GCU Dramatics Club
GCDC – A SHORT INTRODUCTION
In contrast to other societies at GCU, the Dramatics Club still goes by its old moniker – GCDC – standing for Government College Dramatics Club, without the “U” that was appended to the name of the institution and all of its societies after the college became a university in 2002. There are two reasons why. The Government College Dramatics Club is the oldest amateur and professional theatre in the northern part of the subcontinent. It has trained most of the thespians, writers and directors who have garnered a reputation in the performing arts in Pakistan and beyond. These old boys and girls hark back to the Club where it all began and insist on calling it by its original name. Secondly, there is a distinct euphony in the name; a certain pleasure in the utterance itself that makes it more than just an acronym, hence GCDC.
It all began …
From Prof. H.L.O Garret’s book A History of Government College Lahore we learn that the college started staging selections from Shakespeare in the concluding decades of the nineteenth-century. Though we are unaware as to the exact date when the Government College Dramatics Club was formally established, most people agree on marking 1890 as a starting point.
By the turn of the century, the GCDC was staging English, Sanskrit, Urdu and Punjabi plays. In 1902, the GCDC performed Kali Das’s Shakuntala. The play was such a success that it was performed again the next year. The Club grew steadily and in 1924 at the Golden Jubilee celebrations it presented Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The people who witnessed the play included The British Governor of Punjab.
The GCDC also presented melodramas of Agha Hasher, the most applause-winning one being the classic tragedy of Rustam aur Sohrab. During this time many great names were associated with the Club which included Rafi Peer, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Hakim Ahmad Shuja, and Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj. Imtiaz Ali Taj’s association with the GCDC was special. It is said that he wrote the classic masterpiece Anarkali – the play that engraved the romance of Prince Salim and Anarkali in our imagination and set the tone for all Mughal-era depictions on stage and in cinema across the subcontinent – while sitting in the Oval Garden of GC(U). In those days, male students used to perform female characters. Taj sahib used to perform female roles with such perfection that no one could ever tell that it was a man who was acting. There is a famous joke that once a male student fell for him while he was on stage and sent him a letter stating that he had finally found his one true love.
During the 1940’s the Club rapidly developed under the influence of Prof. G.D Sondhi and Prof. Ahmad Shah “Patras” Bukhari. Prof Bukhari started acting in GCDC plays with the role of Bheesham, which he played in Hakim Ahmad Shuja’s play. Prof. Sondhi and Prof. Bukhari staged Hamlet with Prof. Bokhari performing the role of the Danish prince. The Vice Chancellor of Punjab University at that time performed the role of the Ghost of Hamlet Sr.
Upon his return from England, Prof. Sondhi encouraged Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum to translate Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Punjabi as Suwan Raine Da Sufna. It was performed in the College’s Amphitheatre. Few people know that the GCU Amphitheatre and the Open Air Theatre at the Lawrence Gardens, now Bagh-e-Jinnah, were constructed under Prof. Sondhi’s patronage.
After Independence, the GCDC continued and many a great thespian was associated with the Club. Some of these names include Prof. Qayoom Jojo, Sonu Rehman, Mohammad Safdar Mir, Naeem Tahir, Shoaib Hashmi, Rasheed Umer Thanvi, Sarmad Sehbai, Usman Peerzada, Imran Peerzada, Salman Shahid, Ashfaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, and Madiha Gauhar. The Club staged plays like Men Without Shadows by Sartre, Tartuffe by Moliere, Kaufman and Moss Hart’s The Man Who came to Dinner and You can’t Take it With You. People like Sarmad Sehbai also delved in experimental plays and staged The Dark Room. Arthur Miller’s famous play Death of a Salesman was staged twice; in 1973 and 2005.
Script-writing at GCDC
History seems to indicate a propensity for staging English language plays or Urdu adaptations of English plays at the GCDC. This practice continued well into the 2000s with sparse interjections of original Urdu plays or indigenously written scripts. Despite churning out playwrights like Imtiaz Ali Taj, Ashfaq Ahmed, Rafi Peerzada, Shahid Nadeem among others, the GCDC has staged very few original scripts. It was in 1994 that a faculty member took a bold break from tradition. Renowned television playwright Dr. Asgar Nadeem Syed, a professor of Urdu Drama at the time, decided to do what had only been attempted on rare occasions before – writing an original script to be staged by the GCDC. Dr. Sahab came up with a biting comedy Bhola Sach Bola and selected a team of fifty students to perform it. The play was an experiment in more ways than one, but Dr. Asgar Nadeem Syed, Prof. Haroon Qadir and the rest of their team managed to put on such a show that the whole college demanded an extra performance after the usual three-day run. Prof. Khalid Aftab, acceded and Bhola Sach Bola went on to a thundering extra show. The play was directed by an MA English student, Mr. Noor-ul-Hassan, who is now a celebrated TV anchor and actor. However, after Bhola Sach Bola, the GCDC did not attempt an original script until 2012.
