Anwar Maqsood’s wordplay is unrivaled.
His writing is legendary, a riveting combination of wit, flair for political satire and unadulterated Urdu that others may try to replicate but are unable to do so. Every word he writes is carefully weighed to deliver impact; the one-liners, the anecdotes and the pauses laced with patriotic emotion.
He is writing one such script when I go to meet him. There are papers strewn around him, etched with lines upon lines of Urdu dialogue. He’s writing the final scene for a play that is about to be staged this August.
With Kyon Nikala?, Maqsood returns to stage after three and a half years, collaborating once again with Dawar Mehmood of KopyKats Productions.
“People are wondering if the title of the play is referring to Nawaz Sharif but it isn’t,” he says. “It’s the story of a Bengali servant who has been working in the house of a PML-N worker in Lahore for 30 years. The story is about him and because we’re about to have elections, it is themed around elections.
"All the various political parties are there – PML-N, People’s Party, Imran Khan, Fazal-ur-Rehman and the MQM – and it comments on what actually happens during elections, how money ensures wins and declarations are made.”
Will he be changing the ending of his play once the elections take place later this month and the results are released? “Regardless of the results, my play will remain the same,” he says. “I do hope that the elections manage to take place on time and safely.”
He is, it seems, quite preoccupied with the elections. Politics have always interested him and much of his written work is dominated by blunt commentaries on current affairs. Even now, our conversation flits often towards the current political scenario.
Regardless of the election results, my play will remain the same, says Anwar Maqsood of 'Kyun Nikala'
“Look at what’s going on; how a political party may say that it represents the youth but can’t summon any young leaders to represent it. It has enlisted aged representatives in a bid to win. Still, I believe that Imran Khan may offer a ray of hope because he is not corrupt when it comes to money.”
He continues, “My loyalties are not to any one province or political party; they are to my country. These are all things that I write about and people listen to me because I am wholeheartedly Pakistani.”
His large fan following has ensured that each and every play that he has penned for stage so far – six in all – have run to full houses across the country. He can veritably be credited for having revived the culture for theatre-going – his Pawnay 14 August created quite a furor back in 2012 and ever since, his scripts have particularly ensured full houses.
“People came to watch Pawnay 14 August the way they watch movies,” he recalls. “Before that play, I had never written for stage. Many people had approached me, among them Alhamra and the Arts Council, asking me to write stage plays but I had refused, focusing on TV. But then, these boys from Islamabad came up to me and asked me to write a script for them. I didn’t know them at all but they were very persistent. They performed a few scenes from my past play Aangan Terha for me and then a few scenes from Half Plate. Finally, I agreed. That’s how things started out.”
So far, all of Maqsood’s scripts have been enacted on stage by Kopykats Productions and yet, after his last play with them, Siachen, he chose to take a sabbatical. The writer is infamous for being protective about the scripts that he writes and according to him, the boys had started changing the words in his scripts.
“It’s something that I cannot allow. I need a script to be enacted the way that I have envisioned it and even famous directors like Shoaib Mansoor, Mohsin Ali and Nasir Hussain have never changed my words. But these boys had started doing it and I felt that I needed to take a break.”
“Moin Akhtar and I filmed a total of 397 episodes of Loose Talk and my script would be extremely detailed. I needed him to cough only at a certain point, to place his foot angrily on the table at a particular time, to bang the table with his hand just when I wanted to. I told him that, ‘Moin, you can only cough at a certain time. Even if you genuinely want to cough before this, don’t do it’. And he always followed the instructions to a tee.”
“With live stage performances, everything cannot be controlled. It’s why I have, to this date, never seen any one of my plays. But I do know that Dawar Mehmood is a very talented director and he knows how to make his cast act. This new play has new actors in the cast as well as some who have worked with KopyKats before. I hope that they manage to enact the story well.”
People came to watch Pawnay 14 August the way they watch movies, says Anwar Maqsood
Additionally, Maqsood is currently working on various skits with mimic and actor Syed Shafaat Ali in a series called Faisla Mehfooz Hai that is being aired on ARY TV. “With the elections coming up, there’ll be episodes covering every political party,” he says.
And after the elections, there will be Kyon Nikala? He is also planning to write Sarrhay 14 August – which will probably be the last episode in the 14 August omnibus that he started with KopyKats six years ago.
Genuinely original comedy with doses of patriotism, penned especially for Pakistan, is rare. In fact, it would be completely true to say that Maqsood stands alone in this genre. May his work continue – for the love of entertainment, for the love of Pakistan.