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DAWN - Features; August 28, 2008

August 28, 2008

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Current hotch-potch comedy is unpalatable — Kaif Rizwani

By Naseer Ahmad


The writer of hilarious comedy shows and plays such as Fifty-Fifty, Syed Fakhrul Hasan, better known as Kaif Rizwani, was naturally reluctant when he was asked to write a serial on the Quaid-i-Azam.

“I told Mohsin Ali, the then PTV general-manager, that I had always written things light and comic and writing on the Quaid was a serious and sensitive matter. Any slip of the pen could spell grave repercussions,” said Kaif Rizwani in an interview with Dawn on Monday. “But on Mohsin bhai’s persuasion I took up the project as a challenge and wrote the 11-episode docu-drama Jinnah say Quaid-i-Azam, encapsulating the great leader’s whole life.”

The serial was a huge success. The subject was well researched as it demanded. “I had several books before me to ensure authenticity of what I wrote. Of course, it also involved the Quaid’s romantic life with Rutti Jinnah, which was a pleasant surprise for the younger generation unaware of this aspect of the Quaid’s life.”

The serial, filmed in black and white to give it a realistic touch, was favourably compared by critics with the movie Jinnah, produced by Akbar S. Ahmed at a cost of several million dollars. Kaif sahib cherishes an appreciation letter handed to him by the then information minister, Mushahid Hussain. The serial, however, won various official awards for other people involved in its production, down to the make-up man. Kaif was excluded from the list.

The year 1979 catapulted into fame Kaif Rizwani, who was little known till then as a poet and writer and worked with a construction firm as an accountant. He was hired by Mir Khalilur Rehman to write columns for the daily Jang as he was looking for a humour columnist after the departure of two well-known column writers. He wrote three to four columns a week for the paper but later he switched to Mashriq and Nawa-i-Waqt newspapers and kept writing humorous columns for about 32 years. It was in 1979 when noted TV producer Shoaib Mansoor read his columns and decided that he was the person who could fill in for Anwar Maqsood, who had quit writing for the Fifity-Fity show he had initiated.

The topics of his columns are as common as newspaper readers may be interested in

such as pre-Jemima Imran Khan, women’s sports, women in advertisements, the servants of Islam, the doctor, the oriental traditions, the mother-and-daughter-in-law syndrome, the stray dogs, etc. Writing in the simplest possible language, he makes fun of negative trends in society such as corruption, duplicity, falsehood, official apathy to people’s suffering, and tries to show the people the right path. But his columns are more entertaining than educative.

Kaif sometimes suggests innovative techniques to solve complicated national and international problems. For instance, he suggests that international disputes should be resolved through sporting events. According to him, the Kashmir dispute can be resolved through a cricket match with neutral empires. Whichever of the two countries wins a match or series, it should have the state. Simple!

In another instance, he urges the police to abandon their old methods of torture to make suspects confess their crime and try a new one to obtain confession. He spells out that the police first learn about a criminal’s passion or weakness — charas, alcohol, heroin, heroine — and give him a heavy dose of it and make him reveal his crimes while he is in a joyous mood.

When commentators insisted that cricket being a game of the English could not be commented upon live in Urdu, he came to their rescue and coined equivalents to all the English terms such as munh tor (bouncer), paon tor (leg-break), bewaqoof nisf roshan (silly mid-on), phislan (slip), lita kar katna (lead-cut), baeed az qias (googly) etc. “If implemented, these Urdu terms will benefit the vast majority of cricket fans who cannot follow running commentaries in English,” he says.

Kaif Rizwani says humour should create ripples on weary faces and not provoke guffaws. In this connection, he mentions the name of Lehri, the noted film comedian and his friend. “He made people smile with the delivery of witty sentences. In routine life too, he is witty and often utters off-the-cuff remarks that are enjoyed by the listeners. Once we were enjoying a dance by Roohani Bano. Thrilled by the performance of the enchanting young woman, he remarked: ‘Your name shouldn’t be Roohani (spiritual), it should be Jismani (physical) Bano’.

He is a great admirer of Ibn-i-Insha but says that Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi is his spiritual guide in humour. When asked if he saw any humour writer equal to Yousufi in stature, he said: “There is none even close to him.” Asked if he is satisfied with the comedy shows presented on local TV channels, he says the writers and producers are simply copying from Indian comedy shows. “But since they don’t have the freedom enjoyed by people across the border, they just prepare a half-baked stuff, which is indigestible for most viewers.”

In fact, Kaif Rizwani’s collections of selected columns titled Kana-phoosi and poetry collection Sahar gazeeda do not reflect the writer’s voluminous work he has done over the decades. He has written numerous teleplays, stage shows, plays and play serials, scripted films and written jingles and songs, some of which are still popular. ‘Socha tha piyar nah karain gay/Hum nah kisi pay marain gay’, sung by Ahmed Rushdi and filmed on Waheed Murad. He also wrote songs for Insaan aur gadha, Jahan par burf girti hai, Honeymoon and so on. His poetry, a major part of which was lost to mice and termites as he shifted from one rented house to another, is scintillating.

When asked what future he sees for Pakistan, he recites his own couplet:

Ik raat woh bhee thee kih andheron mein noor tha/ Ik subh yeh bhee hay kih kaheen roshni naheen

Born in Hyderabad Deccan in 1940, Kaif Rizwani lives with his wife and a son in a modest flat at Aisha Manzil. A son and a daughter are married and have their own families. Currently he is writing for a private channel. Sometimes he performs as a ghost writer for well-known people whom he does not name.

“I have never asked anyone to give me work. Whenever TV people think they need my services, I’m always available.

If somebody asks me to write columns for his newspaper, I’ll certainly do,” he says when I ask why he no longer writes newspaper columns.