The Mughal Raj over the subcontinent has left traces and marks of their dynasty in many significant ways, theatre just happens to be one of them. Theatre is an integral part of the rich Pakistani culture due to the regional folk traditions highly influenced by dance and music. The twentieth-century subcontinent primarily relied on a cinematic mode of theatre for entertainment, live theatre always remained secondary to the cinematic theatre. The same is the case in the twenty-first century. Pakistani viewers are glued to the fabricated screens of cinematic theatre.
Despite the greater influence of cinematic theatre, live theatre seeped its way into Pakistani theatre. Prominent writers like Saadat Hassan Manto are the founding fathers of Pakistani live theatre. Most of Manto’s works are political in nature, nonetheless, these pieces attract audiences for the depth and articulation involved. Post-independence, many artists struggled to find the right path towards Pakistani theatre, that is when small theatrical groups and unions were formed in the newly-born Pakistan.
For the two decades to follow after independence, the film industry and theatre industry flourished with the help of legendary writers like Manto, Khawaja Mueenddin, Khadim Mohyeddin, Imtiaz Ali Taj, and many others. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Lahore was considered the heart and soul of Pakistani theatre. Theatrical streams of Lahore included two types. First was the college productions staged by Lahore’s Government College and Kinnaird College. Whereas, the second was productions staged by Lahore’s Alhamra Arts Council.
As time progressed, more and more theatrical groups and coalitions started forming. Theatre started thriving in Pakistan, despite the cultural and religious resistance. This resistance added to the drama element of the theatre. In the ‘70s, the Ministry of Culture was established in Pakistan. And with this establishment, came the renowned Lok Vira and Pakistan National Council for Arts (PNCA). But as political conditions in the country deteriorated, Pakistan fell at the mercy of dictatorship and so did the theatre in Pakistan. Creativity came to a halt during this phase under the oppression of censorship and Islamization.
Although, this attempt of incarceration actually ignited the flame of creativity in the artistic minds of Pakistan. The need for social change and peaceful reforms gave birth to groups like Ajoka Theatre and Tehreek-e-Niswaan. These groups played a number of socio-political pieces during this era and advocate peacebuilding, but, behind the closed doors of safety to avoid any incarceration or something even worse. Years passed and the political climate changed, theatre progressed and prospered.
Steadily but surely, theatre seeped its way into Pakistani veins. It can now be inherently found in many shapes and forms. Theatre is now part of the curriculum in some universities and colleges as well. With the establishment of institutions like The National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), many creative minds have found the vessel to channel their creativity and spread the message of peace. Needless to say, theatre in Pakistan does have strong roots and still has a long way to go.