The River’s Daughter – An original play by Arieb Azhar for contemporary times.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet Arieb Azhar at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) after quite a long time at the press conference introducing his play ‘The River’s Daughter’. It’s always a pleasure to be in the company of the maestro who is incredibly in tune with his surroundings. His music, his work, and his art always inspires thought and I expect no less of this original script, especially considering that a powerful ensemble cast will be bringing the characters to life!

The play is a modern take on the story of Omer-Marui. Marui, played by the charismatic Amna Ilyas, is a young fisherwoman who galvanizes her community to defend her village, Bhulan Goth, located at the edge of a river against a mega real-estate project called the ‘Riverfront Urban Project’ lead by the powerful Umer, played by the versatile Fawad Khan. Bhulan is the Urdu/Sindhi word for Dolphin.

Arieb mentioned that the play had been in the making for over a year and intended to develop thought on climate justice, and about indigenous communities struggling to maintain their cultures and values against forced urbanization and ecological exploitation, while empowering women to seek sustainable solutions for ethical progress.

He said that the British Council’s grant through their Gender Ecologies programme focused on arts, climate change, and gender and more, which made the production a possibility came at the right time. Ms. Laila Jamil, Director Arts, British Council Pakistan was all praises for the script, the production, and the cast. She said that one of the ways of taking on global challenges is through the lense of art. She emphasized that through artistic engagement, the programme aims to communicate climate issues and promote sustainable practices while highlighting the role of women.

From Left to Right: Junair Zubairi (CEO NAPA), Laila Jamil (British Council), Fawad Khan (Omar), Kulsoom Aftab (Director), Amna Ilyas (Marui), Arieb Azhar (Pir Tota Saien; writer producer)

Kulsoom Aftab, the incredible director mentioned that while she normally writes her own plays, she joined the project because it was such powerful topic as well as an original story. She further added that ‘the play brings one’s attention to the solution rather than the problem. It talks first about the human.’ She shared her thoughts that ‘we should talk first about the shield before the attacks’ and ‘the play will help us think about defense’. Plus, she said that she was sensitive to the needs of Marui, a female lead and considering the theme of the play ‘I want it [the play] to breathe as a female person in the room’.

Actress Amna Ilyas said that there were two reasons why she said yes to the project. 1. ‘I wanted to do theatre’; 2. ‘This character was so rooted, real, empowered, and despite not have anything or even money she still stood up for something. It resonated with me.’ She further added that the character became even better for her as the female director was insightful, sensitive, and knew her craft.

Fawad Khan, who has done readings at Climate Marches in the past, was in tune with the theme as well. He was all praises for his co-actors and mentioned that even though he had known Kulsoom for over 18 years, this was the first time he was working under her direction and he found it to be a great experience. While Arieb chimed in that ‘Fawad has a lot of contribution in improving the script, and fleshing it out’.

It speaks volumes to how close the cast has become as they rehearse a tough, contemporary script that is mirrored in real world parallels in Karachi, Lahore and other areas of Pakistan, that they were all praises for each other.

One of the most apt casting is of Sheema Kermani, of Tehrik-e-Niswan and Aurat March, as Hakima Bibi who is the soul of the river and the wise oracle of Bulhan Goth. One might say her character mirrors herself as she can be considered the soul of various social action movements including the actual climate marches, as she shares wisdom through her craft as well as her voice. Even though she wasn’t present at the press conference, her positive aura could be felt.

Arieb Azhar himself plays a feudal lord, Pir Tota Saien, and is also joined by a support cast playing characters representing the ever looming and ominous ‘Bandobast Corportation’.

Arieb claimed that they’ve tried very hard to inspire thought through art without taking away from the entertainment value or getting bogged down by being too preachy. He is confident that the audience will enjoy the play. Junaid Zubairi, CEO NAPA said it was a pleasure and privilege to be collaborating on this play and hosting it. He mentioned that they would like to support such themes and they will continue collaborating on, hosting, producing similar plays especially with original stories.

Arieb hopes that people concerned with gender, ecology, and environment will watch the shows and enjoy them. However, there are no tickets available and the entry is via invitations or registration on the website. However, as there are a limited number of invitations, we urge that you register now at The play runs from 25th – 31st May 2023.

I’ll definitely be going!

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