Madeeha Gauhar, Pakistan’s most famous Theatre Director passes away

It is a very sad day for Pakistan and for theater lovers in particular. Madeeha Gauhar, one of the country’s foremost directors and the wife of playwright Shahid Nadeem, has passed away after a three year battle with cancer. Gauhar and Nadeem were the forces behind Ajoka Theatre, whose  plays I have blogged about here:

Theater and Social Change in Pakistan: The Plays of Shahid Nadeem

Here is DAWN’s announcement of Gauhar’s passing:

Ajoka Theatre’s founder and Artistic Director Madeeha Gauhar has passed away in Lahore after a three-year battle with cancer, according to reports. She was 61.

The actor, director and activist was well known for her commitment to theatre for social change and promoting peace between Pakistan and India. She set up Ajoka theatre in 1984 and regularly collaborated with Indian artists.

Ajoka’s plays have addressed issues related to human rights, especially women’s issues such as female literacy, honour killings, rights of the girl child, health and family planning. Toba Tek Singh, Aik Thi Nani, Bulha, Letters to Uncle Sam, Mera Rang de Basanti Chola, Dara, Kon Hai Yay Ghustakh and Lo Phir Basant Ayee are among Ajoka’s most memorable plays. Ajoka has performed all over the world, including India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Oman, Iran, Egypt, Hong Kong, the US, UK and Norway.

She was the first Pakistani to get the prestigious Prince Claus Award for her leadership of Ajoka, which was praised by the organisers of the Dutch prize for “[withstanding] pressures from the political and religious establishment, and [remaining] committed to the cause of theatre for social change.” She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize from Pakistan in 2005.

She is survived by her husband, veteran writer and director Shahid Nadeem and two sons, Sarang and Nirvaan.


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I am Pakistani-American. I hold a B.A. degree from George Washington University, where I majored in Dramatic Literature and minored in Western Classical Music. During my undergraduate education, I spent two years at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) where I studied Social Sciences, including Anthropology, Sociology and Political Philosophy. I have studied Hindustani Classical Vocal from a young age. Currently I am teaching an undergraduate course on the history of music in South Asia at LUMS. At BP, I intend to write on art, music and literature.

2 thoughts on “Madeeha Gauhar, Pakistan’s most famous Theatre Director passes away”

  1. Thanks for teaching me about Madeeha Gauhar. May she know peace in the here after and smile at us from heaven.

    Did she make any movies?

    1. Thanks for your good wishes. I met her only once and mostly knew her only by reputation. I did meet Shahid Nadeem (her husband) once or twice when he came to Washington. I have blogged about his plays. The link is in the above article.

      It feels almost like a personal loss. I think the entire theater community in the country is mourning her. I’m sure she is also being mourned in India, where Ajoka was very popular. She was one of the few Pakistanis who was able to get a five-year multiple entry visa to India, based on her work.

      As far as I know, Ajoka did not make films. But surely there must be YouTube clips of some of their stage shows. Gauhar was a director more than an actress, so she probably doesn’t appear in these clips herself.

      As a side note, we have lost three eminent Pakistani women in the last few months: Asma Jahangir, Saba Mahmood (who was the sister of close family friends of ours) and now Madeeha Gauhar.

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