The first time Khalid Abbas Dar appeared on television, way back in the early ’60s, his mother did not recognize him. Recorded in black and white, the actor appeared in an impersonation show. Sometimes Dar was seen as a police inspector, at other times he was imitating as a beggar and depending upon the theme of the television show, he would change his guise accordingly. At long last when the parents did find out about their son’s primary activity, it was time for an ultimatum. Leave TV or else …
Khalid Abbas Dar chose the ‘or else’ option and remained constantly at odds with his parents in whose opinion TV, theatre, and radio were disreputable professions not befitting the son of an Islamia College professor. But Dar had discovered himself through all those socially unacceptable avenues of expression. Five decades and inestimable theatre, TV and radio performances later, he is the only performer in Pakistan with the ability to carry a one-man show for over two hours.
`I have never even once regretted doing what I do. Times have now changed. People belonging to educated families encourage their children to become actors,’ says Khalid Abbas Dar
Dressed in white kurta shalwar, a bespectacled Khalid Abbas Dar gave his first interview to Images in his characteristic style of enlivening Urdu with Punjabi witticisms. Describing the mundane relationship between his mother and himself, he described his amma’s shock at finding out that her son was more interested in the theatre performances at Lahore’s Central Model School, from where he did his matriculation, than what it had to offer academically. “My mother wanted me to be a doctor. Every mother wants her son to be a doctor to save on the doctor’s fee because mothers are always ill. My mother had a similar ambition. But since the first time I tuned into radio, it became my fascination,” says the incomparable artiste.
Later, during his Government College days, he realized that the institution helped him to refine his persona for theatre performances. “I wasn’t the sort who would give in to family pressure to let go of the one thing determining my existence. In the early ’60s my role as a professional had taken shape. I was performing on stage, radio and TV and was ready to pay any price to acting identities,” says Dar.
A preview to Khalid Abbas Dar’s credibility as an original performer was visible in his narrative of how his entire family left disgruntled for England after disowning him. “All of them packed and just left. They were sharif (decent) people. I was the only deviant in the family. Even now my brother and two sisters are ashamed to acknowledge my relationship with them.”
Changing into Punjabi he slated his own profession, skilfully managing to cover up his ‘hurt’ areas made sore by family disapproval. “A few years back my sister didn’t want me to introduce myself as her brother at her son’s wedding. But the general to whose daughter my nephew was getting married recognized me and wouldn’t leave my side all through the wedding. I have never even once regretted doing what I do. Times have now changed. People belonging to educated families encourage their children to become actors. The only difference is of class and speech. If you come from an influential background and speak English, you are appreciated otherwise there will be some acknowledgement of your work but you won’t be able to enter that particular circle. Hypocritical, isn’t it?”
It is difficult for Khalid Abbas Dar to remember the number of plays he has done for TV or theatre. They run into thousands. But what he does recall vividly is the time he joined theatre in 1956. Less than a decade into Partition, the Lahore Arts Council was a 48-kanal spacious mansion running from where the hotel Avari stands today to the road adjacent to the Governor’s House. Prior to Partition the massive villa, sprawling out to expansive, well manicured lawns, was the personal property of a Hindu lady, whose name Khalid is unable to recollect. “We used to perform in the drawing-dining area of the mansion which had a seating capacity of 144 people. The lady came occasionally from India to see us perform in her house,” he remembers.
His training on radio programmes had given him an edge over other nouveau artistes for whom co-ordinating between acting and elocution did not come easily. His hit programme broadcast as Sohni Darti had already endeared him to everybody tuning in to Radio Pakistan. It is the only programme broadcast unfailingly everyday from 7pm to 8pm. “I have been going live on air every single day of my life without a break. I play a naive villager who is unaware of the changes taking place in this world. The programme is very dear to me,” says Khalid.
Singularly responsible for introducing a ‘one-man show’ in Pakistan, he is the only one to lay claim, and rightfully so, to mimicry. His spontaneous and extempore performances are packed with socially thematic innuendoes.
During the Second Islamic Summit Conference, held in Lahore in February 1974, he was given the responsibility to entertain 45 heads of state and over 1,000 delegates. His pride at achieving a legendary status in Pakistan’s performing arts was appreciated by his alma mater when Khalid Abbas was selected as the only Ravian to be awarded with a Roll of Honour at the Government College, Lahore as a mimic. The uniqueness of his status was further fortified at the time he received the Presidential Award for Pride of Performance as a one-man show performer.
“I’ve also introduced Pakistani drama in the US, Canada, England, Holland, France, Germany and many other European countries and have presented over 200 shows,” he says.
Determined to sustain dignity to theatre, Khalid Abbas came up with the idea of establishing his own theatre where substandard scripts would not be allowed. He set the lucrative trend of converting financially bankrupt cinemas into theatres. Owner of the now commercially viable Mehfil Cinema-turned-theatre, its conversion forced Khalid Abbas Dar to pay a heavy price – literally this time. He had to sell whatever property he owned and assets accumulated over the years to make it a successful business venture without compromising on quality. “My theatre is not vulgar and cheap. We are trying to keep it alive,” says Khalid Abbas Dar.