February 12, 2009 / 6:01 AM / 10 years ago

Despite bombs, "Chicago" razzle dazzles in Pakistan

KARACHI (Reuters Life!) - Braving a spate of bombings targeting the arts, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly are shimmying on stage in a Pakistani production of “Chicago,” a rare foray into Broadway-style theater in this conservative Muslim nation.

The play, a satire on corruption and celebrity set in 1920s free-wheeling Chicago, is being put on by Pakistani human rights lawyer turned director Nida Butt, who also helped choreograph the dance sequences which, like the original production, feature the actresses in short, revealing dresses.

“You are scared but you cannot stop doing what you love,” Nida Butt told Reuters.

“I’m thinking about my art, my work and my passion along with the 200 people standing behind me,” said the 27-year-old who studied law in Britain, referring to her cast and crew.

Pakistan, locked in a longstanding battle with al Qaeda and Taliban Muslim militants, has seen a wave of attacks targeting artistic and cultural venues in recent months.

In January, six small explosions went off outside theatres in Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural center, wounding at least five people. These follow three small blasts that went off outside another cultural center in the same city in November.

There was no claim of responsibility.

The majority of Pakistan’s 160 million people are moderates, but some hardliners, like the Taliban, oppose all music, film, and television. “Chicago” is likely to raise the militant’s ire as it features drunkenness, murder and dancing.

Although Butt did not get any direct threats, the blasts did force her to postpone opening night from December to January.

And she is determined that the show must go on.

“At the end of the day it’s bread and butter for many and giving up the project for fear just doesn’t seem worth it,” explained Butt, who caught the theater bug when she acted in a play in Karachi while working as a lawyer.

She said she as not looking for a confrontation with the militants, but would stand her ground if threatened, taking strength from other liberals whose numbers she believed were on the increase in Pakistan.

“They are trying to disrupt your life and trying to take control and dominate through fear and power,” she said of the militants.

“Through your daily existence, and through what you love doing, you inevitably fight back against those who are trying to stop exactly that.”

“I know there are people like me who exist out there, who think the way I do, and together by doing what we love, we can make a positive contribution toward society,” she added.

Editing by Robert Birsel and Miral Fahmy

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