An Inspector Calls

Murder Mystery

By Junaid Zuberi | April 2023

The National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) is known to bring finest classics from the world of theatre for the local audience. The recent offering was English playwright JB Priestley’s famous drama “An Inspector Calls”. This play was written soon after the Second World War and was first staged in the then Soviet Union.

Urdu adaptation of the play was done by Khalid Ahmed, veteran actor, director and writer who is also Head of Theatre Arts at NAPA. The play begins with the family Hayat Fazal Din, an affluent businessman and an aspiring politician, preparing for the forthcoming engagement of his daughter Sara. She’s all set to get engaged to Sarfraz Shan Ali, scion of an equally powerful family. In the midst of family conversation around the engagement preparations, an inspector calls in and here’s where the drama begins. The inspector introduces himself as Saeed Kamal, a newly inducted policeman. He informed the patriarch of the family that he has come to conduct an enquiry in a tragic death of a young woman who apparently committed suicide that day by taking in a bottle of disinfectant. The woman belonged to working class and her suicide was apparently a result of a series of events in her life that led her to depression, hopelessness and financial distress. She eventually took her own life when she lost all hope. During the interrogation, Inspector spoke to all the family members individually showing them a picture of the woman. Each family member was investigated separately.

It transpired that every person of the Fazal Din’s household and even the son-in-law to be had something to do with the woman’s misfortunes. Fazal Din’s daughter Sara and son Salman feel responsible for the woman’s death while their parents refuse to accept any blame asserting their encounters had no link to her suicide. The revelations by the family members bring out the exploitative side of the capitalist elite towards the working class and this is what the play aims to highlight. The strong underlying themes of class structure, blame and responsibility, gender, inequality, capitalistic feudalism, power and corruption and exploitation of the working classes are perfectly embedded in a crime thriller and murder mystery.

The real twist comes right towards the end when the inspector leaves after completing his investigation. Was Saeed Kamal really an inspector? Did he show pics of the same woman to the family members? More importantly, did any woman actually commit suicide that day as claimed by the inspector? The family called hospital and police bigwigs and realized it was all a hoax. Neither the man was an inspector nor any woman committed suicide that day or even in recent past. While their children felt remorse at the whole saga, parents rejoiced and heaved a sigh of relief. Just then Hayat Fazal Din’s phone rang and as he spoke on the phone his expressions changed. The call was from a local police station informing that a woman’s body has just been received. She apparently committed suicide by drinking a bottle of disinfectant. The caller from the station said they’re sending an inspector to the Fazal Din’s house for investigation.

Brilliantly directed, the play had Khalid Ahmed as Hayat Fazal Din, Nazrul Hassan as Inspector, Masooma Nadir as Mrs. Fazal Din, Anousha Khalid as Sara Fazal Din, Ashmal Lalwany as Salman Fazal Din and Yogeshwar as Sarfraz Shan Ali. Parwati, who works as a cleaner at NAPA, played the role of housemaid. The two-hour play kept the audience glued to their seats. The play was presented as a tribute to late lamented Zia Mohyeddin, Founding President of NAPA and also coincided with International Women’s Day. Though the play was written over seven decades ago, it still holds its relevance given the rising inflation, poverty, oppression and injustice in the society. An Inspector Calls was the last script approved for NAPA by late Zia Mohyeddin. Though his loss is hard to fill, his legacy will live on through the productions and performances as well as the academic excellence that NAPA is known for.