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KARACHI, April 29: Speakers at a function on Thursday said a true way to pay tribute to renowned Urdu drama-writer Agha Hashar Kashmiri would be to stage plays authored by him so the young generation could witness and appreciate his masterpieces.

They said this at a function organized to observe Agha Hashar’s 70th death anniversary at the Arts Council of Pakistan. The chief of the National Academy of Performing Arts, and stage and theatre artist, Zia Mohyeddin, Anwer Sajjad, Sahar Ansari, Mohammad Ayub, Nazar Hussain, Saifur Rehman Grami were among the speakers.

Born in Banaras in 1879 as Agha Mohammad Shah Banarsi, he soon, finding out that his roots were in Kashmir, opted to be called as Agha Hashar Kashmiri. He started writing dramas at a young age of 17. He shifted to Bombay and joined a theatre company.

Later, during his career, he formed at least two drama companies, which somehow did not perform well. He also worked for many other theatrical companies.

He was a great success in the field of drama writing with many plays to his credit. He was even called the Indian Shakespeare. He also translated/adapted many of Shakespeare’s plays into Urdu.

Zia Mohyeddin said Hashar’s plays were box office successes as was clear from his wages at various theatrical companies. He started his career with a monthly salary of Rs35 when he wrote his first play.

His wage with his second play increased to Rs60, and then to Rs80, Rs125, and eventually at one time he was getting Rs1,200, which at that time – beginning of the 20th century – must have been a princely sum. It also proved his popularity.

Dr Anwar Sajjad said whenever the history of theatre in the subcontinent is written, Agha Hashar Kashmiri will certainly hold an important place in it.

They said that at the beginning of the 20th century the Urdu theatre in the subcontinent was still in its infancy. Some foreign educated Parsees, after getting exposure to the European theatre, on their return to the subcontinent formed theatrical companies.

Mr Mohyeddin said at that time the Victorian melodrama was dominating the theatre scene in the United Kingdom, which had its influence on the theatre in the subcontinent in the beginning as well.

They said that Agha Hashar’s dramas could be broadly placed in four types – romantic, religious, social, historical. He wrote not only in Urdu but also in Hindi and Sanskrit.

The speakers said that Hashar wrote many dramas and a large number of these including Rustam-o-Sohrab, Yahudi Ki Larki, Laila Majnoo, etc, were very popular among the masses.

They said Hashar loved poetry and many of the dialogues in his numerous dramas were punctuated with couplets, making the dialogues more powerful.

Prof Sahar Ansari said Agha Hashar gave a different style to drama writing and his dialogues were delivered by artists in a specific manner, which, with the passage of time, was becoming extinct. He also read out a few dialogues from Agha Hashar’s plays and recited his poetry.

Anwar Sajjad said after partition, fine arts in general and drama in particular faced great resistance and opposition from religious groups. The most suppressing time was Gen Zia’s era when serious theatre received a hard blow while a new genre of drama, in which a character would deliver a long reformative speech in the end, was introduced. Even the democratic era that followed was not dramatically a good time for the theatre.

Speakers said it was a pity that there was no institution for formal training of stage actors and people interested in performing arts in the country. However, probably now the winds of change had started to blow, as an academy for performing arts had been set up.

They said it was the moral duty of the rich to come forward and patronize the fine arts particularly the performing arts, including the theatre, etc, so that more serious plays could be staged for the masses.

The function began approximately two hours behind schedule, but neither the organizers nor any of the speakers, including the chief guest, who even then came after the function had started, offered any apologies for the delay. Not even the reason for the absence of one of the speakers — Kamal Ahmad Rizvi — was given to the audience.