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Umar Sharif: The King of Stage Comedy

Posted on March 6, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Humor, People, TV, Movies & Theatre
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Adil Najam

Although I have always found Umar Sharif’s comedy to be socialy poignant, hard-hitting, and often hilarious, I must confess that I was not a great Umar Sharif fan growing up. This was largely an age and timing thing. But it is quite clear that there has been no stage comedy phenomenon in Pakistan like Umar Sharif either before or after him.

Although he has now taken on a broader – even sub-continental – canvas, his early work was very rooted in the Pakistan mega-city culture; especially Karachi and Lahore.‚ His ‘burger’ kid routine really went home on the social and economic apartheid that still tears at our society. Sometimes the pungency of his jugaat masks the craftsmanship of his theatrical performance, but to me there are very few who command the ‘stage’ presence that he does, particularly in the stage play. Indeed, he was to stage comedy in Pakistan was Fifty-Fifty (and here) was to television comedy.

Moeen Akhtar, obviously, has ruled he stage show scenaro like no other; but his stage presence is of compare and senior fankaar. The Umar Sharif phenomenon is primarily about the stage comedy play. Even though he has tried to become a Mueen Akhtar look-alke as stage compare, that is not his forte and in that role Moeen still rule (at least for me).

And within the genre of the Pakstani stage comedy play, there is nothing that even remotely comes close to Baqra Qistoun Peh; which, in some ways, is Omar Sharif’s signature performance. Here is a clip from that play which demonstrates why:

57 Comments on “Umar Sharif: The King of Stage Comedy”

  1. Mutazalzaluzzaman Tarar says:
    March 6th, 2007 2:50 pm

    Umer Sharif is like a less sophisticated, less refined Moin Akhtar. he was funny some ten years ago. now his stuff is pretty unfunny.

  2. Farrukh says:
    March 6th, 2007 3:18 pm

    I agree that he recent stuff is same old same old and has become routine. But at his peak he was new and fresh and very very different from everyone else. Certainly from MueenAkhtar who always wanted to sound so very ‘sophisicated’ as you put it. What made Omar Shareef so popular was that he seemed real. He may not have pronounced words right, but his issues and his subjects and his jokes were the things that people actually were talking about. He seemed to be of the people and worried about things they were worried about. That was his power.

  3. March 6th, 2007 4:19 pm

    If you grew up anywhere near the urban Karachi city, the Nazimabads, Golimar, Lalookhet, Malir etc you would not only find Umar Sharif’s comedy funny, but also real and close to life. He introduced hilarious (though perhaps unsophisticated) verbage to everyday Urdu language in the city. In many ways, his style and delivery was as much influenced by the urdu-medium lower-middle class mohajir tabqaa of Karachi, as they were by him and the stage show culture of the 80′s.

    Umar Sharif fans are the people who grew up in the tumultuous, yet exciting at the same time, Karachi politics of late 80s and early 90s. I am a big fan, and I could see a bit of Umar Sharif in every person I met at a political jalsa, juloos, and rally then. Chewing a pan, riding a motorcycle, making fun of a bihari or a Bengali – all the while knowing that we were all in the same boat – the idea that Iss hammam mein sab nangey hain.

    Umar Sharif’s jokes allowed Karachiites to learn to laugh at themselves – and that is one aspect of his comedy I will always be thankful for.

  4. Akif Nizam says:
    March 6th, 2007 4:50 pm

    In his early days, Umar Sharif embodied the humor of “lower middle class” Karachi. This section of Karachiites have a very distinct sense of humor, ripe with insults, curious observations, put downs of the opponents and yet intensely funny. I loved him growing up and I agree with the earlier post that he influenced the vernacular of the entire city.

    I also agree that he no longer posseses the same alacrity he once did.

    It’s unfair to compare him to Moeen Akhtar who is in a completely different class in my opinion, given the fact he is still relevant after probably 30 years performing.

  5. The Pakistanian says:
    March 6th, 2007 6:01 pm

    Bakra QistoN Pe was Umer Sharif’s magnum opus which even garnered him a lot of popularity/notoriety in India. After that, none of his stage dramas gained any popularity or were remotely as funny as this one. He even tried his luck on the big screen and failed miserably. While being on stage as a compere, other than introducing the guests, his comedy routines were limited to making fun of women wearing a lot of makeup and people from defence which after some time became boring and corny. If anyone saw his recent show on ARY, Umer Sharif Vs Umer Sharif, I’d say that pretty much spelled the end of his career.

  6. Sobaan says:
    March 6th, 2007 8:09 pm

    Umer Sharif is good but I think there are some really funny characters in Punjabi stage dramas. These include Mastana, Amanullah, Tariq Teddi and others. Although Punjabi Stage is not well recognized and acknowledged in the bigger picture probably because of the vulgar language that is used these days on stage. But I guess there is a huge huge audience in many cities in Punjab who come and enjoy their jokes.

  7. Adnan Ahmad says:
    March 6th, 2007 9:50 pm

    I stopped watching him about ten years ago. I think he just lost his touch after moving on to the movies….that spontaneous unscripted line from him just wasn’t there anymore.. I think it was because he lost touch with the street itself that made him popular. A couple of times it was sad to see him show up on stage completely wasted. All what you wrote about him is true up until bakra qistoan purr. Also, very people know that he “was” a terrific on stage singer. At times he even surpassed the original singers of the songs he sang.

    Stage shows from lahore are without a doubt funny.. but they cannot be watched with the family. In fact there is hardly any woman in their physical audience. That said, I don’t think I know a better jugat baaz than Amanullah.

