Fortunately, thanks to
the timely intervention of various local and foreign agencies, the
building was spared. Later, its Jodhpur and Gizri stone exterior was
washed and scrubbed, and the building was finally resurrected.
Come 2004, President Gen Pervez Musharraf asked the distinguished actor,
director and broadcaster, Zia Mohyeddin, to establish and head an
institution in the country that would nurture training in all the
different fields associated with the performing arts.
Those who were present at the inaugural ceremony of the Karachi chapter
of the All-Pakistan Music Conference in January 2004 might recall a
meeting made by the President to his request.
"I was free to select a city of my choice for setting up an
institute for the performing arts," Zia Mohyeddin says in a
matter-of-fact manner at a chitchat session in his office at the Hindu
Gymkhana. As chairman of the National Academy of Performing Arts
(NAPA), he has no doubts in his mind that the ideal city for such an
institute was Karachi and the Hindu Gymkhana is ideally suited to the
demands of such an institution.
Designed by Ahmad Husain Agha, the first Muslim architect of Karachi,
who later designed the Mohatta Palace, this building boasts of Agha's
speciality in the Mughal-revival style. Complete with chhattris,
chhajjas and jharokas, the Hindu Gymkhana was built in 1925 with
donations from rich Hindu families living in this city. Its design,
(with four octagonal towers like sentries guarding each of its corners)
is based on the Mughal-period tomb of Itamad-ud-Daulah in Agra, built in
1628. Consisting only of a main hall and a few smaller rooms, it
nevertheless has a strong romantic appeal.
"I genuinely feel that a kind of potpourri, of divergent cultural
murmurings, exists only in Karachi and nowhere else in the country.
Also, here people want to become something - a computerist,
horticulturist, sitarist.... The sentiment to learn, to do something is
only prevalent in big cities like Karachi, New York or London. You will
not find these yearnings in Wichita or Maplefield," he says.
According to Zia Mohyeddin, the middle and lower-middle classes in
Karachi have accepted that women should be part of the workforce.
"They no longer feel shy in accepting their role as working women,
and this is what is most promising," he says.
"In fact, this has been the main reason for my decision to
locate NAPA in Karachi. I know that nobody here wants to be an
actor," he then pauses, "but everyone wants to be a star, a
Dilip Kumar. Likewise, nobody wants to be just a singer. Everyone wants
to become a pop singer with torn jeans, long hair, adulating fans and
Zia Mohyeddin has done it all, from his training at the Royal Academy of
the Arts in London in the 1950s, to his small role as Tafas, the desert
guide, for actor Peter O'Toole in director David Lean's classic film, Lawrence
of Arabia in 1962. He went on to do major roles in cinema and
theatre performances (including Broadway), and had his own TV show in
Pakistan in the '70s. He has converted the Western genre of 'readings'
into Urdu prose and poetry readings and continues to receive admiration
for his presentations from fans around the globe.
As we proceed to talk about the privileged venue, he says that the
building was an obvious choice for a creative pursuit such as NAPA.
"The 'gymkhana' was not designed or intended to become a maqbara.
I hope I will be able to put NAPA on its feet in a few years so that I
can then put up my own two feet and relax. Ub okhli may sir day diya
hay tau ..." Mohyeddin says in his chaste Urdu and
He hopes that NAPA will one day become so big that it may have to move
out of its present location into a custom-made premises elsewhere.
"This building can then be converted into a museum of the
performing arts. It can house photographs, audio/visual and archival
material, busts of our great artistes," he said, somewhat dreamily.
He informs me that NAPA is a wholly autonomous, non-government,
non-profit institute. "We will find funding from private donors,
the corporate sector and international agencies. Look at the Indian
example: there is the Sangeet Natak Academy, the National Theatre, the
Kathak Kendra and other institutions based in Delhi. Tata alone picks 80
per cent of the budget and Godrej perhaps 18 percent. Whether it is
America or India, such activities are generally supported by donations
and endowments," he says emphatically.
Mohyeddin reminisces that as director of the PIA Arts Academy in the
early Seventies, he was asked to set up a national theatre. "I told
the government that it is not like setting up the National Ghee
Corporation. You can only have a national theatre when you have theatre.
The National Theatre in England came about just 50 years ago, after
theatrical activity had existed there for nearly 700 years, if not
He then explains that a venture such as NAPA can only happen when there
is a body of professionals who are dedicated and committed to make it
happen. "We want to remove this sense of guilt that the performers
here have. They should look the other person in the eye and be able to
say, "Yes, I am a singer/I am an actor/I am a dancer. You cannot
perform unless you have professional training coupled with professional
Since NAPA opening its doors in January 2005, courses in the disciplines
of theatre and music have proved extremely popularly and cover a broad
range of areas. For example, in theatre arts, it isn't only acting and
directing that is being taught, but also playwriting, stage management
and decor. Similarly, the courses being offered in the department of
music are broadly categorized as vocal, encompassing the genres of
classical, ghazal and geet, and instrumental, which includes sitar,
sarangi, sarod, tabla, violin, guitar and piano. Additionally, subjects
like 'Concept of orchestra' and 'How to read and write music', as well
as 'Melodic Structure' and 'Musical Arrangement' are also included.
The NAPA faculty lists some
impressive names, one of whom, Arshad Mahmood - the renowned composer -
joins us towards the end of our meeting. I am told that the pianist on
the faculty, Omar Jamil, is his find. Jamil took a degree in music and
piano performance from Knox College, Illinois, and also studied music
and composition in Vienna. Salamat Ali and Nafees
Ahmed are some of the other eminent members of the Faculty of Music.
Mohsin Sherazee (a producer/performer, particularly of the famous comedy
show of yesteryear, Gar tu bura na manay) is one of the
heavyweights of the Faculty of Theatre Arts, which also includes other
prominent names such as Dr Enver Sajjad, Talat Hussain, Rahat Kazmi,
Khalid Ahmed, Anjum Ayaz and Ayeshah Alam.
The additional good news is that a course in dance has recently been
introduced, with classes being conducted by Odissi exponent Sadia Khan.
At last, we have an institution for the performing arts in Karachi. For
interested professionals and non-professionals alike, this is like a
dream come true. For sceptics, critics and religious conservatives, a
whole new playing field has been opened. Let us hope that this academy,
set up with official blessings by the cream of our creative group, will
flourish and grow.
Reproduced from Dawn
Images, by kind permission of Rumana Husain & Faisal Qureshi