To many it is not even a news. Two well known comedians of Pakistan passed away this month. Although both of them focused on Punjabi stage plays based in Lahore, however, they earned quite some audience in the whole country by their performance on national television as well as in Urdu films. Well, everyone had to die someday. And it was their turn this time. That cannot be argued with. But the circumstances that they faced were really scary, and in one way, a reflection of where we are heading as a society.
In addition to their memorable performances on national television and films, I, being native to the language dialect that was not very far from the one spoken on stage, had known both of them since long, although just as a fan. Immensely talented and spontaneous, they were born artists. Live performance on stage used to bring the stage alive.
Jugat bazi, the essence of Punjabi stage play, is actually a very well known local tradition. People talk to each other mentioning things in lighter tones, sometime funny, other times cunning and still other times vulgar and insulting too. Film and stage being the mainstay of entertainment in this part of the world, had a reflection of this all the time. Films used to be romantic love stories featuring a couple struggling to unite. A must to be character used to be that of comedian to make it a full entertaining recipe. Gradually, decency and pure entertainment was replaced by vulgar and cheap jokes, songs and remarks. Still, the artist cannot be blamed for this. It is the audience which is to blame for the lowering the level of the dialogues.
I remember the first stage play that I saw was with my best friend Zohaib Syed, on a video cassette. It was Shertiyah Mithay, featuring Khalid Abbas Dar, Sohail Ahmad, Amanullah, Abid Khan and late Babbu Bral. It was a piece of art. I still cherish the pleasure and entertainment that I felt after watching the drama. I had known them since childhood by their appearances on Eid programmes, one man, shows and sitcoms. So I enjoyed thoroughly.
Later, I saw performance of late Mastana in various stage plays. An artist of a unique character, he never let his audience and fans down. Impromptu and naughty, his remarks always carried a sense of criticism of the hollow traditions and snobbery of the people. He worked with majority of the great actors and actresses of the television and stage and earned great respect for his humbleness and down to earth nature.
Both of them died due to complications of hepatitis and diabetes, at an age where they should have been on top of their career. They could have groomed into national legends and would have ruled the theatre and televisions for at least two more decades. It is heartening to remember the unforgettable performance of late Babbu Bral in Indian idol. Artists are the binding force of a society. They hold different people together by their performance and they uncover the social maladies in such a way that it touches the heart. A two hours performance live on stage can take days and weeks to prepare. They worked untiringly to make the people happy. I came to know that, surprisingly, both of them were performing when someone close from the family departed. Yet they continued their performance so that the audience doesn’t feel bad that they left. I wish we commit ourselves to set better examples for those heroes and legends that are still with us. By doing so, we might save them from the painful anticipation of their career finish.