The lifeline for actors is their popularity with the masses. It is what keeps them going. But there comes a time when age takes over, and one has to leave the limelight and make room for others. The law of nature is very ruthless just as it is benign. The heartthrob of millions for many years, Shakeel ruled the mini screen with his good looks and performance. No serial was complete without him. There is a faraway, nostalgic look in his eyes and a smile on his face as he reminisces those past days. Shakeel’s acting journey continues today, not as a hero but as a veteran artist having been in showbiz for over four decades.
Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Yousuf Kamal aka Shakeel was surrounded by loving people who helped in his development as a human being. “I was lucky to be the first child of both my parents and the maternal family. There was a governess for me and I was the blue-eyed boy of my grandparents. As my mother was the niece of the Nawab of Bhopal, we lived a very comfortable and cosseted life in Bhopal and Lucknow.”
The family later migrated to Pakistan and saw tough times. His father had a health problem and his mother became the bread earner. Shakeel’s love for his mother is not hidden from anyone. “She was beautiful and lived a luxurious life and drove a car in those days because she belonged to an enlightened family. So coming here and taking care of the family was a huge challenge for her.”
His mother wanted him to get married to a girl she knew. Respecting her wish he says he is grateful to her for taking that decision. His wife has been a pillar of strength standing by him through the ups and downs of his life, taking infinite care of him after his heart problem. They have one daughter whom they dote on.
A few years before his marriage, he had made a name for himself. Uncle Urfi and Parchaiyan had been aired and he was declared a heartthrob by the print media. He has the distinction of being the first actor on the cover of Herald, and in the interview he categorically stated that he was not a glamour boy but a serious actor. When Uncle Urfi was being shot there was a bit of trepidation on his part in playing an older character for the first time. “But people accepted me in it and I proved that I was an actor of calibre and not just a good-looking hero.”
Shakeel’s love for the performing arts developed in his school days when he participated in radio programmes. “Later in college I was introduced to theatre by Ali Ahmad who was one of the leading drama writers and directors of that time. He was my guide and mentor. I also did street theatre with him in areas such as Liaquatabad, Kemari, Manora and Korangi and was petrified of doing political plays but he said it was a game of conviction.”
Having worked in theatre he had no desire to do films. S.M. Yousuf saw him in a stage play and offered a role which he declined as he was not interested. A couple of years later while working in an advertising agency, Yousuf approached him again. “I agreed to work on condition that I would not give up my job and the shooting should be done at night.” Honehar did not click at the box office but the director said he was a hit and signed him in his film Sohagun.
He went to Lahore and bagged many roles in films which flopped one after the other. It was a blessing in disguise, the actor declares. “I was young and inexperienced with no one to guide me, so I accepted roles right and left and was thus stamped a failure soon after. I would not have matured as an actor if I had continued in films. The stardom that eluded me as a film actor was given by the PTV. The only distinction I had in the film industry was that I was the youngest hero in films.”
He got into TV because of producer Zaman Ali Khan who was a neighbour looking for artists for his serial. His first short play was with Mohsin Ali and the next one with Ameer Imam. Naya Raasta was the first major serial he did with Neelofar Aleem which was written by Haseena Moin. The pair clicked and was cast in a lot of serials. Then came Shehzori which was a roaring success. The myth of the ‘same couple’ was broken with his later serials Zer Zabar Pesh, Uncle Urfi and Parchaiyan which had Roohi Bano, Shehla Ahmad and Sahira Kazmi respectively.
Three of his current serials are being shown four days a week — Qeemat, Dil Ko Manana and Watan Kay Liye on three channels. Though he is known for being difficult and choosy, he says his professionalism and popularity as an actor are the main reasons why people still want to see him. “I want to do a strong negative character too. Qamar Ara Kaun was a telefilm by Hum Festival and I played the character of an old Nawab who marries the daughter of a woman he loved. That was a beautiful play, with good script and only two people in it.”
Talent, the artist insists, is the basic prerequisite for a good actor and then comes the love for the work. To sustain it one has to continue to learn and work hard, without becoming complacent. Having worked in foreign films Shakeel says there is a world of difference in their work ethics. It was a great learning process for him as there was a lot of professionalism. Christopher Lee in Jinnah would give him the cue after having completed his lines, instead of going off the set. The same happened with British telefilm Traffic.
Shakeel is also known for his firsts in his showbiz life. He was in the first colour serial in Parchaiyan, the first international serial Uraan and the first private production Chaand Girhan. “My solo performance might be another first on stage,” he says happily.
After being in the industry for so many years, the actor feels people still do not have a correct perception of his personality. “People have different impressions of me but I am not bothered. I am blunt but I speak truthfully; if the script is bad I say it, which is a drawback I have to live with.”
He says he has received all the awards that could possibly be given, including Pride of Performance, KaraFilm Festival and Lifetime Achievement Award. “This profession is not taken seriously by the government but the people love us and that is important. Art here, unfortunately, is not given its due by the state.”
His social work gives him the greatest satisfaction. “I pray to God that I can devote more time to humanity in whatever way I can before I die. I hope I have the strength to do it always,” he states compassionately. A believer in Sufism, the actor emphasises that it kills the ‘self’, thus enabling one to develop the force to do things. He worked for the earthquake victims in Kashmir and went to Badin during the rain storms. “If you can make a person happy it is the greatest reward.”
With a life full of rich memories it wouldn’t be a surprise to read an autobiography of the actor in the near future. “Well, I do plan to write my memoirs soon as there are a lot of interesting things to talk about, from showbiz, to my experiences in life. Travel books have inspired me tremendously.”
An incident that Shakeel says is etched in his mind is of a young man, years back. He had just done a play Saaey by Shezad Khalil, in which he played a psychiatrist who goes blind. The young man discovering that Shakeel was in Islamabad had come all the way from Peshawar to tell him that he had acted just the way he felt being blimd. “It is these incidents that keep you going in life,” he says softly.