In nearly 50 years of experience in show business, Sabzwari has made his audience laugh and cry in equal measure
Immensely talented, versatile and popular, Behroze Sabwari is one of Pakistan’s most successful actors. He started his career as an actor on television at the age of 11 and completed 47 years in show business earlier this year. Sabzwari received the Pride of Performance award in 2009 in recognition of the body of his work and has won awards and accolades for his acting talent all over the world. In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, he reflects on decades in show business, friendship, politics, and patriotism.
AA. You have been associated with radio, television and film for almost half a century. How has the industry changed in the period?
BS. The industry has become very commercial, especially so in the last decade. Today, it is thoroughly commercialised and more about business than art. This is both good and bad. It is good because the industry now has money and people in show business mostly make a decent living, but it is bad because there is tremendous, almost singular, focus on making money. This hurts art, creativity and originality. The fear of commercial failure makes producers, writers and directors averse to taking risks and forces them to stick to ideas that have been tried and tested. Unfettered risk-taking, scholarly recklessness and intellectual adventurism are necessary for the industry to evolve and grow. These values used to exist in the early days of television, when we had only one channel, but seem to have disappeared over the years.
AA. Do you miss the early days of the Pakistan Television Corporation?
BS. I miss those days a lot, especially the atmosphere of the television stations from the 1970s. People involved with television in the early days were well-educated, highly intelligent and exceedingly creative. The was no money to be made in television in those days; people who joined the industry, therefore, did so because they genuinely cared for the medium and wanted to be a part of something good, something artistic and creative.
People in the industry no longer take the artistic aspect of show business seriously. They have no patience and want to achieve success overnight with little hard work. We used to spend hours and hours studying the craft of acting with our seniors. I did my first play for television, Dadajan Nanajan, in 1968. The wonderfully talented and gentle Mahmood Ali and Qayyum Arif were my co-stars. My role in the play was not a big one but the two of them, along with the director, spent several days with me to make sure that I did well in the play, which was telecast live.
Acting was not something we took lightly in those days. We used to read and prepare the script for five days each week and record in the remaining two days. These days, very often, one goes to the set unprepared and is handed the script just before recording. Preparation, homework and rehearsals are no longer considered vital. A lot of people feel that looks are more important and there is no focus on teaching the craft of acting to newcomers.
AA. Many young people who have joined the industry recently act like stars that they have yet to become, with stories of their bad behaviour, unprofessionalism and tantrums becoming increasingly common. Why?
BS. The actors you refer to come from affluent families. I remember the time when people like Sahira Kazmi, Muhammad Nisar Hussain and Yawar Hayat used to make television plays. They were hard taskmasters who had no patience for indiscipline and unprofessionalism. They would have never tolerated the kind of behaviour that we often see today. Producers of the caliber of Muhammad Nisar Hussain do not exist any longer. Actors are able to intimidate producers who do not have the confidence that comes with talent and ability.
The second reason for the tolerance of misbehaviour is rampant commercialisation. Young actors start getting star treatment after a single hit. They are assumed to be guarantors of success in what has become a very risk-averse business. Actors who have a few hits to their credit thus become important and valuable and they are often considered indispensable.
AA. The slogan “Be Pakistani, See Pakistani” is being used a lot by people in the film industry these days. Do you think that seeing Pakistani films, irrespective of their quality, is a tenet of patriotism?
BS. People who raise such slogans are actually making an admission of their own shortcomings and failings. Instead of being influenced by such slogans, Pakistanis should turn the tables on the producers and ask them to demonstrate their patriotism by making truly world-class films.
AA. The world of show business is not known for friendships. Yet, you and Javed Sheikh have had an enduring friendship for almost 40 years. What has kept the two of you together as friends for so long?
BS. Javed Sheikh is a great man. I have seen him rise from being a car salesman to being the top star of Pakistani cinema and he has retained his warm, sincere and tender persona throughout. I believe that our friendship has survived for as long as it has because we genuinely care for each other and because we have been there for each other through thick and thin.
AA. Javed Sheikh has not had a lot of success with women in his life.
BS. You make an understatement — he has been particularly unlucky with women. He has had many women in his life, but is yet to find a soulmate. Javed is a ladies’ man but trust me when I tell you that he does not run after women. It is the other way around. He attracts women. He attracts them in droves. He just does not know how to choose wisely.
AA. You haven’t just stuck to television — you’ve worked on a few films as well.
BS. Yes, Javed was the one who encouraged me to do the few films I did. I wanted to do more but was not offered the kind of roles that I wanted. A lot of film-makers asked me to reprise the role of Qabacha from Tanhayiaan but I had seen people like Jamshed Ansari fail when they had done the same. I wanted people to remember Qabacha from the immensely successful serial and not from a flop film. I did not get many opportunities to play the leading man in films, which is what I wanted at the time. I played Qabacha when I was young and handsome but the role became so embedded in everyone’s minds that no one was able to visualise me as a hero.
AA. Sexual abuse, harassment and impropriety have become very common in show business. Why?
BS. These issues have always been there but the problem has become widespread as we have truly lost our moral compass. And there is only one entity to be blamed for our decline — politicians. And I refer to every single party and every single politician.
A lot of people do not know this but a lot of women in show business claim to be actors, models and singers, but they are not. They are able to afford homes and cars after one or two gigs that I can’t even think of buying after almost 50 successful years as an actor. Show business cannot support the lifestyles of these ladies. Politicians, with all their ill-gotten money, can. Our politicians have made it virtually impossible for a Pakistani to earn an honest living with dignity and respect.
AA. Do you have hope for Pakistan?
BS. Yes, I do. I worry about my country — in fact, I worry a lot about it — but I still have hope.
BS. I have hope because God is kind, fair and merciful. If we forget the elite, and the politicians, Pakistanis are, by and large, very good people. They are kind, resilient, honest, talented, generous, loving and warm. God is not going to punish them for long.
Ally Adnan lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts. He tweets @allyadnan
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 4th, 2015.