across distant lands was the theme of the play at the Young Director’s Theatre Festival earlier yesterday. With magical spells, a battle for freedom and an evil magician’s spell that had ruined lives, audience members at the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) were taken on a journey of epic proportions.
The tale of the prince of Yemen, Hatim Tai, is not for the faint-hearted due to the magnanimity of its characters who have encountered tragedy.
The original script written by Mirwanjee Nusserwanjee Khanjee Aaram, a famous Urdu theatre writer of the early 20th-century, is a text not many claim to understand. This is why when adapting the story, director Farhan Alam felt the need to contextualise it for a modern audience, interpreting and updating it to make it more relevant.
At a press conference before the festival, Mr Alam shared how he came about to adapting Hatim Tai. “When I first read the tale of Hatim TaiI realised the extent to which it is magical, mystical and musical all at the same time. This is my attempt to rejuvenate our cultural roots,” he said.
The script is exciting with magical and tragic twists and redemption for some. With his companion Dumroo, a fairy from Paristan, Hatim Tai is the nucleus around which all the tales revolve as he is sent, by fate, to right some wrongs. Suspense, thriller and action sequences are aplenty in Hatim Tai.
Hatim is a dynamic man, a pure soul who exhibits the qualities of a true hero from the onset. All these qualities Mr Hussain does translate into his performance, but his interpretation of Hatim comes off as too safe.
He does outshine in the action sequences however, which are well-executed; Mr Hussain is in his element each time hell breaks loose on stage.
In contrast, his faithful companion Dumroo is exceptionally entertaining. Played by Hammad Siddiq, Dumroo has the right amount of quirk to make him witty but he doesn’t become a
caricature of a fool and exhibits remarkable resilience and intelligence. However, Dumroo’s character is not given the space it deserves and the overall production would have benefited greatly had he been given a more pronounced role.
The staging is minimalistic and very few props are used, instead relying on the imagination of the audience. Though some may not appreciate this element, it actually prevents the actors from being encumbered and helps further the narrative. Imagination, however, is the key to allowing this interpretation to work, and the background music greatly helps.
The background score complements the mystical setting with its ability to conjure up images of distant lands and heroic tales.
Hatim resolves to help break a magician’s spell and save his friends by answering seven riddles and the entire script charts his journey to find answers.
Hatim Tai will be staged at Napa on Nov 27.