Despite the population of female students on Emory’s campus who are able to get an education, for girls around the world, this opportunity is often not available. The Pakistani Student Association (PSA) presented their annual play Jhalak, to bring light to this issue on Saturday, April 18 in White Hall 208 at 6:30 p.m. The play tells the story of Samira, played by College freshman Sahar Panjwani, a young Pakistani girl living in the United States who wants to bring education to women in rural areas. Samira must also deal with her parents being in Pakistan to visit her sick grandmother, while navigating the drama of her first year of college.
The play opens with married couple Zaynab (Goizueta Business School sophomore Karishma Ratnani) and Zahir (College senior Saad Mohiuddin), who decide to return to Pakistan to visit Nani, Zaynab’s sick mother. After leaving their children, Samira and Shaheer (College freshman Shaheer Mallick) with family friends, they rush off to Pakistan to spend time with their sick relative.
Samira and her friend Rabia (College sophomore Rasika Tangutoori) are swept off to their first year of college. On the first day of classes, they along with Hana, another friend (College freshman Zahra Punja), encounter a trio of boys in their Contemporary Issues in Pakistan class: Zain (College freshman Sohrab Nawaz), Hamza (College freshman Ravi Doshi) and Yusuf (College junior Abdullah Sufi).
The boys, international students who have just arrived from Pakistan, are hoping to “spit that mad game” with any college girls that they can find. However, their playboy plans are quickly foiled, as the moment the boys lay eyes on the three girls, they fall madly in love — despite the girls’ disgust with them.
Regardless of the girls’ repeated rejections of the boys, the six students are assigned to work on a class project together, and end up in couples: Zain with Samira, Hamza with Hana and Yusuf with Rabia.
Although this isn’t exactly surprising, the Jhalak cast manages to pull it off in an endearing way — part of the charm and fun of the show is in its over the top nature.
For example, Doshi and Sufi are hilarious as Hamza and Yusuf, falling all over themselves (literally) in their attempts to impress the girls.
“My game is magical,” Hamza proclaims at one point, to the audience’s delight. “I am Harry Potter!”
Of course, the group must overcome a few bumps on the road before reaching a happy ending.
The professor of their Contemporary Issues in Pakistan class, Dr. Bilal Khan (College senior Farhan Momin), also falls madly in love — with the beautiful chemistry teacher across the hall, Ms. Desouza (College junior Shivangi Singh). In a hilarious scene, he approaches Zain and asks him to write a love letter to Ms. Desouza but without signing his name to remain the “mystery man” that all women desire.
This sets off a chain of events: the letter gets lost, Samira finds it and suspects that Zain is cheating on her; everything that could go wrong does go wrong.
Although the drama is still unresolved at this point, the play culminates in a “mushaira,” a traditional Pakistani poetic symposium, produced by the students as their group project. Performed to the audience, various cast members shared facts about Pakistan and female education, read poetry and sang songs.
A standout performance was represented in College freshman Tejal Pandharpurkar’s voice as she sang, accompanying a reading of facts about girls’ education. While I could not understand the language of the song, her singing gave me goosebumps, creating a beautiful accent to the reading.
However, in the true manner of such a fun and lively play, everything is set right at the end. Again, such a conclusion isn’t exactly surprising, but the Jhalak cast pulls it off well.
One of the triumphs of the play is in how it educates its audience about issues in Pakistan in a way that doesn’t feel incredibly forced. In one scene, Samira shows her brother a video in an attempt to get him to understand the importance of educating girls in rural areas. The video, which is also shown to the audience, is a clip of a CNN interview with Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist for girls’ education and Nobel Prize laureate, talking about her personal experiences in the struggle to gain an education and her fight for female education.
A 15-year PSA tradition, Jhalak brought out a considerable amount of people, filling up the majority of the seats in White Hall 208. While the room wasn’t sold out, PSA certainly has the right to call it a successful night.
“I’m most proud of the fact that PSA is able to provide this opportunity,” Goizueta Business School senior and PSA co-president Raheem Ismaili said. “We’re really able to bring [attention to] issues that are important to Pakistan and to the world in a way that makes everyone have fun.”
The cast agreed with him, citing the importance of raising awareness about the issue.
“There is an issue in Pakistan about women in education,” explained Nawaz, who is also one of the freshmen representatives of PSA. “It’s important that people realize that.”
Jhalak was easily a success. The show was hilarious and the cast made it incredibly fun to watch, bringing awareness about the issue of the lack of opportunities for women to educate themselves in Pakistan, while also sharing the Pakistani culture with fellow students.
– Julia Munslow, Arts and Entertainment Assistant Editor