We may not have had the good fortune of living in the age of Mirza Ghalib, however, we have had the delight of witnessing the sheer genius of none other than Mr. Anwar Maqsood Hameedi.
For well over 40 years, this writer par excellence has given us much to laugh about. His was the pen behind the hugely successful satirical talk show, Loose Talk, which was televised for over 8 years in Pakistan, with an impressive line-up of guests that included bureaucrats, politicians, artists, and other celebrities. He carried the parody in the true spirit of a seasoned actor. His much loved and memorable typecasting was true to life and hilarious at the same time.
FUCHSIA decided to turn the tables and placed Mr. Anwar Maqsood in the guest’s chair.
*The following are Mr. Anwar Maqsood’s answers in the first person, to the questions we asked. This interview was initially published on FUCHSIA on November 7, 2014
Honing The Arts
I was born in 1940 on September 7th and I began to write for television and paint in 1935 (a conundrum if you ask us!).
In my family, becoming an engineer or a doctor was unheard of. There were books everywhere. Only books, and us ten siblings. My nana was a poet, and a student himself of the poet Daagh. Renowned poets such as Jigar and Maulana Maudoodi would visit our home every other evening.
I was very poor in studies. I liked painting and drawing pictures with charcoal on the walls of my home; my mother’s and my grandmother’s portraits. I had no color. Once Mr. Shakir Ali came to our house and spied my drawings. He inquired “who has drawn them”? When he found out it was I, he asked me to fill color in them. “But I have no color,” said I, so he bought me some color and that marked my first exhibition in 1958. All my paintings were then bought by Mr. Jamshed Marker.
Finding A Job That Fit
I continued painting and passed my BA after much endeavor and was then offered a job in a bank, UBL, my first job. I ran away. It was not the life I would choose for myself.
I was always very fond of music. I would make cufflinks and ties and sell them in Saddar bazaar to earn some money. Due to my love for painting, music and the Arts, my friends were also like-minded.
Finally, EMI offered me a job: “In-charge” of all studio recordings. That was the first job I really felt was meant for me. I helped launch their first recording and subsequently helped launch Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali, along with many other singers that are household names now.
Getting Into Writing
I would play bridge with Zia Mohiyuddin. One day he asked me to write for the Zia Mohiyuddin Show. “Just write the way you talk to me,” he said. So I wrote the script for the last thirteen episodes of the Zia Mohiyuddin Show. He would give me a topic and I would write on it. He would say “TS Eliot”, “Virginia Woolf”, and I would know exactly what to write. I already had enough background knowledge on the topics.
Then I followed up with light writing like 50/50, and so on. Shoaib Mansoor and Arshad Mehmood approached me. They wanted a 25-minute program: 15-minute skit-and-10-minute-song.”Let us call it 50/50″, they said. So we went for it, and it went well. Then we went on to Sho Sha and produced some parodies. We hired seasoned actors to do parodies, with a script. Sho Sha was a super-hit! Bushra Ansari performed parodies. This was followed up by Showtime with many more popular parodies. Then came Loose Talk with the talented Moin Akhter, which lasted 419 episodes, 8 1/4 years, no sets, only 2 people talking to each other.
When FUCHSIA inquired whether he had ever written for Door Darshan, he said:
No…I sent one story…in which there was a Muslim boy and Indian girl…they wanted me to change it to an Indian boy and a Muslim girl…but this was not my story…there was some social and political comment as well, which they wanted me to change…and I couldn’t change that…that is my style, I cannot take too much censorship.
“Writers are unimportant”
50/50 was aimed towards the common man due to which it gained much popularity. Thus, President Zia decided to present medals to the entire 50/50 team on account of their success. Everyone was invited except me.
When I asked, “Why was I not called?” I was informed that “The main credit for the show goes to the performers. Writers are unimportant”. This upset me a great deal, so I stopped writing.
Later, I was approached by MJ Akber, an Indian writer, to write for them. So President Zia was asked permission. His response: “ Anwar Maqsood can write for you if he pleases. He only writes for you, not for us anyway.”
