Showbiz

Portrait of an actor

Written by Omair Alavi

The man behind Mr Jaidi is no more

The name of Athar Shah Khan ‘Jaidi’ has been associated with elegant humour and satire for well over 50 years now.

The playwright, actor and poet, who breathed his last on May 10 in Karachi, kept whole generations of fans entertained with his brand of comedy.

There were many sides to the great man’s career which began with theatre but moved on to Radio, TV and film.

For a review of Athar Shah Khan’s career, The News on Sunday sought out Mohammad Iqbal Lateef, the director and a great friend of Khan’s.

The Athar-Iqbal duo was behind Jaidi’s popularity through the 1970s sitcom Intezar Farmayie, as well as Hello, Hello.

Their last play together was Rafta, Rafta, featuring Moin Akhtar.

Iqbal Lateef has glowing words for his long-time colleague with whom his professional association stretched back to his college days.

“To me, Athar Shah Khan was not just a playwright, but also a dear friend. When we met for the first time, I was a student at Urdu Science College. He was senior to me. We both had a passion for drama. I was always among the cast of his plays. We also worked together for Radio Pakistan where he was my first director. After I joined PTV in the 1970s, we started hanging out together like the old days. By the time he shifted back to Karachi, the roles had been reversed. He was now acting in plays that he wrote and I was the director. We did Intezar Farmayie, Hello, Hello and Rafta, Rafta over two decades. It was Intezar Farmayie that introduced ‘Mr Jaidi’ to the public.

“With his death, I have lost an elder brother with whom I had a 57-years association.

“Athar Shah Khan remained productive in many ways. He used to write short stories for various Urdu magazines. As a humourous poet who used to target himself. As Mr Jaidi, he would talk ‘nonsense’ for hours. Many in the audience might not realise that he was educating people all the while.”

Actor Humayun Bin Rather (also known as Humayun Naaz), who worked with Khan in two plays during the 1990s – Ba Adab Ba Mulahiza Hoshiyar and Burger Family – says he was the last of the playwrights who tackled social issues.

His trademark style of acting like a child trapped in a man’s body, his portrayal of an overconfident dimwit, his oversized glasses and his shabby overcoat were all very popular.

“Khan Sahib was right up there with writers like Ashfaq Ahmed and Munnu Bhai who took it upon themselves to educate the society through their dramas. I had the good fortune to work closely with him. Even before I became an actor, I had been a huge fan of Jaidi, who knew how to make people laugh and tackle social issues at the same time,” says Humayun.

Fazila Qazi, who shared the screen with Khan in Burger Family, a sitcom that also featured Qazi Wajid, Jamshed Ansari, Farid Khan and Ishrat Ansari, agrees. “Had it not been for Athar Shah Khan, I might not have managed to become an actor in the first place,” she adds.

“I will always remain indebted to him because it was he who persuaded my father (Qazi Nazeer Akbar) to allow me to act in dramas. His comedy serial, Burger Family, was my debut performance. I was lucky to have spent time with him on the sets and during the recording. He was not just a brilliant writer, but also possessed a balanced personality. Contrary to popular belief, he was quite serious-minded in real life.

“He was also very modest about his work. There were no airs about him even though he was an authority when it came to comedy. It was always pleasant to talk to him. I regret not having worked with him a lot more because the lines he penned will stay popular for a long time.”

Athar Shah Khan had not meant to play Mr Jaidi when he wrote the play. However, when no actor came forward for the challenging role, he famously “looked at himself in the mirror” and decided to do it himself. The anonymity of a TV and radio playwright might also have pushed him. “People seldom recognize us,” he said during a TV interview in the 1990s, “but they remember the characters”.

Athar Shah Khan became Mr Jaidi in the 1970s. He carried this persona till the late 1990s. His peculiar style of dialogue delivery, acting like a child trapped in a man’s body, playing the overconfident dimwit, his oversized glasses his shabby overcoat were all very popular.

His scriptwriting technique inspired many writers to adapt the ‘split second transition’ from one scene to another. The dialogue was thus completed and the plot moved forward without wasting a frame.

Khan was also the pioneer of satirical shows: his Rang Hi Rang – Jaidi Kay Sang may be seen as the precursor of TV shows like Khabarnaak and Hasb-e-Haal.

He was a part of the Azeem Sarwar-Sajida Syed team that entertained listeners for nearly two decades.

Talking to The News on Sunday, Azeem Sarwar said:

“After Intezar Famayie aired on PTV, Athar Shah Khan’s Jaidi became very popular. However, Jaidi wasn’t doing much on TV after the show completed its run. That’s when I approached him to do something featuring Mr Jaidi for Radio Pakistan. At first, he wasn’t convinced that Jaidi would be that successful on radio. However, we designed a show that I produced and for which he provided the script. Not only did Rang he Rang – Jaidi Kay Sung become a super-hit, it continued for over two decades. We continued to experiment with the show’s format and it became a regular fixture on Sundays, when it was aired all over the country.”

Comedian Ayaz Khan, who worked with Athar during the 1980s and 1990s, says he was one of the best people he had worked with during TV’s golden era. “I considered it an honour to have shared the stage and screen with Athar Shah Khan during my career. We did many stages shows together and our US tour did very well. In those days, comedians like myself used to release audio cassettes featuring skits and jokes, just like stand-up comedy acts of today. Athar Shah Khan Sahib wrote one of my albums. It went on to do very well. I was fortunate also to work with him in what would be his last play, Haye Jedi. Off the screen, he was a thorough gentleman. We used to spend some quality time at his home where he welcomed everybody with open arms. It was the poet in Athar Shah Khan that coined the phrase, Meri Marzi. We also went on many a fishing trip together. I will miss him the most.”

About the author

Omair Alavi