DUSHANBE – The National Theatre of Afghanistan troupe is performing for the first time in Tajikistan, thrilling audiences with their artistry and defying Taliban threats.
The extent of Tajik interest was visible April 7, when eager viewers filled the Dushanbe Youth Theatre to capacity for a performance.
The Afghan performers are staging “Darband,” written by Karim Haidari and based on the tragedy “Rustam and Sohrab,” part of Persian poet Ferdowsi’s 10th-century epic “Shahnameh.”
Two actors of the National Theatre of Afghanistan perform in “Darband,” based on a 10th-century epic, in Dushanbe, April 7. The theatre company performed in Tajikistan for the first time. [Nazim Kalandarov]
The play says more about modern Afghanistan’s social problems, which the actors unveil through the heroes of Shahnameh, than about the distant past, said director and producer Shopuri Sadokat.
“We compare modern family and social interrelationships with the interrelationships that people had so many centuries ago when Shahnameh was written,” Sadokat said. “The tragedy of Rustam killing his own son Sohrab is the fate of Afghan society today.”
Theatre cuts back production
Because of Taliban-created difficulties, the National Theatre’s actors annually stage only one play for adult audiences and one for children, Sadokat said. “We also stage a few short productions on TV, so that our people don’t forget what theatre is.”
The theatre has no permanent audience now, he said. “The theatre building was destroyed when the Taliban seized power. Today the theatre is situated in a small space that can’t accommodate everyone who wants to watch.”
Despite Taliban death threats, Afghan actors are committed to their art. [Nazim Kalandarov]
“We can’t put on outdoor shows, even though sometimes we have tried,” he said. “The safety and lives of our audience are more important for us. That’s why we stage many productions on TV. The Taliban oppose our theatrical art. But despite that, we devote much attention to working with youth who have chosen this path, and we do everything possible to let them use their talent on the stage.”
The Afghan people love theatre, said actor Shamsiddin Yusufzai, who plays the devil competing with Rustam. “But these days the fear of being killed by the Taliban during a show forces people to stay away from this art,” he said. “Young people don’t want to work in the theatre; only a few of them want to join, but the old actors are true to their cause. All of Afghan theatre depends on them.”
There are only four theatre companies in Afghanistan, he said – three small private ones and the National Theatre.
“Theatre has a very important role in educating society and the younger generation,” Yusufzai said. “It’s like a school, a great school – looking at the TV screen, the viewer doesn’t feel the presence of an actor the way one would in a theatre. Only there can one be filled with so many positive emotions. Any theatrical production leaves its mark on the viewer.”
Security remains challenge to actors
Acting is safer in Kabul than elsewhere in Afghanistan, he said, adding that the actors try to tour the Afghan provinces anyway so that they can hold outdoor performances.
“The security problem in our society is the biggest barrier to the development of our art,” he said.
Surayye Michgon, the troupe’s leading lady, said she had endured much but refused to lose hope.
“It’s very hard to be an actress in Afghanistan,” she said. “I’ve encountered this problem before. In the beginning, my entire family rejected me. My husband left me, since I decided that I could not leave the theatre. But now I’m proud that I kept fighting, and now my son Validzhon also works in the theatre.”
The Taliban have threatened her several times, she said reluctantly, adding that she forgets all of that once she goes on the stage and sees the audience.
“Afghan women come to the theatre; they love our art,” she said. “But very few of them become actresses. Our entire theatre has three actresses, one of whom joined only recently.”
Tajiks appreciate Afghan theatre
Tajik critic Dzhovid Mukim said he had not expected such a play from actors who came out of war-torn Afghanistan.
“I didn’t even think their actors could perform so realistically, but they could, and they truly delighted us with their skill,” he said.
The production shows how exhausted Afghanistan is by war and pain, said Tagoymurod Rozikov, a Distinguished Actor of Tajikistan.
“I want Afghan theatrical figures to always walk with their heads held high and to write many modern productions,” he said.
Sadokat is certain that Afghan actors will be able to bring their new productions more often to Tajikistan now. “In August we intend to organise a festival in Afghanistan and to invite our Tajik colleagues to share their experiences and art,” he said.
Such festivals will greatly strengthen friendship in the region, he said. “Only together can we overcome all our difficulties and save our art.”