Governments kept changing and all Heads of State called me periodically to request, “Anwar Maqsood could you please write something on our behalf as well?” My response was: “The day you do something laudable, I will write for you. You will not have to ask me. But I cannot lie.”
When FUCHSIA asked Mr. Anwar Maqsood why he wasn’t writing as much, now that Pakistan was a democracy, he had this to say: ‘In a dictatorship, only one person will trouble you, in a democracy, everyone gains the right to bother us. Too many people are involved, thus I have ceased to write’.
What Is A Cause That’s Close To Your Heart?
I have been offered jobs all over the world But I cannot leave Pakistan. There is no place like this country. We are just ill-fated, that’s all. For me, my flag is just as reverent to me as any other flag for any other nation. Our mistake is that we made the atom bomb, if we had spent this money on education, we could have achieved something.
I consider myself a guilty man. In 50 years I have written comic scripts and made people laugh. That is worthy as well but I wish I had educated children instead. I became so busy with this work, my writing.
Sindh, Punjab, there is so much poverty in these regions. People think about themselves in this country. If we think about the other person as well, we will be so far ahead in this world. So educating our children is definitely the key.
However, I did work with a multinational company for four years and traveled from Gwadar to Gilgit and lived with these children, those who were deprived of everything. They couldn’t even write their names. I worked with the Ariel team, and I didn’t take any money for that.
When the earthquake struck in NWFP, these children’s parents called me, “The kids would come to you, please come here once and visit them”. So I went and stayed with the parents and told them, “These children were at no fault. And all this talk of any punishment for their sins is rubbish, so when you hear this announcement from the nearby mosques, please disregard this. These children were innocent. What sin could they have committed? They were all good children”.
We Need To Prioritise Education
Ever since Pakistan was made, the government’s health and education budget have been the lowest priority. In order to earn money, you have to be educated. And the people in power, the same families are coming up again and again for re-election. There are very few educated people.
Mr. Musharraf made a rule that a BA degree is essential for election candidates, but BA degrees can be bought and sold at a moment’s notice. A notable MNA produced a mark sheet for a BA degree he bought with marks in Chemistry and Physics! These are all science subjects in a BA degree!
What Is Your Creative Process Like?
Stories just happen to me. For example, when reading the newspaper in the morning; and then I observe people. If I see someone reading a book, sitting alone at a table, I see the humor or a story behind this.
People everywhere are my inspiration. I pick them up from everywhere. At the chai ki dukaan, if I feel a tea-boy fits the role, I will ask him to come in for an audition. And all these real-life characters have always done an amazing job. When I am sitting quietly in a crowd, I am actually observing people.
What Are Your Views On Pakistani Television Shows Today?
Pakistani TV has become so pathetic! In a country where the people are not literate, we have a free press. The free press is for countries where the people are educated. Then viewers do not pay heed to unnecessary sensationalism.
In Pakistan the majority of the people are illiterate, so they naturally over-react to every bit of news thrown at them. Sentences that I have not heard on the street are now being uttered on TV. So I simply can’t write in this environment. I only watch the BBC now. The news, the talk-shows on our TV at present are run on ratings – the more the anchor misbehaves with the guests, the higher the rating.
Anwar Maqsood Gives Advice To Our Readers
Always speak the truth. Because when you speak the truth, you can then forget what you said, but if you lie, you have to remember it throughout your entire life, what you said that day.
This rings true for all the children, the Prime Minister and the President. Speak the truth and forget about it. That’s all.
My dream for Pakistan is different from Allama Iqbal’s dream. His dream was for the youngsters. My dream is that the older generation in Pakistan should pass away and move aside for the new generation. The old politicians are over-powering the system.
*Edited by Areesha Khan
Shazia likes to pen her thoughts when she feels passionately about a life experience, a person or an event. She is mother to 3 lively boys and along with her husband, attempts to settle in her new country by taking German lessons so she is able to soak in the culture, language and spirit of the region.
“Wake up in the morning, take a deep breath and exhale! Keep on living with a passion that inspires others! “