Beo Raana Zafar loves the squealers. God help you if you’re sitting with a dour face in her audience when she’s doing her stand-up. “I call them the faalij brigade,” she says, referring to the people who are too polite to crack a smile. Those are the unfortunate souls who cannot laugh because otherwise it is virtually impossible to prevent the tears from streaming down your cheeks when her Ghaseetan goes to “feysun week” and tells the models off for wearing “chaddi frawks” or Mustaqeem the Karachi Urdu-speaking dhobi whose mother warns him, ‘Nikal rahe ho to sar pe qafan band ke nikal leo’. (Take your shroud with you just in case).
Beo is perhaps the only female Pakistani stand-up comic worth her salt and she is also one of our best kept secrets even though she’s performed for charities from coast to coast for the expat US crowd and at home, worked on Here and Now for ATV in the UK, had a successful TV One show Baar Baar Beo, is in Sabiha Sumar’s film Rafina and has written a book of poetry The Dreamer Awakens with artist Tabinda Chinoy.
Her God-given talent is an ear for an accent, an ability to mimic anyone and the firm belief that all of this must be done without turning into a diva. She once detected a Glaswegian undertone in a stuck-up British diplomat’s ersatz Etonian accent at a dinner. She first stunned and then shamed him into being himself by talking to him in his native accent.
While she can do the Imran Khans and Benazir Bhuttos, she steers clear of politicians, finding it more ethical and less tiresome to do the common folk. Take Gaffar and Jubeda the Memons or Boota the city slicker who tries to make an organ donation pitch to Ditta the country bumpkin so he lets him sell his kidney as, “Amreekanon ne pi pi kar apne gurdey sar dittay ne”. (Americans have drunk their kidneys away and need Pakistani ones now). The hot favourite though is Farkhanda, the upstart Punjabi with aspirations to be a “Woisturn toip of the person”, who flies into JKFC airpawt.
You can catch her TV work online but Beo is best enjoyed live. That is why you must turn out to watch her perform with Syed Nusrat Ali known for his fantastic impersonations of Urdu poets. They have a one-hour act at the Islamabad Literature Festival organised by the Oxford University Press on Tuesday, April 30 in a session titled ‘Tanz o Mizah’ from 5:15pm to 6:15pm in the board room at the Margalla Hotel. Please see www.karachiliteraturefestival.org/islamabad-programme for updates and changes to the schedule. And leave your pretensions at the door.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 28th, 2013.
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