GCDC in the 2000s
In 2005, the GCDC staged Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Governor Punjab, General Khalid Maqbool witnessed the play and was immensely impressed by the professional quality of the performance. In March 2005, the Club organized Ashfaq Ahmed Drama Festival to pay tribute to the great dramatist Ashfaq Ahmed. Five different institutions form Lahore participated in the three-day event where the GCDC staged Bano Qudsia’s Fehmida Ki Kahani Ustani Rahat Ki Zubani. In 2006, an Urdu version of Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King was staged. In November 2006, the Club performed Sufi Tabassum’s Punjabi version of Shakespeare’s A Mid Summer Nights Dream. The play, Sawan Rome Da Sufa, was also staged at an inter-varsity drama competition where it won awards for Best Actor Female, Best Actor in a Comic Role and Best Director.
In 2007, the GCDC staged four plays which included G.B Shaw’s You Never Can Tell, Sawan Rein Da Sufna, Bano Qudsia’s Amar Bail and Ashfaq Ahmed’s Behen Bhai. The Club also organized the Pakistan-India Inter Collegiate Drama Festival in March in which three colleges of India and institutions from all over Pakistan participated. The event was well attended and acclaimed, and was widely covered by the electronic and print media of Pakistan and India. In November 2007, on the invitation of Delhi University, the GCDC team toured India and performed two plays, Bano Qudsia’s Amar Bail and Ashfaq Ahmed’s Behen Bhai at three colleges of Delhi and at India Habitat Centre. Both the plays received very positive reviews from the print and electronic media of India.
In 2008, GCDC staged Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, followed shortly by Kamra; an Urdu adaptation of Manuel de Pedrolo’s Techinica De Cambra (The Room). An All-Pakistan Drama Festival was organized in 2009 in which ten institutions from all over Pakistan participated. The GCDC staged Kamra at the opening ceremony and an Urdu adaptation of Jean-Paul Sarte’s Men Without Shadows at the closing of the festival. In 2010, the Club staged Neil Simon’s Rumors.
In 2011, the GCDC staged Mumtaz Mufti’s magnum opus Nizam Sakka. For the first time, the GCDC brought GCU’s other societies to the stage and created an opportunity for orators, singers and musicians to perform along with the GCDC team of actors. This was the first time that live classical music accompanied a theatre performance at GCU. The play won wide acclaim, especially from the chief guest, Pakistan’s foremost nuclear scientist and Old Ravian Dr. Samar Mubrakmund. Nizam Sakka also became the first GCDC play to be aired on cable television.
Since 2012 – the push for original script writing and plays
In 2012, the GCDC went back to the not-so-strongly established tradition of staging an original script. The faculty and students put their heads together to come up with a play that carried taboo themes. This was Saza Yaab, written by a student, Tassawar Iqbal, majoring in Psychology. Dr. Asghar Nadeem Syed, the chief guest on the performance, welcomed the effort and invited the GCDC to stage Saza Yaab at Al-Hamra Cultural Complex, in his capacity as Chairman, Board of Directors of the Al-Hamra Arts Council. Shortly afterwards, the Government of Punjab announced a theatre festival on Women’s Day in 2012 and invited GCDC to perform. The GCDC eventually staged Saza Yaab at Al-Hamra in the same year, winning a cash award from the Punjab Government.
The following years saw more script-writing at the GCDC. The GCDC performed its original script Tauq at a national Drama Competition organized by the British Council, Lahore. The GCDC won first prize for its efforts. Shortly afterwards, the Punjab Government invited the GCDC to perform at the Punjab Youth Festival. For this occasion, the GCDC adapted Mumtaz Mufti’s short story Andha Footpathia. The short play was staged at the Al-Hamra Cultural Complex with the Chief Minister Punjab, Mohammad Shahbaz Sharif in attendance. The GCDC also performed the same play for a television programme at Pakistan Television (Ptv.).
In April, 2013, the Club staged its original script Shah-e-Alam. The play was written by Sameer Ahmed; a faculty member teaching Drama at the English Department. To encourage the effort of attempting an original script, team members of GCDC’s Bhola Sach Bola became associated with the performance in different capacities. Veteran actors Firdous Jamal and Irfan Khoosat attended the opening and offered high praise for Shah-e-Alam. Mr. Noor-ul-Hassan was beside himself after he witnessed the first enactment; he flew in from Karachi to watch the play again on its third and final day of performance. Shah-e-Alam managed to elicit a cash award of one hundred thousand Rupees from the GCU Vice Chancellor. It was the first time that a performance had been appreciated in this manner.
