Fact: Prisoners on death row cannot sleep in the last 24 hours before being hung.
Sarmad Khoosat is a man so talented that one eagerly waits to see him perform every time he takes up a challenge. It’s not his TV gigs that define him, I feel, for TV content is all too often dictated by greedy channel heads who look for ratings and popularity and are seldom willing to push creative boundaries. Case in point: Noor ul Ain, which Sarmad directed but God knows under what pressure. I wouldn’t even rate Humsafar or Zindagi Gulzar Hai as his best works. Mor Mahal is a forgotten story altogether.
It’s Sarmad as an actor that defines his brilliance. From reincarnating Saadat Hassan Manto in Manto to playing the delightfully flamboyant Zaman in Jhanjar Di Pawaan Jhankar, this man’s range as an actor is unmatched. And now he’s taken up the challenge of playing another difficult, probably the toughest role of his career: that of a prisoner on death row in the last 24 hours of his life.
No Time to Sleep, a 24-hour live stream covering this man in solitary confinement before he is taken to the gallows, has been organized by the Justice Project Pakistan in collaboration with Olomopolo Media and Highlight Arts, in solidarity with the World Day Against Death Penalty. The performance will permit 24 batches of a limited audience of twenty people each and will be live streamed on various channels throughout the world, including the British Parliament and universities across Ireland. Viewers in Pakistan will be able to see the live telecast on Dawn.
Sarmad has spent the last 6 months preparing for the role.
“I had to grow a beard and lose weight, but the biggest challenge is to feel the confinement,” Sarmad shared when we spoke yesterday. “I’ve been closing myself in a box for hours to get a feel of confinement.”
Sarmad explains how so many fictional stereotypes will be shattered during his 24-hour performance.
“I was told to lose weight but not too much weight,” he shared some disturbing details. Apparently, prisoners on death row experience such heightened adrenalin surges in the last few days that they begin to bloat. Instead of shriveling, as one would expect, they start retaining body fluids and swelling up.
The last meal – contrary to fictional and romanticized scenes where prisoners are offered a ‘last wish’ or a ‘last supper’ of their choice before being hanged, is the most basic breakfast of tea and biscuits or rusk, which Prisoner Z will be given at 7am. A doctor’s visit is always scheduled on the day of the execution, ironically to ensure that the prisoner does not have fever, an infection or worst of all, an upset stomach.
“All sorts of strange things happen to a person when he is hung,” Sarmad explained, “and a prisoner with a loose stomach is not something jail authorities necessarily want to deal with.”
The ghusl, or the last bathing ritual, may possibly be one of the most morbid experiences the prisoner goes through as it is conducted before he is hung. A human body is given a ghusl after it has expired but in the case of a death row prisoner, the ghusl is conducted before he is hanged.
“Prisoners are given ghusls before they are hanged,” Sarmad shared details of how this act will push boundaries that have never been attempted in Pakistan before. While nudity and exploration of the human body are norms on the western proscenium arch, Sarmad will have to strategically reveal what the human body is stripped to. “It is an extremely immersive experience,” he said with both anxiety and the excitement that an actor must experience when undertaking a challenge of this magnitude.
“I told my sister that she couldn’t be in the audience during this scene,” he laughed, when I asked just how much he would be revealing in the ghusl scene.
- Watch No Time to Sleep on a live stream on October 10, 2018
- You can read the full article here