Umer Sharif -A Phenomenal Being
He came, he performed and he conquered. Umer Sharif, the undisputed king of comedy, has for three decades repeatedly won the hearts of millions with his hilarious anecdotes. After trying his hand at more than twenty fields in the showbiz, the veteran performer has now gone into social work and laid the foundation of a charity hospital. Mag4you.com had the privilege of interviewing this multi-faceted comedian and of exploring the hidden phases of his career. Excerpts:
Who is Umer Sharif?
That's the wrong question to ask me! You should ask my colleagues that, they will give you interesting comments. If you want to know what I think of myself, I'm just an ordinary man trying to be a good human.
How and when did you make an entry into the showbiz world?
It was not an accident. I am a born actor and acting and comedy skills are in my blood. I have never taken professional training. I just have that knack for acting, mimicking and writing, and God made ways for my entry.
Who is your favourite comedian?
Munawar Zareef. Although you can't find his influence in my acts, I am his biggest admirer.
How did you get the novel idea of selling video cassettes of your stage plays?
The attitude of our state television forced me to do so. I did it to let our work reach the masses. Till today no play from the television industry has been able to reach the fame and popularity of my stage-show Bakra Qiston Per.
What do you think are the main factors behind the decline of comedy theatre?
Because what is being portrayed today in the stage shows is sheer vulgarity and not comedy. And a family man does not want to watch obscene moves and intimate innuendo acts with his family.
What do you feel when people try to earn fame by using your jokes?
I have followers all over the world; many big names of the Indian film industry like Akshay Kumar, Govinda and Johnny Lever openly admit that they've learned a lot from my stage plays. It's disgusting that many of Pakistani comedians while visiting India often openly copy my punch-lines and cite them as their own. Those people should, instead of plagiarising, try to create something new and earn fame respectably.
Some traits a good comedian should have?
Sharp observation skills are the chief prerequisite since our shows are reflections of this same observation. We derive subjects from real life stories, mould them to the tone of the drama, add a flavour of humour and they become hilarious acts for the audience with thought-provoking messages. A good comedian should also be humble, committed to work, and extremely punctual. These traits will not only make him a good comedian but also a great human being.
It has been a long time since you produced, directed or acted in any film. Is there any specific reason for it?
My ongoing projects on television and social work consume most of my time. It is a depressing fact that our film industry is now virtually dead. It experienced such a golden era when the industry was based in Karachi. Then the stories moved from the urban to the horrible Gujjar tales and that sophisticated touch vanished from the screen. I believe that if the film industry ever makes a re-emergence it can only be from Karachi.
How was your experience of being the Advisor for Cultural Affairs to the Chief Minister of Sindh?
It was a wonderful experience and an honour for me to have been offered such a prestigious job. I was already working for the welfare of artistes but after becoming an advisor to the Chief Minister I put all my efforts into it. I knew that my words now had more impact; it helped me in solving many delayed issues.
Any intention of joining politics?
Politics is a full time job. Being an actor I can't afford to have a political career; I have a tough working schedule with deadlines. But I am very concerned about the welfare of the masses and so I participate in a lot of social activities.
Your son is taking some professional training from abroad before entering showbiz; have you encouraged him to do so?
Of course I've encouraged him. When he has resources he should polish his skills by properly utilising them and acquiring technical knowledge. At present he is producing all my shows and will soon make an entry into acting and direction.
You are planning to build a hospital, tell us something about that?
Actually the project started out when I was Advisor to the CM on Cultural Affairs. I have dedicated this hospital to my mother. It is my dream to have this hospital functioning well. It is a large project and requires heavy investment. Wherever I go, whatever work I am doing, I try to raise funds for it. The hospital will provide state-of-the-art health facilities with proper medical care to all those who can't afford their medical expenses. In my hospital I have reserved 50 beds out of 200 for the people of the showbiz. Many are living in destitute conditions and I want to do this especially for them. Our work has almost been completed and I had plans to initiate the OPD on 27th Ramadan this year, but as I am busy with the welfare of IDPs, I have postponed the inauguration.
What is your say on the floods and the future operations?
It is a natural disaster and we have been once again tested by God. It is now up to us to come out of this as a nation. I am doing my best for the relief of the flood victims. The whole showbiz community is helping in fundraisers; we visit public places like markets and plead the masses to donate for the cause. For me they are not just flood victims, they are our guests and we have to treat them as such.
Are you planning on taking this fundraising abroad?
Yes of course. I am going to America, Canada and the Gulf countries after Eid where I will plead the Asian community to participate in this noble cause by donating.
What message do you want to give the nation at this difficult time?
It is time to forget our immediate needs and help these poor people. They are our brothers, and our foremost aim should be to give them strength to survive this tragedy and overcome their losses. We have to show the same passion as we did at the 2005 earthquake disaster and to rebuild the flood-hit areas. We have to set an example that others can follow.