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By Javed Aziz Khan
PESHAWAR – Nishtar Hall is set to host entertainment for the terrorism-stricken populace of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) starting November 1 under a plan for reviving cultural activities in the province.
KP, the front-line province in the war on terrorism, has lacked such activities for about eight years, because of threats by the Taliban and restrictions by the previous government .
Bombs have wracked hundreds of music centres and mini-cinema houses, and theatres have seen a decline in attendance.
Nishtar Hall, the lone standard auditorium for entertaining the populace of the province and tribal areas, opened in 1985 and has a seating capacity of 600. It bears the name of a freedom fighter and former governor, Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar. The auditorium, once governed by the Abasin Arts Council and later by the Culture Department, fell afoul of the former Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal government, which closed it for “promoting vulgarity.”
Artists are happy with the re-opening of Nishtar Hall. ”After the ban on music here, several artists had to switch over to other professions,” said Javed Baber, a popular actor.
The KP government organised a round-table conference in October to invite suggestions from all the stakeholders to learn what steps can revive cultural activities in the province.
The government has proposed holding weekly programmes at Nishtar Hall for women, children and others. The man behind the idea is the new managing director of the Culture Department, Azam Khan.
“The Culture Department would no more sit idle. We will make Nishtar Hall a hub of cultural activities,” Azam said.
During the conference held in connection with the revival of cultural activities, students of Khyber Medical College and others said the surrounding environment was not helpful for learning about their culture. These students suggested holding cultural shows, dramas about local heroes, romances and folklore productions at Nishtar Hall.
Pashtu literary figures, poets, writers, archaeologists, architects, and journalists during the discussion suggested staging open debates, video showings, plays and competitions at the auditorium.
Now, officials are drawing up a yearly calendar of events for Nishtar Hall to host, kicking off next week.
“Cultural experts will be invited to Nishtar Hall to talk about different aspects of the cultural life of Peshawar and other major cities of the province,” said Nisar Mohammad Khan, director of the Cultural Directorate. Nisar has written films and dramas. He headed Radio Pakistan Peshawar before the government assigned him the new task.
"We are re-activating Nishtar Hall, and the cultural events starting here would continue for the whole year,” Nisar said. “These will include folk music shows in Pashtu, Hindko and other local languages. Also we are planning to hold videoconferences with Bollywood legends hailing from Peshawar, like Dilip Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan and members of the Kapoor family.”
Functions in connection with restoration of the historic Gor Gathri site in Peshawar and documentaries highlighting cultural diversity are on the drawing board too.
To cultivate literary taste among the locals, the Cultural Directorate is planning to hold launching ceremonies for books authored by prominent writers. During these functions, Qehva, green tea, will be available to guests.
The government is also planning to form dramatic and cultural clubs in educational institutions to involve youth and the community in cultural activities.
The government intends to buy the ancestral houses of Kumar and fellow actor Raj Kapoor to turn these buildings into museums attractive to tourists, Minister for Culture and Sports Syed Aqil Shah said.
It was a few months after the incumbent government took power in 2008 that it decided to re-open Nishtar Hall.
Senior cultural journalist Nisar Mahmood called the revival of Nishtar Hall a welcome step.
“The government’s plan to hold cultural activities on a weekly basis would boost (those) activities,” Mahmood said.