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"Staging it in Pakistan was tough'

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"My mother-in-law came to see it wearing a hijaab. While my mother wept after the readings. And my husband, along with the other men, considered it to be pathbreaking,” says Islamabad-based activist Nighat Rizvi who staged Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues for the first time in Pakistan last year.

“It was tough staging it in Pakistan. People thought we were crazy and it would spell disaster but everything went off well. In fact it was discussed in the National Assembly but it was too late to do anything as the show had already been performed by then.”

Rizvi is in Mumbai along with Karachi-based actress Ayeshah Alam to participate in the Asian premiere of Ensler’s Necessary Targets which debuted in Bosnia in 1996 and ran off Broadway in New York in 2002.

The play consists of readings and celebrates women working towards peace. The cast of this private reading to be held at the Taj President tomorrow also includes Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, Avantika Akerkar along with special guests Ensler and Jane Fonda.

The idea for Necessary Targets came during V Day’s (an offshoot of The Vagina Monologues; a global movement to end violence against women and girls) travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan in March 2003. The time Ensler spent in refugee camps in Bosnia during the war also served as in inspiration for it.

Incidentally Kotwal’s Poor Box Productions is planning to stage Necessary Targets as a play next year. Even though it has war as it setting; its universal themes of women and war will strike a chord anywhere, they feel.

Rizvi, as one of the first woman in Pakistan to campaign publicly on Aids, is used to taking risks. She is part of Amal, an NGO working on gender rights, reproductive heath, HIV/AIDS and human development.

“When I saw The Vagina Monologues in London, I was deeply moved. I knew this had to be staged in Pakistan to highlight women’s issues and create awareness. I got in touch with the V Day group via the Internet and they were saying, ‘Hello? you want to stage it in Pakistan’?” says Rizvi who was undeterred and went ahead with the show.

Besides Rizvi and Alam, there were top Pakistani actresses Nadia Jamil and Samina Pirzada at the reading of The Vagina Monologues at the Marriott in Islamabad.

“We had localised the plays with lots of Urdu and Punjabi words thrown in,” says Alam. They talked about recent local incidents, about women being burnt by their husbands or in-laws for failing to bear sons or not being submissive.

“We had a women only show in Islamabad where Ensler participated while the show at the Royal Rodale at Karachi had a mixed audience,” says Alam, who is the ex-wife of Brian O’Connell of the Junoon music group.

Though Alam has been to Mumbai several times before, it is the first for Rizvi. “Our visit was coordinated by V Day’s special representative Hizbaaq Osman who is also here. It is fun to explore new cities and to meet other women. There is this special bonding and we cherish it,” say the duo.