River’s Daughter

Wake-up Call

By Afreen Seher | July 2023

With a strong woman as its protagonist, River’s Daughter is one of the rest few original Pakistani theatre productions to tackle the pressing issue of climate change. Loosely inspired by Shah Latif’s classic folktale characters Umar and Marvi, the play is a love story centred on the love that Marvi has for the river, the dariya of her village. After watching countless translations of Western classics in Urdu at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), River’s Daughter is a welcome change and is a force to be reckoned with, when it comes to adapting South Asian cultural heritage and folklore for the stage.

The play rejects mainstream narratives on human relationships and instead gives voice to a story about places, spaces, things, objects, animals, creatures, colours, flora, fauna and magic. Originally written by Arieb Azhar and brilliantly translated from English into an authentic amalgamation of Urdu and Sindhi by Nasir Ahmad, it gives way to original playwriting and scripting missing from the local theatre scene.

Amna Ilyas as Marvi is ethereal; she carries the play on her shoulders, nails the accent and makes her debut theatre performance with a bang. However, Fawad Khan as Umar is inconsistent and unconvincing, and his character swings like a pendulum and lands as unintentionally funny. The supporting cast transports audiences to Bhullan gaon (Dolphin village), where the river is drying and agriculture is no longer a means of livelihood. The soul of the play, however, is its Sindhi music, composed and sung by the Mai Nimani troupe from Tando Adam.

River’s Daughter is a much-needed allegorical reference to what the rich do to become richer and it spells out what development actually means: “Tarraqi dharti baich kar agay barhne ka naam nahi, tarraqi dharti sambhal kar aagay barhne ka naam hai-” which loosely translates to the true meaning of development is not to sell the Earth and move forward, real development is the advancement that preserves the planet. While the second half of the play lagged a bit due to a slight lull in pacing, the production steers clear of gimmickry tactics and wins hearts with its authenticity instead. With crisp comebacks, piercing one liners, and an eye-opening narrative, this play is a theatre production which deserves a wider and a more corporate audience - for whom this play is actually meant for.

River’s Daughter is a project under the British Council Gender Ecologies Programme and co-produced by Insaan Culture Club and All4One Communications and was staged at the National Academy of Performing Arts Auditorium, in Karachi from 25th to the 31st of May.

River’s daughter hits audiences with a wakeup call: we are still colonized, only the colonizer’s skin colour has changed. With global warming causing devastating impact on the poorest section of society, this play goes out of its way to give the environment, the river and the environment a voice of its own and highlights deforestation and collateral damage done by ruthless corporate builders.