The internal monologue
KARACHI, Nov 30: One of the differences between a monologue and a soliloquy is that while delivering a monologue on stage the speaker has a listener usually in the form of a character he is familiar with. Many of Robert Browning’s poems fall in that category. Whereas speaking to one’s own self in order to acquaint the audience, and not the characters, with one’s feelings is called a soliloquy. But seasoned actor Shakeel’s performance in a play titled ‘Us Gali Na Jaween’ written and directed by Sarmad Sehbai at the Arts Council Karachi’s auditorium on Friday oscillated between the two in an intelligent fashion.
When the curtain draws an old man, Shakeel, appears on stage with bird feed in his hand. He invites the birds, perhaps pigeons though they are never seen throughout the act, to feed themselves. The audience can clearly make out that they are dealing with a character who is not what he comes across as. In the beginning there is an air of jocundity about the old man. He calls the birds by their names as if they’ve been part of his life for long. He speaks at a pretty fair clip, so much so that sometimes he appears to run out of breath.
The character switches to many topics led by his own assessment of the situation that he is apparently seeing. He admonishes a couple of birds not to fight and while incessantly trying to make them understand the virtues of peace he utters lines such as ‘jang jang aur jang ke baad bhook aur nang’ (wars result in poverty and lack of shelter). He also touches on the subject of suicide, lamenting that God’s creatures are willing to take their lives at the drop of a hat. It is more than obvious that the character has a past that has hurt his faculties and caused him to soliloquise.
He then suddenly discovers that the youngest of the birds, Nikku, is missing. From here on he speaks about the virtues of the little one and makes many conjectures as to where he could go. He moves back and forth between thinking whether Nikku has lost its way or has deliberately gone somewhere. He tries to play hide and seek by blindfolding himself and at that point two boots descend on the stage, hinting that the bird is a symbol or metaphor for a human character.
The search for the bird carries on enabling the character to make comments on different issues, including the media and its constant ‘breaking news’ bombardment. The media is further brought to attention when a piece of paper is dropped on the floor of the stage, Shakeel picks it up and acts according to certain audio instructions for constructing a bird. Again, the symbolism of string-pulling not just on part of unseen hands but the character itself is pointed out. He also takes a shot at those who accumulate money here (by hook or crook) and spend it in places like France and London. Of course, the element of a personal loss is too hinted at, albeit subtly.
Basically what the character laments is the sociopolitical and cultural turmoil that society has been going through for decades now. He is disgruntled with how things have panned out because they were supposed to move in some other direction.
Shakeel’s acting in the play was impressive, especially when he gesticulates and uses little or no lines. There were moments such as in the beginning where one felt the actor could have been a tad unhurried and measured. The first quarter of the monologue was probably the weakest. Once the sound effect interrupted that part to allow the actor to move into the next gear, things began to improve and Shakeel did a masterful job.
The direction of the play was decent while the script has been written with the kind of sensitivity that’s required for such a topic.