After a very long time Islamabad sees its first fully-home-grown commercial theatrical production with Aapka Matlooba Number Dusri Line Pe Masroof Hai. Consisting of an entirely Islamabadi cast and crew, Aapka Matlooba Number is the story of today’s youth and their concepts, and misconceptions, of love. Directed by M. Atif Siddique, the play has been written by him and Hassan Jawad Rana and produced by the team of All4one consisting of M. Atif Siddique, Hassan Jawad Rana, Muhammad Bin Baseer and Owais Mushtaq. All veterans of performing arts and theatre in Islamabad.
The play is about Taimur and his desire to win the heart, and eventually the hand in marriage, of Zara. His best friends, Yasir and Babar try and help him out by concocting one outrageous plan after another. Helping these friends is Maria, who is herself enamored with Taimur. However, all of them, Taimur included, consider her as just one of the guys. Zara on the other hand is way out of Taimur’s league. Added into the fray is Ramis, Zara’s current rich boyfriend, Saiqa, a slightly psychotic friend, and Taimur’s parents and sister.
The play is set entirely in a coffee shop frequented by all the characters, where the waiter, played absolutely brilliantly by Moid Rajpoot, is a spectator and sometimes accomplice in all the shenanigans these friends are up to. The whole series of events starts when, Taimur attempts to win Zara’s heart by throwing her a surprise birthday party at the coffee shop. Displaying naivety and idealism typical of a young university/college kid, he expects her to fall instantly fall in love with him. Anticipating the outcome he invites his parents to meet their future daughter-in-law. But all his dreams are shattered when Zara friend-zones Taimur. Fearing his father’s ire for having been called all the way to the city for nothing, Taimur and his friends come up with another outrageous plan to keep them in the dark and win Zara back by sabotaging her relationship with Ramis.
Aapka Matlooba Number is a hysterical play that is chock-full of witty lines and comedic situations. It is a satirical take on what today’s youth considers love. A commentary on how shallow, materialistic, and superficial people have started to become. As the co-writer, Hassan Jawad Rana, said in his interview, “You’re basing your love on two blue ticks of a message!”
And that is where all the trouble starts for our young hero. With a mere hint of affection, or even the acknowledgment of existence, by the hottest girl in class, he feels he has won her heart and hence her hand in marriage. And all his friends agree!
Salman Shaukat does a remarkable job as Yasir and keeps up the pace of the entire play through his onstage energy. There is a small drawback in the script though. All the characters in the play seem very one-dimensional and somewhat stereotypical. They don’t have much depth to their character. Taimur is a naïve, idealistic fool. Zara is the hot girl, materialistic as well as egoistic. Babar is a nerd, complete with glasses and buttoned up shirt, a laptop in hand and always calculating the odds in each situation. Yasir is a bumbling fool, the jester of the court. Maria is a follower. An unassuming girl who does everything she can to please Taimur so that he starts to like her. Saiqa is…well, a psycho. Ramis is a spoilt rich kid who has had everything handed to him.
We do see progression in Taimur’s character, after he literally fights for his love and when he finally achieves his goal but quickly becomes disheartened upon finding out that all that glitters isn’t gold. We see his transformation into a disillusioned angry man who lashes out at everyone, especially those most close to him. There is a hint of a different side to Zara’s character as well. Albeit very briefly. When she tells Maria that she shouldn’t dress up to impress someone else but instead to do it to make herself feel better. But that moment is gone in the very next line when Zara becomes egotistical again. This subtlety shown here by Mariam Saleem in her character portrayal is what distinguishes her from the rest of the cast and cements her skills as a veteran stage actor.
The play does seem very sexist at times, however, it is meant to be a reflection of how sexist we all get when things don’t go our way in love. When asked about the generalization and seemingly sexist dialogues in the play, Atif Siddique, the co-writer and director said, “The play was not designed to be a utopia or dystopia project. It is a mirror. This is how we talk. Every time anyone has a break up, they start generalizing immediately!…Love is the most confused concept in this generation. The meaning behind words have shrunk for them, they know all these fancy words but they don’t understand the meaning. So we need to show them the mirror and tell them. In the last 15 years we have seen a cultural neutralization, our youth is confused as to how to identify themselves, our generation had a set model of what a man or a woman should be. Right or wrong, we had set models. The new generation is now confused.”
So whether you consider the offhand sexist remarks as being consciously or unconsciously written into the play, it works out in the sense that it serves as mirror to the society. And in that, we think, the play has succeeded. In encouraging to dig deeper to finding out more about the other person.
Aapka Matlooba Number is overall a great production that everyone should see. A healthy mix of humor and story telling, that is bolstered by memorable performances. Aapka Matlooba Number goes on at Aiwan-e-Quaid, F9, till 14th May and should not be missed.