Theatre legend

November 27, 2022

Tariq Teddy belonged to the tradition of the ‘one person’ theatre, in the sense that one person dominated the show by his sparkling wit and ad-libbing

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ariq Teddy who died last week was one of the most gifted stage actors of the country. Like most of them, he was naturally talented and learnt on the job.

One has to stress this fact because the theatre personnel never went to any training institution or an academy - instead they were at best apprentices in the various plays and theatre companies that either were located in a city or were part of the touring network. They did all kind s of jobs, odd jobs, gradually learning the hard way, honing their talent.

The plays Tariq Teddy acted in were famous and too many to count. Some from the large repertoire that he has left behind were: Welcome, Uff Yeh Biwiyaan, Mama Pakistani, Husn Meri Majboori, Rabba Ishq Na Howay, Mithiyaan Shararataan, Asli Tay Naqli, Ji Karda, Sub Say Bara Rupeya and Doe Rangeelay.

He belonged to the tradition of the one-person theatre, in the sense that one person dominated the show on account of his sparkling wit and ad-libbing. Actually the strength of the theatre was and has been in the ready wit of the actor and the unleashing of satire to evoke instant response from the audience.

The entire tradition of performance emanates from the connection that the actor establishes with the audience. Generally, it revolves around the topical situations and what has been going on in society. The fans connect instantly with what is being said on stage and are thus ready to off-load their anger, frustration and anxiety through the number of hours that they spend in the theatre through laughter. This is their idea of a comic relief.

Usually, the atmosphere of this theatre is rural. The connection between the rural and urban provides the raw material for the action on stage. This transition is what people can easily identify with as the process is happening all the time in our country and envelops many and thus has become an issue that has gone beyond the individual or a few families.

The clash of values usually evokes laughter. Like in traditional theatre, the lines are drawn between the wicked city dwellers and the innocent yokels. This binary has been one of the archetypes of our existence and the yearning for the simplicity and less complex life style is the nostalgia that drives the underlying response from the people. In the past, with rural societies appearing static, the sameness and the stability offered a firmer foothold.

The flux of the city with changing values and the challenge it offers to the change in society is what is found to be unsettling and affords material for satire. The people laugh and smirk at the changing class relationship, often belittling the change as a betrayal of the origins. The various resettling of relationships especially in the class structure is what forms the target of the jokes and the new status usually mimicked at being a put on or crudely artificial. The change is, thus, not acceptable and is laughed at because it is only a performance and has not seeped down to be genuine change.

Tariq Teddy was fortunate in that there were many other talented actors around. It is always easier to extend the repartees if the exchange is quick and sharp. The other actors, some even more famous than Tariq Teddy, made this passage easier. In a way, it was also challenging for Tariq Teddy because it was quite a task to stand up and be counted against such talent and razor sharp wit. But the decades of being around proved that he had the reflexes to match the very best in the tradition.

It is the actors that call the shots: the plot and characterisations take a back seat. The exchange between the actors and even with the audience is raunchy, raucous and sets the theatre ablaze with a risqué built up. In this way in the absence of a well-made play, the build-up is basically improvisational and leaves the structure and the gradual build-up of conventional theatre totally behind. The performance is very local and embedded in the cultural psyche of the people especially in the northern sub-continent.

Tariq Teddy was a performer with a ready wit and a sense of timing that was exemplary as it should be for actors who build their careers on comedy. He was also very well versed with what the audiences wanted, either out of some topical occurrence or an embedded cultural trait from which it is difficult to come out and disengage. The result is often a perverse acceptance of the reality. The sense of being trapped results in a lot of outrageous confessions and Tariq Teddy was very good at brandishing the shame of it all as it resonated with the audiences as well.


The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore



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