Smiling, laughing out loud or chortling with amusement are all important — at both the individual and collective levels in any society. The late Lehri, or Safirullah Siddiqui, as was his real name, had the capacity to bring his little burst of happiness into the lives of many people, even if only for a short time as they looked on at the cinema screen. From the mid-1950s to the 1980s, the time during which Lehri’s career lasted, he was arguably the country’s most popular comedian. His films, beginning with his first one, Anokhi, when he was still a young man, to Dhanak in the 1980s, nearly 30 years later, filled cinema houses, and today, in a more sombre age remind us of a time when things were far more happy in a country that has increasingly lost its capacity to laugh, as politically, economically and socially, we plunge into disarray.
The disappearance of smiles from the faces of people is also linked to the rapid decline of our film industry based mainly in Lollywood. The productions of today rarely excite people or bring in revenue. This collapse is unfortunate given that movies have an important space in nearly all civilised societies.
Through the years, Lehri, who died on September 13 at the age of 83 in a Karachi hospital after a long illness, had played an important part in raising the calibre of films with his inimitable style of comedy. Comedy, of course, is one of the most difficult genres to master. Lehri reigned as the king of comedy throughout his long, illustrious career.
It is a pity that we have not been able to produce actors of a similar stature —who entertain and make people laugh, especially during trying times — since Lehri’s departure from the silver screen in the 1980s. One reason for this is the lack of patronage extended to the arts at all levels, with classical music, dance, folk music and theatre all going through a prolonged slump. Lehri’s death also brings to an end far better times for cinema in the country. As a form of entertainment for people, nothing can match the movies. People today need individuals like Lehri to make them laugh in hard times.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2012.
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