In 2014, Government College University began its sesquicentennial celebrations. The GCDC was also celebrating its 124th year of existence. Mr. Noor-ul-Hassan proposed that the GCDC should honour celebrated Old Ravian playwright Bano Qudsia by staging her Mukhtar Nama. Out of the hundreds of plays that Bano appa has written, Mukhtar Nama had never been performed on stage. The GCDC enacted Mukhtar Nama in April, 2014. The chief guest on the occasion was Punjab Education Minster, Rana Mashood Ahmed Khan. Though the play had many moments of political humour at the expense of ruling politicians, the minister was so impressed by the performance that he announced a cash award for GCDC. With the Vice Chancellor’s addition, the GCDC’s won two hundred thousand rupees this time.
In May, 2014, the GCDC staged a special edition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in honour of foreign educationists who came to Pakistan to attend an international conference titled “South Asia Policy Dialogue on Higher Education and Knowledge Parks”. The Vice Chancellor told the audience that the GCDC had started its journey in 1890 by staging selections from Shakespeare, “In a way, on this historic occasion, the GCDC has come full circle,” he stated. The GCDC’s Macbeth was an all-female collage of important scenes from Shakespeare’s text that retained the original dialogue and plotline, but took the liberty of experimenting with the chronology and enactment.
The GCDC is planning to arrange a theatre festival to conclude the institution’s 150th anniversary celebrations in December, 2014. The Club has planned to end the year with another original script.
In April of 2015, GCDC staged an original script; a bilingual play called “Tiger of Maysore”. The play was written by Mr Sameer Ahmed and directed by Dr Salman Bhatti and Dr Atif Yaqoub. The title of the play referred to Tipu Sultan, the last independent prince of India who died fighting the East India Company in May of 1799.
The life of Tipu Sultan had been portrayed many a time by artists across the genres. From historians to playwrights, filmmakers to poets, Tipu had been a much-reviled and equally loved character from the pre-colonial past of India. Sameer Ahmed justified his choice of subject matter arguing that while Tipu usually earned negative reviews from English and Indian writers, the Pakistani portrayal of his person had also been largely one-sided. GCDC President Yousra Anwar added to this train of thought saying, “Tipu is a holy warrior in Pakistani literature and public imagination. He is rarely ever seen as a human being – a man with his virtues but also with his flaws. He was a man facing circumstances he could not have prevailed over but who, unfortunately, also added his bit to deteriorate the situation he found himself in. You can be a human and a hero at the same time. This is what our Tipu is going to be; our version of the Greek Tragic Hero.”
Umer Dar portrayed Tipu as a proud, mercurial prince leading the resistance against the British. The vilified Mir Sadiq was played by Abdullah Walid Hashmi, but deviating from tradition, Mir Sadiq was not the cause of Tipu’s failure. GCDC took their chances with an original script that dealt with an actual historical figure that was deeply revered in Pakistani society.
The gamble paid off. The play was met with such overwhelming applause that the Vice Chancellor extended the performance to nine days. Each performance was witnessed by up to 1200 people. Audience members spilled over from the seats onto the aisles. There were encouraging reviews in the Urdu and English language press. Express News TV, Geo News and Dunya TV gave coverage to the play in the 9’0 clock news. Two national newspapers, The Nation and Nawa-i-Waqt published feature articles on “Tiger of Maysore”.
In April of 2016, the Walled City of Lahore Authority invited GCDC to stage “Tiger of Maysore” for a select audience at the historic Lahore Fort. This time the performance was telecast live on cable TV.
In May of 2016, GCDC paid homage to William Shakespeare on the occasion of the 400th death anniversary of the Bard of Avon. GCDC staged a localized adaptation of Macbeth. The play was called “Raees”. It was adapted by Mr Sameer Ahmed and Dr Atif Yaqoub and directed by Dr Salman Bhatti and GCDC president Mohammad Muneeb. Talha Akhter portrayed Macbeth while Lady Macbeth was performed by Taban Tazmin. The performance was witnessed by a host of Ravian thespians and writers including Imran Peerzada, Madiha Gauhar and Mirza Ather Baig. Noted playwright Mirza Ather Baig offered his review of the play saying, “They say there are one thousand ways of performing Shakespeare; I think GCDC has shown that there are one thousand and one.” Madiha Gauhar graced the stage to say that she had seen Shakespeare being performed in Pakistan and abroad, but this was the best version of Macbeth she had seen so far.
In September of 2016, the Lahore Arts Council invited GCDC to perform “Raees” under their auspices at the national level.
- Eligibility to join: Open to all students of the University.
- To join the club: Please contact the Advisor GCUDC
Sameer Ahmad (English Department)
Advisor GCU Dramatics Club
UAN: +92 (42) 111-000-010 EXT. 317
Dr. Atif Yaqoob, (Zoology)
Main Building, GC University
Katchery Road Lahore 54000