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10 minutes with NIDA BUTT – The ‘KARACHI’ Girl

Xpozé met up with Nida for a quick chat a week before opening night of her play ‘Karachi – The Original Musical’

Both your previous productions Chicago and Mamma Mia were very well received and got you massive critical acclaim for them. Tell me, how does a lawyer go on to become such a successful theatre director/producer?

How does one measure success!? It has been a slippery slope. My interest in theatre started as a hobby: a love to perform and a natural love for the stage. In fact, I think it was more of an accident—a good one! Taking on a new project and starting from scratch is daunting at the onset, and opening night is always a big day for me and our team of over 70 people, and so far I’ve been truly blessed!

How did the idea of ‘Karachi – The Original Musical’ come about?

The idea for Karachi was sparked over a plate of French fries on a cool November evening as I watched a snippet on television about boxing in Lyari! I had always wanted to do an original musical, but felt like I was at loss as to what the premise should be. I had been waiting a long time for the right idea to come along and had even discussed a few interesting concepts but nothing ever hooked me. But this did- immediately! And despite mixed feedback from friends, I decided to go ahead and take the plunge. I approached my good friend and colleague Faraz Lodhi to write the script. Between him and Uns Mufti, we had half an hour worth ofa juicy script!Once that was done, the audition process began, which was very tough. We had to screen more than 200 applicants for hardly 15 roles. Hamza my husband and music director of Karachi was having an equally challenging time with the musicians. He had to hunt pretty hard to find musicians of the caliber he was looking for… but I guess it all worked out pretty well in the end becausewe’re really happy with where we are now!

Why Lyari and boxing?

Because it’s inspirational! It’s so amazing how we have produced champion boxers from an area as neglected and stricken as Lyari: Students who have trained diligently in crappy conditions with coaches who have dedicated their whole lives to the sport for nothing in return. For research purposes we visited Lyari and I was floored by the hospitality and generosity of the local people. Boxing is a sport long forgotten but one that Pakistan has earned many medals for. Hopefully someone will take more steps to ignite spark into this sport once again because there is still lots of potential out there!

This is your first Urdu production. Was it easy to bring it all together or was it more difficult?

The pool of talent was a lot bigger, so I guess I am lucky enough to be working with a brilliant and talented cast. The Urdu spoken in the Musical is your daily Urdu mixed in with street lingo. It was only harder because we were creating a story from scratch and fusing in music song and dance to create a true musical. I worked closely with the script writers to develop the plot and with Hamza to inject songs where I thought it was essential. The challenges make the project more exciting and the reward is more satisfying when the product comes out strong. Right now I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping you guys love it!

When you visited Lyari to observe and learn about the people, their dialect, attitude and the sport itself, what kind of cultural and other problems did you face?

None whatsoever! Accessibility, support and understanding were not lacking from the locals in Lyari. They were thrilled that someone was taking an interest in their lives, in the love of their sport. We attended a local boxing tournament as well and were graciously welcomed by our friends in Lyari. You’ll even get to meet some of them at the show!

You had to change the name from ‘Kings of Lyari’ to ‘Karachi – The Original Musical’ because of sponsorship issues. What happened?

We didn’t change the name of the musical from ‘Kings of Lyari’ to ‘Karachi – The original Musical’ because of sponsorship issuesbut rather we wanted to remain politically correct. We all know Lyari is currently the center stage between political parties and the backlash has strongly been felt there.Plus Karachi is a more encapsulating name: more nationally and internationally recognizable. This musical is a story of hope and triumph and we want Karachi to be associated with that.

Were you ever skeptical about the response you’d get because of the unconventional subject of the musical?

I personallywas never skeptical because I believed in it right from the beginning but those around me had their doubts. Nobody really bit the idea when I was first conceived it. We have yet to perform our first Show – nevertheless I remain confident in what we’re staging. I prefer to choose something out of the ordinary: that’s what a night out at the theater should be about—non-stop entertainment!

Are the people of Karachi ready to experience an Urdu musical?

Ready or not, here we come! On a serious note, tell me, was Karachi ready for live theater? Yet Chicago and Mamma Mia remain the only two productions performed live with an orchestra. Our audiences loved it – they walked away smiling and proud. A home grown original Pakistani musical is something we can export out too, and that makes it all the more exciting! I my opinion the people of Karachi are definitely ready for it, and the rest of the world should also get ready for it. We could perform in the Middle East, Europe and USA… you know, show the world we are more than gun wielding terrorists and failed match fixing cricketers!

Tell me a bit about the cast of Karachi. How fun has it been rehearsing and working with them all this time?

Rehearsing with my team is always fun. I have a fantastic devoted cast and we aremore like a large family now than colleagues. There is a lot of pressure on them to pull out all stops, but there a stable and serious bunch so I’m not worried. In fact, I’m quite confident they’ll do a wonderful job and make me proud!

You put Sanam Saeed, Kiran Chaudhry and Rachel Viccaji on the forefront and they made it big from there on. Do you have the same plans for Rubya Chaudhry this time round?

Rubya is a talented actor and has a unique voice and can sing her face off. I am sure she will get the applause and recognition of a serious actor/singer once she braves the stage as the lead of KARACHI – The Musical. It is definitely a golden opportunity for anyone, as it was for the three previous leads. Ultimately what one makes of it depends on their own dedication and hard work… and so far Rubya has worked very hard indeed!

Your husband and music director Hamza Jafri has produced an original score for the musical. How many songs and what genres? Can you please give me a little detail about all the songs?

There are 12 songs in total, and they are a mix of rock opera, big bandjazz and eastern classical/ folk. Other than the title song ‘Karachi,’ there’s one called ‘Daaka’ performed by Adnan Jaffar’s character Daud Islam and ‘Janam’ sung by Faraz Lodhi and Rubya Chaudry’s characters. We’re releasing Volume 1 of the soundtrack on Opening Night so I advise all music buffs to get ready: You’re in for a treat!

The title song Karachi has received rave reviews. It highlights all positive and negative aspects about Karachi life and also subtly targets the government, in a way. Does the play depict that too?

No, we’re not targeting anyone. We are talking about the only Karachi we have ever known. As youngsters we didn’t experience what our parents did in the rocking 70’s. We only ever saw and experienced a more troubled city: a playground for politicians and gangs. Art reflects the ages and society it emerges from. And this Musical does that too!

You and Hamza started Mad School and you both devote all your time teaching Music, Arts and Dance there. How rewarding has it been?

Hamza first opened The Guitar School in Lahore and MAD School is an extension of that. So far it’s going great and it’s wonderful to see young children come to MAD School to learn music, arts and dance. It’s even more of a joy to see parents who understand the necessity of having an arts education in their child’s life. A holistic education is one where a child’s brain does more than just calculate numbers, and since it is usually the parents’ decision to integrate arts into a child’s life, I would urge all parents to balance studies in school with artistic activities because it’s essential for your kids’ development.

How fun has it been working full time with your husband on this production?
It’s been a pretty great journey so far! We got married six months ago and dived head first into this mammoth production. A holiday is definitely on the cards!