What can be more rewarding for an actor than people remembering him for a role he played. Sumayyah Qureshi talks to the most known face of Kashmiri TV serials.
People know him as Shams-u -Din, a character he played in one of his serials, Shabrang, some two decades ago and still greet him by the name.
“When an actor is recognized by a role he plays, it’s the biggest compliment. A lot of people also think that I am a Muslim,” says 55-year-old Shadi Lal Kaul.
Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit was born in the Kani Kadal area of Srinagar, but Shams-u-Din was a Muslim character, hence the confusion.
Kaul remembers one incident when he was shooting his serial ‘Jatt’e Wanai’ in Botanical Garden in Srinagar. After the shooting was over, children and young men watching, raised slogans ‘Shams-u-Din agey bado ham tumhare saath hai. “I had never imagined I would get this much of respect and love from my audience,” says Kaul.
Most of his roles, he says, were inspired by the years he spends with his Muslim neighbours and friends in Srinagar.
Kaul says he never had problems in portraying the roles of a middle-class society because he has grown up in one.
Known for his humour and comic roles Kaul started his acting career with street plays in 1974. “My first street play attracted more than 5000 people, I got a huge response and then I didn’t look back,” says Kaul.
With the start of the Kalidas theatre of which he is the founder member, things started to move in his acting career on a larger scale, he narrates.
In a career spanning more than three decades, Kaul had acted in different roles but the most popular are the comic ones. And he is happy about it.
If people get a moment of satisfaction and relief after a hard day, my work is done says Kaul. “They say if you make a person laugh, you will go to heaven,” says Kaul.
He, however, adds that the serials carried “a social message and they don’t have those double meaning dialogues. Our humour is rich and people here love it,” he says.
Though in some serials and plays he has acted in serious roles he says, “Now onwards I will do only humour, no serious shows.”
A few years ago Kaul suffered a tragedy when he lost his teenage son to cancer. “The death of my son was a blow… It has brought me down to earth,” says Kaul.
Having no formal training in acting, Kaul considers himself a self-taught actor. But, he gives credit to Ali Mohammed Kuchay, who helped a group of amateurs in Kani Kadal including Koul to make a play.
Shadi says, his experience with theatre plays helped him chisel his acting skills. “Theatre helps actors learn about costumes, makeup, set designing, light designing. Doing theatre helps to become active and humble.”
The migration of the Pandit community in the 1990’s started the decline of the theatre in Kashmir. Kaul also migrated to Jammu. He has not done theatre since he left Kashmir. “Yes, I miss the theatre. I did my last theatre play in 1987,” he said.
Kaul got a lot of support from his parents especially his mother, who was an avid watcher of his plays, he says.
He recalls the days when there were so many theatre groups in Kashmir, and all would compete to perform better. Some of these theatre groups were Sangam, Kala Kender, Vasant theatre, Rang Manch and Kalidas.
Another reason for the decline of theatre, Kaul says, is people have stopped writing for theatre who instead write for the television serials as there is more money.
About the acting scenario in Kashmir Kaul explains: “We have no guides and the biggest setback to actors here has been the closure of cinemas and theatre due to turmoil. There are chances of its revival. It will take some years if things go well.
“There is so much talent. But, people are not dedicated. The new breed of actors has no idea how to act. And with the mushrooming of private producers, things have gone worse. Actors come straight to the sets and give a shot; there are no rehearsals, no dialogue delivery practice,”
Kaul would be training a group of budding actors in Kashmir, who would be selected through an audition. “We will select a group of 20 budding actors and teach them about movements, turns, comic timing. Finally, they will be cast in a serial. If it is a success, we will increase the intake capacity,” he says. Kaul will be conducting a 20 days acting workshop for them.
Kaul considers TV director Farooq Nazki as the biggest showman of Kashmir, however, adds, “I am more comfortable working with Ayash Arif. He knows me well as an actor.”
The various theatre plays Kaul has done include Tasruf (1975), Guer Bueth, Dastaar, Zalur, Local Taxes Extra.
Some of his television serials include Amaar, Adam Zaad, Pazar Yeli Muod, Pagah Sholi Duniya, Anjaam, Ghulam Begam Badshah, Jetti Wanai, Naav Daar Aab, Soada, Treti Buzun and Gaash Pholnas Taam.
His work has earned him a huge fan following besides many awards. But, the best award, Kaul says, is the appreciation he gets from people.