January Issue 2015
Once Upon A Time…
A brooding, dashing hero (Ghufran in Qurbatain aur Faasley), an awkward but hilarious secretary (Qabacha in Tanhaiyaan), an orphaned but ambitious young girl (Sana Murad in Ankahi), and a vivacious doctor (Zoya Ali Khan in Dhoop Kinaray). These are just some of the endearing characters from the enduring classics that PTV has given Pakistan in the last five decades.
To mark the channel’s 50-year run, Newsline revisits its golden era through conversations with the actors that breathed life into these, now legendary, characters.
Shakeel was associated with PTV from its very inception. But the first mega hit play for him was Hasina Moin’s Shehzori. “That launched me in a proper way,” he recalls. “I became very well known, but bracketed as a chocolate hero,” remembers Shakeel. “In fact I was the first male actor to be featured on the cover of a leading English magazine (Herald).”
It was to break away from this glamorous image that Shakeel welcomed the chance to play the title role in the now classic, Uncle Urfi. Despite some trepidation, Shakeel accepted the challenge. “This proved to be a turning point in my career,” he says. “The play was a roaring success and people started copying the French beard I sported in the play as well as the glasses and clothes. There was even a supari brand called Uncle Urfi,” he laughs.
“Those were the days when the streets would be deserted when a very popular play was being aired. People actually planned their functions according to the play schedules. In fact, after the last episode of Uncle Urfi, which was a tragic one, some college boys took to wearing black arm bands to express their emotions.”
In the course of his remarkable career, Shakeel enjoyed more smash hits. “Ankahi was another milestone for me. It not only generated a buzz at home but also across the border. We had the likes of Dilip Kumar sahib and Raj Kapoor sending us messages.” Another memorable serial was Aangan Terha, penned by Anwar Maqsood.
“I was very lucky in that I was never typecast. All the people in television at that time had only one concern, ‘How can we make this better,’ irrespective of how it would be received,” explains Shakeel. “We didn’t play to the gallery. PTV played a very important role in raising the standard of the viewers. Sadly, this is no longer true.”
Rahat Kazmi remains one of the most dashing leading men television has produced. He joined PTV in 1967 but shot to stardom in 1971 with Qurbatain aur Faasley, an adaptation of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. “This serial not only made me famous but it was also on its sets that I met Sahira,” recalls Kazmi, speaking of his wife who is an accomplished actor and director in her own right.
“It was a very romantic story and I played a Che Guevera-type character called Ghufran. The response was simply amazing,” he says. “We [he and Sahira] were on the cover of every magazine, everyone wanted to speak to us. I remember travelling from Islamabad to Karachi and being mobbed at the airport.”
Kazmi followed up this success with more adaptations of classics — Parchaiyaan, based on Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, and Teesra Kinara, based on Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead — firmly establishing his credentials as the intense, broodingly handsome hero. “I always played the non-conformist,” adds Kazmi.
This rebel with a cause image earned him a devoted fan-following. Kazmi recalls an incident which occurred while he was staying at a friend’s house in Karachi. “The doorbell rang at seven in the morning and a young girl was standing outside with a suitcase in hand. She said that she had come all the way from Bahawalpur to meet me and had nowhere else to go,” he laughs.
In the eighties, Kazmi starred in Dhoop Kinaray, playing the world-weary older romantic hero, Dr Ahmer, to a young and idealistic Marina Khan. Directed by Sahira Kazmi, this too was a huge hit not only at home but across the border as well.
“The people who wrote for PTV at that time were already established literary figures,” explains Kazmi, who has left television for theatre since. “There were people like Ashfaque Ahmed and Intizar Hussain; we simply don’t have that anymore.”
“PTV is the mother institute for all of us,” says Behroze Sabzwari. “I joined as a child artist at the age of nine, when we used to do live telecasts.” Behroze Sabzwari’s big break came with the immortal Khuda ki Basti in which he played the lead role. This serial was a path-breaking one for PTV and has become a cult classic.
Many other successes followed, but he is best remembered as the awkwardly hilarious Qabacha in Hasina Moin’s smash hit, Tanhaiyaan. “I always had a leaning towards comedy and this character became hugely popular.” Overnight, people began addressing him as Qabacha.
“Any recognition from the public and appreciation of my work has always been a great honour for me,” says the actor. “It’s a matter of privilege and we’re lucky to be at the receiving end.” The intrusive element of celebrity is “part of show business,” he feels. “And I hope I’ve handled it well so far.”
