If you lived in Pakistan in the 1980’s during the peak of General Ziaul Haq’s regime, you knew that even a word uttered against the said General could get you thrown behind bars. But it was precisely during that period that Majid Jehangir was given the Pride of Performance Award by the military government and that too, for his work with the political satire show “50/50”.
“50/50” had a massive following and was very critical of the government. The political satire attacked nepotism and sluggish bureaucratic policies. It criticised each and every government department, within its comical jurisdiction.
According to Jehangir, who was one of the leading actors in the show, “‘50/50’ was Shoaib Mansoor’s idea and the writer was Anwar Maqsood. The show did really well, as it appealed to the masses.”
But the satirical journey that started in 1979 abruptly came to an end when the show was at its peak in 1985. It was assumed by a lot of people that the show went off-air due to government pressure, but that is a misconception.
“It was a decision taken by the team,” says Jehangir. “We felt it would be better to bring an end to the show before the general public got completely bored. The government did not stop it, or remove it, from being aired on PTV. That is an assumption by the general public and it’s wrong.”
Now, almost two and a half decades later, Pakistani’s are witnessing the rebirth of their beloved Munwa and Babwa. Express News has aired as many as 20 episodes of the programme called “Ajab Keh Rahay Ho Bhaee”, a show that most think of as a remake of “50/50”.
However, according to Bakhtiar Ahmed, who is directing the show, to think of “Ajab Keh Rahay Ho Bhaee” as a remake is another wrong assumption. “The format of this show is entirely different – it’s not a re-make of “50/50”. Yes, most of the cast and crew is almost the same, with a little variation here and there, but the show is not only political satire. We explore a wider horizon through which we criticise social, cultural and environmental issues. Secondly, this is for the news reader and there is poetry and music entwined in this show.”
But what of the rumoured feud between Majid Jehangir and Ismail Tara that occurred after “50/50” came to an end? Most believe Tara had been upset by the fact that the Pride of Performance was awarded to Jehangir alone. Some sources state that Jehangir had once claimed that the show was famous because of his superior acting skills. Whatever the real reason was, most people hesitate to talk about it.
But Tanveer Jamal, the producer of the programme says: “There were certain problems between these two actors, which have now been sorted out. I played the part of the third-party mediator and I can very well assure you that they are better friends now”.
The show is doing well,” says Faisal Sayani, the executive producer of the program. “Tara and Jehangir are both gems, and it’s great to have them on board. We think that production and writing can improve significantly though.”
According to Jamal, “The programme has received very good ratings and if we are asked to go ahead with the programme by the news channel for, let’s say six months to a year, we won’t think twice”. The show is currently under contract for 26 episodes.
The final word comes from Ismail Tara who is also part of the team. “I had problems when I joined this show as I was doing serious plays before this. Now I am gearing myself to revert to my old style to provide better comic relief to the masses. Secondly, I think we should do satire on general issues, not just on politicians. That trend is too old now. In this way, once it goes off-air, people can enjoy it on YouTube, as they still enjoy ‘50/50’.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2011.