“Even a fool knows you can’t touch the stars, but it won’t keep the wise from trying.”
American actor Harry Anderson’s quote gives hope to struggling actors, who typically have to face trials and tribulations before making a name for themselves. But in Pakistan, many talented and trained theatre artists have not only given up hopes of stardom, they have also abandoned their craft altogether due to lack of opportunities.
Judging from the deluge of soaps, short serials and telefilms on countless TV channels in Pakistan, one would think that amateur artists are getting ample of opportunities to showcase their talent. But this is far from true. Many young theatre performers, who have won accolades for their stage performances, have failed to find opportunities in the seemingly burgeoning industry of TV entertainment.
Saqib Khan, a former student of National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) who impressed everyone in the theater play Meri Jaan in 2009, has failed to find a job in TV serials. The trained actor is currently co-hosting a news show called “Aadhi Raat Tak” on Express News. “My diploma has had absolutely no use,”the young performer said ruefully.
Khan, a former Electronic Engineer from NED University of Engineering and Technology, had abandoned engineering to pursue his passion for acting. Yet three years after graduating from NAPA, he has still not found an opportunity to act in television. Consequently, the dejected actor finally resorted to anchoring a television show. “After my theatre performances, some people offered me acting roles in television but their haughty and self-important attitude put me off,” Khan explained.
The trained artist, who is also a writer, strongly believes that physical appearance matters a great deal in television today and one plausible hurdle in his way is that he does not have the right look for television.
“Unlike the bygone era of PTV when talent was rewarded, the industry currently strongly emphasises on commercialism,” Khan said in dismay. “Nowadays serials and shows on TV have to satisfy the advertisers and hence, even if you are extremely talented but your looks aren’t suitable, you will never be able to make it.”
Other disenchanted actors have similar grim tales of rejection to relay. Rauf Afridi, a student at NAPA who is popularly known as ‘the Pathan of Karachi theatre’, hosts a show by the name of “Reporter Pakistani”. “I have sent recordings of my theatre plays to so many places but I have not received a single response till today. So just to make ends meet, I had to join a news channel,” said a disappointed Afridi.
The young artist is vehemently against formal training in acting. “Formal training has not helped me at all. I feel that I have wasted three years in learning the craft and had I done an MBA, things would have been much better for me. “
However, Ali Rizvi, another theatre performer, who also co-hosts “Aadhi Raat Tak”, disagreed with this stance. He stresses on the need for educated actors and film-makers in the market. “A couple of qualified actors standing alone can’t change anything. So it’s about time that trained professionals enter the market and change the dynamics of the industry.”
Though Rizvi has starred in the hit TV drama “Perfume Chowk”, he still financially relies on his job as a news anchor. “I get merely Rs6,000-7,000 for 24 hours of strenuous shooting for a drama serial and Rs1,000 for less than two hours of work for a news show, recorded in an air-conditioned studio. I am willing to quit my current work if I get acting offers, but the chances of that happening are slim.”
Such wasted talent is certainly a blow to theatre in Pakistan, which is already in decline. Legendary actors like Robin Williams, Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Anthony Hopkins and Naseerudin Shah used theatre to polish their craft before transitioning to the silver screen. Renowned Pakistani actors like Moin Akhtar and Sajid Hasan also started out in theatre before becoming household names in television. Yet, now theatre, which gives young actors a chance to hone their craft before moving to the small or big screen, is dying in Pakistan precisely because its performers are not given opportunities for professional development.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2011.