Sabzwari reiterates that PTV was the training ground for all the actors of that time. “The talent that PTV has given this industry remains unparalleled,” he maintains. “We got the opportunity to learn from the most respected names of radio and television. We would pore over our scripts for days, before actually recording something.” Nevertheless, he maintains that new standards are being set and quality work is also being done today — but by private channels.
Success couldn’t have come easier to Shahnaz Shaikh. “I had come to Karachi on a holiday, with no plans to act, and was offered this project,” she says of her mega hit serial Ankahi which catapulted her to stardom overnight. “There was really not that much to do in Pakistan in those days. I liked acting and this was just something fun to do,” says Shaikh who is a graduate of the National College of Arts in Lahore.
The Hasina Moin-penned serial was followed up with another smash hit by the same writer, Tanhaiyaan, with Shaikh essaying the lead once again. “I was fortunate enough to work with directors like Shoaib Mansoor, Mohsin Ali and Shahzad Khalil,” she recalls. The irrepressible Sana of Ankahi and the more intense Zara of Tanhaiyaan remain perhaps the most iconic female leads of PTV.
“I worked with such wonderful people, the atmosphere at PTV was great. I think PTV spoilt me thoroughly,” says Shaikh who disappeared from the screen after giving audiences two of television’s most popular dramas to date.
“What I really didn’t enjoy was the complete loss of privacy,” explains the former actress. “There was just zero personal space,” she says on becoming the darling of the masses. “After that I just moved on with family and children. I felt I couldn’t spread myself so thin,” she says of her decision to quit acting. But if a really meaty role came her way, would she be open to acting now? While not giving a definite yes, Shaikh doesn’t quite say no.
“It all started in 1971 with Akkar Bakkar,” recalls Salima Hashmi speaking of the now classic, satire-based shows that were conceived and performed by herself, husband Shoaib Hashmi and a group of like-minded friends. This was followed by Such Gup, an educational show aimed at adults. And then Taal Matol. “We chose different subjects for each show and decided to start with academics since my husband and I were both teachers.”
These were the golden days of PTV when creativity and social responsibility went hand in hand. “We had a talented team of people, including Farooq Qaiser, Irfan Khoosat, Naveed Shahzad, Arshad Mahmood and also Nayyara Noor. So it was a blend of poetry, music and satire,” recalls Hashmi. “We would all get together and brainstorm, and then head to the studio. There were no stars, we all contributed equally.
“Television was having quite an impact at that time since the government had given away a large number of black and white TV sets for free,” says Hashmi. “There would be one set which the whole neighbourhood would gather to watch. We were surprised how often people recognised us. Just driving down GT road, stopping at obscure villages, people knew who we were.” The Such Gup team gave us some unforgettable characters like the upper class begum with a penchant for imported items, or the innocent little girl who would let the cat out of the bag. “While laughing at ourselves, we said things which hit home,” recalls Hashmi. “We would get mixed responses from government quarters. One phone call from a fuming official, and then a minister who would say we were spot on,” she laughs.
The show was finally pulled off the air during the Zia-ul-Haq era, but lives on in the audience’s hearts as a cult classic.
Marina Khan shot to fame with Hasina Moin’s Tanhaiyaan as the effervescent Sanya, or ‘Pink Panther’ as she was called after the gangly stuffed toy that her character owned. “I remember, the night before the serial was to be aired, I met Shahzad Khalil [who directed the play] in the bazaar and he said, ‘Just wait until tomorrow, you won’t be able to roam the markets so freely,’” she reminisces. His words were prophetic.
“The fame was a bit frightening, actually,” says Marina. “It was also exciting, but the lack of privacy was very daunting and it took me a while to come to terms with it.” The character spawned a range of consumer items, like supari and lawn, that would have been a money-spinner for an actor today.
Marina’s popularity grew as she followed up this success with another huge hit, Dhoop Kinaray, directed by Sahira Kazmi.
She played a medical student who falls for the much older but dashing Dr Ahmer, who incidentally won several female fans across the border, in India. “The phone never stopped ringing and it was quite annoying for my parents,” she laughs. “Remember, in those days there was only PTV, so the entire country would tune in to watch that one show. There was no other channel. For a newcomer like me, PTV was almost an academy in those days,” recalls the actor who has since delved into direction and production as well. “And the directors were like our fathers on set. They were mentors who guided us, as was Shahzad Khalil for me.”
In fact, Marina has one caveat here. “In their recent golden jubilee celebrations, I felt PTV ignored many of the names who made this institution what it was. Even if one does not get along with someone, one must give credit where its due.”
This article was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2015 issue.
Zahra Chughtai has worked and written for Pakistan's leading publications including Newsline, the Herald and Dawn. She continues to write freelance.