Humour from across the border

If Bollywood and movies made in India are our strength, our neighbour is quite strong in plays, dramas and stage acts. In fact, Bakra Kishton Pe made Pakistani comedian Umar Sharif a household name on both sides of the border. Since then, Pakistani theatre scene has remained replete with many success stories, churning out several stars. Zee TV had started Zindagi channel that gained quick popularity as it was mainly airing Urdu plays and serials mainly shot in Middle East but having content from Pakistan. However. the channel had to go off air following deterioration of bilateral ties between two neighbours.

However, thanks to lockdown and an opportunity to surf through contents of Netflix, Prime video and YouTube that accidentally led me to watching a few episodes of political satire cum comic show Hasb e Haal aired on Duniya TV, hosted by Junaid Salim. Like our Kapil Sharma show, while the host lends grace and identity to the show, life of the show is very popular stage actor and comedian, the redoubtable Sohail Ahmed, who dons a different avatar in each episode. And this virtuoso talent copies almost everyone – mostly Pakistani politicians but also their other dignitaries and people of importance from across the world. A few episodes that I have watched , I have seen him playing personalities as varied as Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth, Navjot Singh Siddhu, Actress Mira and host of politicians such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Sheikh Rashid, Shah Mehmood Qureshi etc.

While copying their mannerism and speech is Sohel’s talent and coming out with sharp and witty comments evidence of his tremendous timing and sense of humour, what is most remarkable thing about the show is openness of Pakistani society and patience and big hearts of the politicians, who are sometimes made a mince meat of by Ahmed through his barbs, satirical remarks and provocative humour! On the contrary, in our country, the world’s largest democracy and one of the most peace loving societies, there’s absolutely no tolerance! Politicians, actors, dignitaries – leave apart presenting them in lighter vein or making a spoof on them on TV or in movies, in fact, we have become so sensitive and touchy, that any slightly uncomfortable comment leads to polarisation, trolling and in some cases physical assault! Where’s our sense of humour, tolerance, patience and openness gone? I am told that Mrs Gandhi used to respect cartoonist R K Laxman, though some of his cartoons and caricatures of hers were quite vitriolic and critical! And here look at the reaction when a segment in Kapil Sharma show based on a popular and very aggressive news anchor got severely trolled on social media!

To carry on Pakistani humour further, Sohel’s special targets are loud mouthed Pakistani Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid ( yes the same guy who said that Pakistan has made a bomb that will not kill Muslims in India) and the current man in news Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who is leading opposition unity against Imran Khan government. He’s arranging a big congregation this month, a show of strength for his movement. When asked by the host that how many people were expected to attend this congregation, Maulana replied , “ 2 Arab” ( which is 200 crore). On being asked whether he was expecting people from India and China too as the population of Pakistan was only 22 crore, Maulana replied, “ my two friends from Saudi have promised me to attend by protest and that’s a confirmed number.” I thought that was quite a sharp humour – comical, satirical and hard hitting at the same time. And it’s accepted by Pakistani public and tolerated by their politicians. We need to be more open and tolerant , because this trolling, polarisation, anger, lack of humour are not what we inherently are as a nation and society.

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