By Zubair Qureshi
Thirty years in field, Shah Sharahbeel has enriched theatre with some memorable musicals. The Best is yet to come!
All our life, we have been waiting for a Hero (not necessarily a sports hero), a Saviour and a Liberator. But what if there is no such hero in our fate at all. What if we have to bear up with our locally manufactured men of flesh and blood with no superhuman characteristics? You might not have thought about this but I keep thinking such things.
The eminent stage director and performer Shah Sharahbeel talks like that. He casts a spell on his listeners with such new, innovate and awesome ideas, remotely fetched nuances of truth, romance and idealism. One finds them in his plays as well. In his quest for justice—he says justice is the first and the foremost prerequisite of a civilized society—he has been directing plays, English musicals.
Known for making stars rather than casting stars in his plays, Sharahbeel’s latest musical “Twins Apart” the only Urdu musical so far by him, was in town at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts staged from April 4 to April 15, 2019. The play remained open to audience for over ten days and each day it was a House Full performance.
Besides Twins Apart, Shah Sharahbeel has given stage some very famous memorable musicals like “Moulin Rouge,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Bombay Dreams.”
What brought you to Pakistan?
As you know I am currently settled in London but visiting Pakistan these days specifically for the show of Twins Apart in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore. I am also working on a project that is my lifelong ambition a play that will be staged some four years from now in all the four provincial headquarters and Islamabad simultaneously and will remain open for quite some time. At present I am working on it and have devoted all my attention to that project, he said.
Why you chose theatre as medium to convey your message?
I am a “Lahori” by birth and have a lasting love for theatre, the performing art. “There is no other medium in the world with which you can influence a heart, send across a message that is so powerful and impactful than theatre,” says he. Moreover it runs in my blood as my mother Ismat Tahira is a well known TV artist of early 70s and 80s.
I opted for theatre as in theatre there is no second chance, no re-take. Either you are clicked or fizzled out that’s all.
What is the reason why don’t see growth in theatre as we see in TV dramas, films etc?
In fact, art thrives in a society that delivers to its people. Unfortunately, in the past successive governments could not give health, education, food to its people how could they support art and culture and other such initiatives.
What kind of people you portray in your musicals?
Through my plays I interact with a lot of people, the powerful, the movers and the shakers, the decision makers, the intelligentsia, the common people, rikshaw wala and a simple street walker and in return I portray them their various grades and shades in my plays. Stage provides me a chance to see life from close quarters.
What are the ingredients of a successful stage play?
A stage play or a musical is a complete package, a bit of entertainment, a bit of serious message, some dance, performance funny and the emotional.
It’s said you always try new talent in your plays. Why?
It is true I always look for the new talent as it has been my style. Ever since I started doing theater in 1990, policy of our theater was to maintain family-oriented values and that’s why I believe in ‘manufacturing stars’ rather than going for big names and professionals. It feels good when the actors who have worked with me and are now doing well take out time for my plays and I ensure that they get to say encouraging things about the newcomers.
How do you look back at your journey in stage direction, is it something to cherish?
In 2020, I will be completing 30 years on stage which is quite an achievement in Pakistan and I think it is a long time. It has been a great journey. My quest for justice is not over and I shall continue with it in my plays.
How do you find working in Islamabad?
I have a special love-hate relation with Islamabad. In late 1990s I fell in love with the city. There were so many performances and high profile people used to attend them like Gen Musharraf and his PM Shaukat Aziz and members of cabinet, etc.
Then in 2004 onwards a few conspiracies started in the bureaucratic circles and the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry backed them and I thought it best to leave Pakistan. However, now I am planning to return and work on my longtime project with renewed zeal.