Where puppets talk and people listen

Friendly and gregarious as a child, Malik loved to play-act with his friends, sometimes gathering all the neighbourhood kids for a bigger production, teaching them to act and sing

Is it a surprise that he found his ikigai [Japanese concept of finding your purpose in life that would bring you joy every day and explore your full potential] in performing arts? He also wrote stories for Akhbar-e-Jahan, children’s magazines Naunehal and Bachon ki Dunya as a child

“I love writing and creating live theatre for children,” he says

“I am still a very social person and love to be around people

” In 2002, he joined TV and began working as a TV producer, programme manager and was soon hosting morning shows

Just three years later, Malik wanted set up his own theatre group and requested Zia Mohiuddin to draft the constitution

“Zia sahib gave me tremendous support and encouragement in establishing the Thespianz Foundation in 2005,” he recalls

“It is a not-for-profit performing arts organisation where performers, writers, directors, and creative heads produce social theater for rural audiences and marginalised communities

We have taken our plays to rural audiences in hundreds of villages and small towns in Pakistan, several times

” Malik’s theatre foundation has produced over 179 theatre plays, 71 dance plays, 1276 string puppet performances all over the country as well as abroad in 19 countries, including the US and Canada

The art of puppetry has always been a great tool for creating socio-political awareness through humour and entertainment to the masses, and especially rural audiences and Malik has a passion for string puppetry

“At the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), we crafted the puppets and performed in local cultural houses and festivals

Later, in a joint venture with Goethe Institut, the Thespianz Theatre created mobile theatre productions The Flying Classroom and The Flying Theatre where our performing stage was on a bus or a truck that travelled through villages, cities and towns through the country

” Apart from the biennial Pakistan String Puppetry Festival regaling audiences in most parts of Karachi, the Thespianz Theatre has also organised and performed in the Spring Holidays Cultural Festival, Pakistan String Puppetry Festival, the 2nd Pakistan String Puppetry Festival in 79 areas of Karachi with 330 string puppetry performances, Young Colours Festival performed in 40 schools of Karachi, and the Thespianz Folk Festival in Khairpur where leading artists from all over the country performed

Malik’s mobile theatre crafts stories to create an awareness about social justice, human rights, women’s and children’s rights, disability rights, peace and tolerance, and anti-drug campaigns primarily among rural audiences

“As a performing arts activist, theatre is my tool that I use to try and bring about a social change,” says Malik

“Sometimes we use soft images to reach out to people, at other times we use strong words in our dialogue, or talk about taboo issues or bitter truth that people don’t always like to hear

But whether it is puppets or actor, lines spoken or a situation depicted, our purpose is to connect with people’s hearts and minds

And it is very rewarding to see that instead of getting offended at the harsh reality being depicted, people applaud

” Malik’s first theatre production was before he had even graduated from NAPA

“The culture department of the Sindh government invited us to stage a play during a fashion show at the Expo Centre,” he says

“So we performed Umer Marvi, the Sindhi folklore for which the chief minister awarded us Rs1M

It was extremely motivating and we were all over the news

” It was not all hunky dory for Malik, there were difficult days too, but he rose out of adversities because of his passion and commitment

“We were in the process of building a 600-seat auditorium that would be known as the Thespianz Performing Arts Centre,” Malik recalls

“This was at a railway godown, through a temporary lease

We spent over Rs17M in construction and refurbishing work and just the air conditioning, seating and carpeting were left

One morning, someone who claimed to own the godown arrived and confiscated our electronic lighting system, sound equipment, puppetry stuff, electrical appliances and even the tiles for flooring

He wanted to rent out the place for fashion shoots, private parties and TV recordings

We talked to many authorities to help us but in vain, and we lost all our money

” A fellow of the State Department at the John F

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, he has worked with Chicago Opera Theatre

A fellow of ARTTHINK South Asia, a global network of the British Council and Goethe Institute

He has successfully demonstrated his craft at 100 years old Munich Kammerspiele and Germany’s famous dance company Sasha Waltz & Guests GmbH

Malik has been associated with the Iqra University and CBM as a Faculty Member of Media Sciences, apart from rendering his services as a producer at different TV Channels

He has to his credit more than 400 theatre and arts management workshops organised worldwide and has served as a director in the Pakistan Chapter of the UN International Association of Theater for Children and Young People

Acknowledging his talent and significant contributions within a short period, the Ministry of Culture has recently awarded him with a Token of Appreciation

After completing his early education in Lahore where he was born, Malik moved to Karachi for his graduation from Government Science College and his Master’s in International Relations from the University of Karachi

In 2008, he acquired his Performing Arts Education from NAPA

“My grandfather Malik Lal Hussain was Commissioner Sialkot before partition, and his portrait still adorns the walls of Sialkot Municipal Corporation,” says Malik, talking about his family

“My mother’s grandfather Malik Muhammad Sarwar was in the Army was martyred in the 1965 war

My father was an engineer and seeing that the eldest of four siblings and studious, he wanted me to become an aeronautical engineer

But with my leaning towards creativity and art, I was destined for performing arts despite my family’s expectation from me to follow their path and have a more traditional career

I got into engineering college, but it was my admission in NAPA that really defined what I wanted to do

My parents were always positive and supportive about accepting my passion and I am very grateful to them for allowing me to pursue, what I love doing

Life is not easy for everyone, but I am fortunate to have lived on my terms, and I never had to compromise on my commitment to performing art

” In a world obsessed with machines, robots, smartphones and information technology, Malik’s tools and toys are string puppetry and theatre

“I believe in modernisation and we should keep ourselves updated as per the need of time,” he says

“The world is changing and becoming more and more technological and materialistic

Robots are taking over everything and it seems that live theatre is out of vogue

But there will always be a need for aesthetics, humanity and performing art

Films and television productions are still being made, similarly theatre will remain a strong social tool

We may have to adjust and adapt, we can explore social media and digital tools to stay in touch with modernisation and technology that can be utilised in live theatre

” Malik would like to see the younger generation try and explore new ideas in their careers or businesses and their lives

He feels that if you resolve to never give up, you will always achieve your goals

Muttahir Ahmed Khan is an educationist, author and analyst

He can be reached at muttahir_khan@hotmail


All information and facts provided are the sole responsibility of the writer

Date:06-Feb-2023 Reference:View Original Link