For four decades, Shadi Lal Koul reigned as one of the popular Kashmiri names in theatre, reports Nazir Rather
After graduating from Amar Singh in 1972 Shadi Lal Koul, a versatile actor of Kashmir from Chotta Bazaar-Kani Kadal in Srinagar, had no idea that a theatrical performance would inspire him to be an actor. Born in a family of businessmen where nobody had ever tried to be an actor Koul got into the theatre just by chance.
A play Kanjoose inspired him to be a theatre artist. Initially, he took it as a hobby but gradually it turned out to be his full-time engagement.
Thereafter for four decades, Koul reigned as one of the most popular Kashmiri names in comedy. And in his death on July 12, the Valley has lost a beloved artist.
In an interview with Kashmir Life five years ago, Kaul reminisced about how acting for him had started as a hobby but become a full-time profession. “In the beginning, I used to take it as a hobby but with the passage of time I got into it more enthusiastically and it became my passion,” said Koul.
The theatrical performance in which Koul made his debut was Tasruf written by Amin Shakir.
In 1981, after spending almost seven years in theatre, Koul made his debut on television with a serial called Shabrang. This serial gave him instant fame and people started recognizing him as an artist.
Koul said this serial became popular with the masses and that is why it was shown on television for three consecutive years.
This TV serial was considered to be the voice of people as it highlighted different issues confronted by the Kashmiri society. It told the story of the common people from diverse walks of life.
“This serial was popular not only in Kashmir but people in Muzaffarabad would also watch it regularly. We would receive letters from other parts of the Kashmir regarding the popularity of this serial,” Koul had told Kashmir Life at the time.
Television being the only medium of entertainment helped Shadilal to establish himself as a seasoned actor in Kashmir.
Koul worked in dozens of television serials, theatre plays and in radio dramas. But he enjoyed the comedy.
Coming from a middle-class background had helped Koul to adopt comedy in a more comfortable and natural way. He would say that the characters he played in theatre or on television had an inspiration from the real-life characters he had been observing since his childhood.
“Being a person of middle-class background gave me the opportunity to see different people in real-life situations whom I could copy in my dramas. In fact, I attribute my success to the characters whom I used to observe in day to day life. I would replicate their real-life roles on stage and on television,” Koul had said in the interview.
Koul acted in dozens of hit plays. Some of them like Gulam Begam Badshah, Cherri Truich, Adam Zaad, Local Taxes Extra, Majboor, Tikoon and, Lashger made him a household name. He is still known by the name Nik Babb in public circles.
“People don’t know me as Shadilal Koul but most of the people identify me as Nik Babb which I played in one of the serials on TV during the 90s,” he had said.
Apart from acting Koul was successful in directing some good plays like Majboor, Tikoon, Cactus and Lashger. Koul got the privilege to work with stalwarts like Om Puri and Shayam Benigal for serial Katha Sagar. He also worked with people like Ashok Jailkhani, Makhan Lal Saraf, Ayash Aarif and Nirmala Dhar.
Recalling Pandit exodus of 1989, Koul had found it difficult to get back to his acting career. But finally, it was his passion for acting and theatre that helped him stage a comeback.
“Although I managed to do some serials like Greddh, and Premnath vs Premnath after migration but it took me almost five years to get back to that momentum especially on the television”, he had said.
Koul was mindful of the therapeutic value of humour, more so, in the context of Kashmir where the prevailing abnormal situation had made life stressful.
He had even participated in a comedy-drama festival in Kashmir at SKICC in 2007 and was surprised to see a healthy response from the people. The SKICC, he recalled was thronged by people for seven long days to watch the plays.
Koul entertained people for four long decades and until his death, he was full of energy and passion for the theatre and acting. He continued to do theatre in the valley and in Jammu. He was the co-founder of Kalidas Theater which he established with his long time friend and co-actor Ayash Arif .
Shadilal rued that the peaceful environment and government patronage that was needed for the theatre to flourish was absent in Kashmir. “As a result, the message that goes to the new generation is that the theatre isn’t something that should be pursued,” Koul had bemoaned in the interview.