As patriarchy continues to prevail in the land of pure, there are women who are breaking free from the socially constructed mold and raising a voice for themselves. These women are not necessarily carrying a political agenda, but simply want to make their presence felt among the masses. They want to claim public spaces and to put forward the issues faced by Pakistani women, on a daily basis. One such troupe of young women came together and performed at a show called ‘The Auratnaak Show.’
The Auratnaak Show is s stand-up comedy troupe that performed their first show in T2F Karachi and the latest in Lahore. The funny all-women troupe performed in front of a packed audience and broke a lot of stereotypes along the way. The comedy troupe includes different talents from Karachi and Lahore namely Eman Suleman, Yusra Amjad, Shafaq Javaid, Arooj Aurangzeb, Mavra Ghaznavi, Seerat Fatima, Meherbano Raja, Zara Peerzada, Fatema Shah, Annie Shamim, Ayesha Tariq, Eman Chamdia, Faiza Saleem, Fatema Shah, Jaweria Khan, Nida Fatima Syed, Reham Muneer, Rooj Hussain, Sadia Khatri and Sana Khan Niazi.
The Auratnaak is an initiative by the multi-talented Hassaan Bin Shaheen and Fatema Shah who are performers themselves and have trained the Auratnaak troupe. The show was not for those who get offended easily. Talking about the different themes explored in the show, the Auratnaak team spoke to Feminism in India. Osheen Fatima, a performer at Auratnaak said, “Every performer has a different theme. Period shaming was a common one. One woman had her entire set on body image issues and the stigma around mental illness. Also, dating in Pakistan, growing up as a woman, the pain of being a woman (cramps, waxing etc.) were other themes we explored. Sexuality was also something we talked about.”
When asked about how such sensitive topics were dealt comically, Rida Marriyam, a spectator at the Auratnaak and a future performer replied, “By relating to them (the issues). I think anything can be presented in a humorous way to make a point. Make them laugh on a lighter note and then one liners about the issues; dark humor.” In the words of Arooj Aurangzeb, a performer and a member of Girls at Dhaba, “The sensitive topics were approached in a sarcastic manner. It was basically us women talking about our day-to-day experiences.”
The Auratnaak attempted to explore the phenomena associated with patriarchy in the Pakistani society on a grass-root level. Taking the mic, Saadia Khatri, co-founder of Girls at Dhaba and one of the performers at the show, talked about the societal norms associated with dupattas and her dislike for the fabric. She said in her performance, “What is our obsession with dupattas? I guess when we talk about our social fabric, that’s what we mean.” Faiza Saleem, a member of The Platoon and a performer at Auratnaak, took to the stage to bash people who body-shame others. Another performer, Eman Chamdia poked fun at ‘being female-zoned’. There were candid conversation about the otherwise hushed topics like bras and sanitary pads, puberty and body hair among others.
Rida Marriyam, who wishes to be a part of the Auratnaak in the future, said that she loved the way the women came out about a lot of unspoken issues with confidence. When asked why she wants to join the Auratnaak and what she will bring to the platform, she replied, “I’m planning to bring issues like women’s sexuality that’s not even acceptable to talk about here. How women who like to date around face situations that are pitiable and even funny. As this is based on stand-up comedy so instances of societal appropriation and how women deal with it.” Adding to the statement, she said, “I also want to be a part of this because it helps you take out the things from under the carpet that nobody wants to see and then even taking the feedback for your own confidence.”
Arooj Aurangzeb, a performer at the Auratnaak and a member of Girls at Dhaba, took up the theme of how different genders change your experience. In her set, she talked about how being a male in Pakistan will bring different experiences and how a female will experience the same things differently. When asked how feminist her approach was while performing, she said, “I had a feminist feel (in my set). And that’s because of my outlook and experiences that were reflected in my comedy. Some performers were more feminist than the others; it all depended on individual experiences.” She added, “I was angry (at the misogyny around me). And I used sarcasm and humor to vent out my anger.”
On the other hand, Osheen Fatima did not think the motive behind the comedy show was intentionally feminist, she said, “Honestly it’s nothing overtly political. We are just women being funny. Honestly, a woman doing anything by choice is political, a feminist statement. And Auratnaak follows suit, even though the objective has always been to tell our stories on stage and make people laugh.” When asked if they plan to bring up similar women-centric topics in the future, Osheen replied, “Auratnaak is just for us to be funny. If our issues are female-centric it’s because obviously, those are the ones closest to us. We plan to continue being funny and making people laugh.”
The Auratnaak received a lot of limelight and reception from the general audience and was perhaps the first ever all-female stand-up comedy show of its kind. However, this is not the only all-girls comedy troupe. The Khawatoons is started by the much acclaimed Faiza Saleem, who also performed at the Auratnaak. Belonging to different social and cultural backgrounds, The Khawatoons’ ladies are all united by their passion for comedy and highlighting the issues faced by women in Pakistan.
The idea of an all-female stand-up comedy ensemble is fairly new to Pakistan, but pleasantly, surprisingly and unexpectedly was received well by the audience. Osheen Fatima said regarding the response they got, “The response was fantastic. We got a whole bunch of laughs, and a standing ovation our second night. Our first night was a more intimate set up, and we had a lot of the older crowd attending, and they were VERY receptive to our material.” She also said, “We have had multiple requests for an encore which is in the works.” Arooj Aurangzeb added to this by saying, “The audience was great. They were there to listen and laugh and were very receptive.”
Initiatives like the Auratnaak and The Khawatoons deserve celebrations and applause. The minds behind these setups have been successful in breaking stereotypes, helping women claim public spaces and above all, shunning the mindset that women can’t be funny.
Featured Image Credit: The Auratnaak Movement