Pakistan’s legendary comic and actor Umer Sharif was laid to rest in Karachi last week.
If you lived through the ‘80s in Pakistan, you are bound to have shared certain memories with anyone else who was around at the same time.
Mornings were incomplete without Chacha Ji, Mustansir Hussain Tarar, accompanying subah ki chai. Political polemic was at an all-time high. You couldn’t have escaped the decade without owning at least one dhoti shalwar and a poufy-sleeved kameez. Karachi was constantly under curfew and bomb blasts were a purely Karachi thing. Travel to the city of Karachi by road or train was perilous: we were told that there will definitely be robbers laying in wait somewhere around Dadu.
The rest of the country also knew Karachi through the tapes they excitedly rented to watch comedy sensation Umer Sharif. He was loud, irreverent, politically incorrect, and to be honest, really quite hilarious.
Umer Sharif brought comedy to the Karachi stage, and video tapes of these shows made their way around Pakistan. Eid ul Azha, for a while meant that there would be a new Bakra Qiston Pe to enjoy later, and with the arrival of NTM, would be rerun on television through Eid too.
Umer Sharif was a working-class hero, with the humor to match. His brand of comedy was distinctly very Karachi, in the words he spoke and how he delivered them, in the observations he made, and in the biases and proclivities his jokes displayed.
For most people in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Umer Sharif stage shows were theatre. While there were troupes like Ajoka around at the time, perhaps that was theatre inaccessible to the masses. When Umer Sharif wrote a joke, he wrote what he knew. He spoke of the culture he had grown in, and the culture that was inexplicably privileged and ‘modern’. If you are to understand the class dynamics in Pakistan, Umer Sharif’s shows can definitely shed some light on them. We may be sitting 40 years in the future from when the shows were performed, but they will inform the mindsets and beliefs that have brought us to the socio-economic dynamics that exist today.
Many of Umer Sharif’s jokes would not fly anymore. He routinely made jokes about women, and women were greatly objectified in his shows. But we still laughed, because Umer Sharif aimed to make everyone laugh, and he got there one way or another.
One fan shares a personal anecdote with us, which may be telling of Sharif’s knack for comedy and quick-wittedness.
This fan, age 8, accompanied her mother, two sisters, and three cousins backstage to meet Umer Sharif once.
Positivley dripping with sweat and obviously exhausted from his performance, Sharif took one look at this crew and deadpanned: “eik hi ghar mein itni larkian? Bohat Lakshmi hai.”
This week we bade farewell to the Karachi comedian. He entertained us through times there were scarce options, and leaves behind a legacy of laughter.