  8. Adnan Ahmad says:
    March 6th, 2007 9:59 pm

    Adil, Now that I have recognized you from a previous post (I think we talked about SAF games of 89 at some point), I remember umer sharif showing up in one of your talk shows you did from islamabad. I rememeber that show because I think he was really funny [for that time an may be for that age of mine] that night. I used to wonder what happened to that host after you dissapeared.. :) I think your place was taken over by naeem bukhari.. ;)

  9. Murtaza says:
    March 6th, 2007 10:41 pm

    Umer Sharif – not only known in Pakistan but across the Globe, has earned a lot of fame for his comedy shows, personally Umer Sharif has done a trumendous work over the years but unfortunately he has at times stepped out of the decency grove for his comedy stage shows which are not at all suitable for family entertainment, I wonder how can people go to the stage shows with their wives and kids.That’s the only black spot which has lost some of the Umer sharif audience otherwise he’s the best at the art of comedy.On the other hand comparing is not his virtue and he can never call himself as an accomplished comparer.

  10. Eidee Man says:
    March 6th, 2007 11:56 pm

    Very interesting, unrelated story in Dawn today(night):

    ‘Dawn advertisement ban challenged’

    Good to see my favorite paper sticking to its guns…lets see what our courts do about this.

  11. March 7th, 2007 12:06 am

    [quote comment="36856"]but unfortunately he has at times stepped out of the decency grove for his comedy stage shows which are not at all suitable for family entertainment, I wonder how can people go to the stage shows with their wives and kids.[/quote]

    I second that.

    He at times gets too vulgar for family entertainment.
    but when he is not that, he is simply awesome.
    check this clip and u’ll know what i mean:

  12. jyoti says:
    March 7th, 2007 4:40 am

    can you believe that our local cablewala stills shows Bakra QistoN Pe sometimes.. it was an instant hit in India and I still have an old (and broken) video cassette of Bakra… My family and I still talk about Mirza and Professor Nizami’s dialogues and have some good laugh:)

  13. March 7th, 2007 11:22 am

    saw umer sharif live at the Kara Film Festival inaugural event at the mohatta palace museum; this guy was just too funny to be handled by anyone; the funniest stage show i have seen on one of the cable channels was the one in which he enacts a PIA flight; people being fed water from a baltee, people being given an azarband to tie themselves to the seats than actual seatbelts etc; the whole thing was hilarious; he is at his funniest when he stays away from vulgarity; he is a natural

  14. TURAB says:
    March 7th, 2007 11:32 am

    Bilal i totally agree with you… being brought up in PIB colony and studied in City school, i know both the extremes and umer sharif has a larger appeal in the middle class group due to close to reality jokes and issues raised by Umer Sharif. He always tends to insert a patriotic unifying message for pakistan as well. He WAS, IS and WILL be the most funny person in the theatrical stage..

    true enough i can’t watch with ma family but i rofl when watchin alone or with cuzns… heheheh

  15. Farrukh says:
    March 7th, 2007 12:02 pm

    I dont think his material was ‘family unfriendly’ at least not in the early days. There was a lot on stage that was and partly that made him more popular because although he was edgy his material was not vulgar. The clip you have here is a good example.

  16. Indscribe says:
    March 7th, 2007 3:39 pm

    During my childhood years, I found that Umar Sharif was the most popular Pakistani in India after Imran Khan. Imran had so much appeal that people couldn’t hate him even though they wanted to hate him. Javed was hated. I too grew up on that Sharjah Six and was so angry with him in my childhood.
    Though I didn’t like Umar Sharif’s style of comedy much, most of my friends were great fans of Umar Sharif. They would mimic him and watch his casettes. In those good old days, I didn’t have any VCR and so missed it. He surely connected well with the audience. Great work, Adil Bhai, for the post on Umar Sharif.

  17. Imran says:
    March 7th, 2007 9:49 pm

    But what ever he is either good or bad he has changed our culture all together…

    The stage shows rather comedy stage shows might have changed from “bakra kiston peâ€

  18. rais says:
    March 7th, 2007 11:55 pm

    his old stuff back than 50/50 era was very funny so much in touch with common people and close eye on social problems , always come up with strong message.i must agree with others when he stays away from vulgarity he is definately funniest

  19. Haathi says:
    March 8th, 2007 1:55 am

    I don’t know if many people are familiar with the audio tapes that initially made Umer Sharif popular, but it used to be an annual tradition around eid…Umer Sharif show ’81, ’82, …, ’89 (I think!) util the videos of his stage shows became really big, and the audios ended. Some of the audio jokes were then carriied over to the stage shows, but those audios were priceless :) Examples? Here you go: (1) Film producer’s response to the suggestion of casting Babra Sharif with Alam Channa: Alam Channa aur Babra Sharif mailay mein jaa rahay hon ge to lagay ga ke baap beti ko ghubaara dilanay le ke jaa raha hai, oye Babra Sharif jitnay to mozay pehanta hai woh! (2) Shehenshah Jehangir touring modern day (i.e., in 1984 or roundabout) Karachi: Darbari! Fasal kat gai?? Aalijah, fasal to nahi lekin aaj Bohri bazaar mein hamaari jaib kat gai! (3) a poetic-urdu description of diarrhea: ghudoodaan-e-meda mein haalaat-e-khaana jangi!

    Oh and that hilarious Sindhi accent that used to be an Umer Sharif trademark! Well folks, excuse me while I go wipe this stupid grin off my face.

  20. March 8th, 2007 11:35 am

    Haathi: ghudoodaan-e-meda mein haalaat-e-khaana jangi! is still used in my family conversations!!!

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