The full hall of Alhamra made me happy, if not ecstatic, not only because it was unexpected but also because it indicated a revival of theatre and ticket culture in Lahore. LATZ deserves a huge pat on the back for this achievement, and that too on their debut project, Dil-e-Nadaan. The Urdu adaption of Neil Simon’s English play The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, by the talented Jawad Daud, directed by our very own thespian Omair Rana, assisted by Muneera Batool Hashmi.

The play opens with the popular Bollywood song Dil To Bacha Hai Jee by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan which sets the tone of what is to follow. The set was beautifully constructed, simple and effective. All the lights were in working order and surprisingly, none of the door handles were broken. The green effect of the balcony was particularly creative. Well done Zain Adil!

Mehreen and Yawar

A nervously excited Yawar Malik (Omair Rana) walks into his mother’s apartment holding a bag of glasses and drinks. He is middle aged, simple and geeky, almost as childlike as Anil Kapoor in Eeshwar at certain points. Yawar is trying to have one and only one adventurous extra marital affair so that the“munasib” element in every single aspect of his life can be altered to some degree of thrilling. In short, he has hit the inevitable midlife crisis. Little does he know that such activity requires skill and luck much more than fascination and desire! To turn his yearning into a lifelong regret, he encounters not one but three highly unpredictable and eccentric ladies, Mehreen, Shayan and Tanya, played by Rasti Farooq, Mariam Wardah and Zainab Ahmed (on different nights) and Nadia Afgan (not Afghan!) respectively. The performances in the play were all genuine and competent, if somewhat uneven.

Rasti is a convincing Mehreen; sharp, self-assured, hilariously sardonic and strikingly pretty. She is a fourth time married woman, who marries because she loves money, sneaks around because she loves freedom and gets into trouble because she’s confidently reckless. She is enraged at being stuck with a bore that is interested in a heart to heart, and cannot even provide her with a single puff of a cigarette, let alone an evening of passion. Their exchange is comical and rapid, which kept the audience giggling. The adaptation of the bold English script is wonderfully clean with no double meaning jokes and uncomfortable gestures. At certain moments Rasti reminds one oddly of a local Audre Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s because she manages to look nasty yet guiltless. Her dialogue delivery is quicker than ideal, and Urdu, evidently, is not her most comfortable medium of communication. Both of which can be justified by the character, but some important punch lines got lost in the rushed words and low voice projection which was very unfortunate, especially when the first rule of theatre is loud and clear!

Shayaan (Zainab) and Yawar

Unproductive with Mehreen, Yawar tries his luck with Shayan, an outright airhead whose conversation neither has any sequence nor sense leaving the now fraught Yawar infuriated and harassed. Shayan turns out to be a crook and this act ends at a hysterically unexpected twist.

Mariam, who played Shayan on the first night was an absolutely, for the lack of a better word, paindoo wannabe actress with her shimmery costume and shrilly loud “Haye Alllahhhhhhh” squeals. From the word go, she is irksome and one can physically feel Yawar’s discomfort. Mariam did a reasonable job, got quite a few laughs at her shrieks, but somewhere during the act she lost her stride and things slowed down; something which can be damaging in an otherwise fast paced comical play.

Shayan (Mariam) and Yawar

Zainab Ahmed, a well-known stage and TV actress, played a completely different Shayan on the other two nights. She was comfortably dressed and in charge but absolutely dumb and lost, as the character was intended. Zainab also started off really well but in the act of acting lost, actually got lost, which decelerated the pace and wittiness that this act needed to bring to the plot. Her evil laughter, however, was her prize moment and it actually made the audience jump in their seats!

The second act has the funniest lines but fell considerably short of uproarious because of the unfortunate drop in the speed and voice projection. Also, in today’s day and age, one can never be careful enough about the kind of humour one uses at the risk of offense and insensitivity. The references of khwaja saraah as an actress and attempted assault by a producer could’ve easily been cropped out to avoid raised eyebrows and awkward laughs. It would’ve shortened the length of the act and made it far more effective and crisp.

Tanya and Yawar

Yawar’s concluding attempt is Tanya, his friend’s wife who like Yawar, is going through a rough patch in her marriage and life. She is confused, bitter and nervous and incessantly pops anti-depressants. Yawar by now is at his wit’s end with one disastrous experience after another. Tanya, however, manages to touch a nerve and forces him to self-reflect and see the light.

Nadia Afgan as Tanya was unsurprisingly the strongest of the four female leads. She is brilliant with her subtle expressions, the perfect pauses and tone variation. She completely owned her character and delivered a very moving performance. This act, hands down, takes the cake with its meaningful script, the powerful message, the strong chemistry between the characters and the commendable performance by both actors, unremittingly using humour, controlled slapstick and wit to keep it wisely comical yet stirring.

The set

Omair Rana did an amazingly authentic and thoroughly entertaining job at portraying the eagerness, uneasiness, exasperation and desperation of the seedha saadha, finger smelling, machli farosh Yawar. As the plot unfolded, his smooth shift of  gears between the desi from androon Lahore to the pseudo cool restaurant owner with a slight English accent were quite amusing, especially his well-timed use of Punjabi phrases. His elusive variation of costume and body language from the undeniable nerd in the beginning to the self-confident hero boy towards the end was done commendably well. Omair stayed on stage throughout the play and did not let the energy drop even once. One does not expect anything less from him!

Dil-e-Nadaan manages to successfully raise a very common but taboo subject in our society; the elephant in the room which everyone sees but refuses to admit. It justifies mid-life, injudicious decisions and explains why our society is where it is today. It also highlights something we as humans tend to disregard a bit too frequently: gratitude. It leaves one wondering about the temptation for short-lived excitement at the cost of lifelong, irreplaceable relationships.

Curtain call

Dil-e-Nadaan had promised to make every minute worth the money the audience paid with falling-off-your-chair-laughter. Perhaps, the final package was similar to the experience of receiving a Rs. 65 balance at the recharge of a Rs. 100 mobile credit. Yet, it doesn’t stop one from buying more credit while waiting for a better offer. LATZ has made a successful debut and vowed to keep the wheel rolling. Let’s hope that next time they, with their passion and Omair Rana with his skill and knowledge, manage to come up with a dhamaka offer which makes up for the slight pinch we felt this time around.