Kopykats Productions, the thespian organisation famous for staging plays that run to full houses, mostly in collaboration with writer Anwar Maqsood, is now dabbling in a new genre of stage performance. This June, Kopykats’ CEO Dawar Mahmood will be presenting a stand-up comedy act, placing on stage a performer who has a range of iconic comic enactments to her credit — Bushra Ansari.
It’s an exciting prospect and it’s also one that makes so much sense that you wonder why no one has thought of it before. Ansari is a veteran actor of many talents but many of her best-loved performances have been in the comic genre. Back in PTV’s heyday, she would often be part of the witty repartee which identified the work of Anwar Maqsood and the late Moin Akhtar.
Maqsood would play the host while Akhtar and Ansari would be eccentric characters answering his questions. She would sing songs or have her hair up in pigtails, eyes wide as she quipped and commented in Fifty Fifty, the Maqsood-Shoaib Mansoor collaboration for TV back in the 80s.
Many years later, she was the iconic tongue-in-cheek Saima Chaudhry in Nadeem Baig and Marina Khan’s Baraat series of dramas.
She will now be testing new waters with a one-hour long stand-up show where the spotlight will solely be on her. The show is titled Malka-e-Tabassum Bushra Ansari, which means the Queen of Smiles. It’s an apt name, considering how often Ansari has made her TV audience smile and break into laughter. The show will first run its course in Karachi before going on to Lahore and Islamabad.
But while Ansari may be extraordinary on TV, an hour long stand-up show is a different ballgame. Keeping a live audience riveted with an hour long solo performance is a challenging task. Why did Kopykats Productions decide to venture with a stand-up show especially since the group now has the expertise of staging hit plays and has a loyal audience for it?
“It’s a passion project,” Mahmood told Images. “I have personally enjoyed watching stand-up comedy all my life. My career in theatre now spans 20 years — I started out when I was 14! — and 99 per cent of the work that I have done has been in the comic genre. It is challenging but it can also be extremely rewarding. I think that I now have an understanding of the theatrics and gimmicks necessary for comedy.
“We’ve actually tried our hand at stand-up comedy before, in small-scale shows. Last year, we did test runs with a one-man show featuring Anwar Maqsood. We then did one with Zia Mohyeddin and another with Sajid Hasan. We didn’t advertise these shows and simply scheduled a weekend where they were exclusively staged to corporate clients. We took notes constantly and now, finally, we’re ready to launch full-scale — and who better to launch with than the queen of comedy, Bushra Ansari?” he said.
For Ansari, stand-up comedy may require a different kind of performance but it isn’t one that she is entirely unacquainted with. “I have been performing live for perhaps the last 40 years,” she said.
“I go on tour to the UK, the USA and Canada, and I am often alone on stage, having conversations with the audience. I have also performed now and then with other artists like Behroze Sabzwari or Naumaan Ijaz or my sister Asma Abbas. A stand-up comedy show will be different, of course, but I hope that I can do it.
“Dawar had actually been asking me to do this with him for two years now but I had been busy with multiple commitments. I am convinced by his work. He is very hardworking and understands the audience. As an artist, once I sign on to something, I leave myself in the hands of the director. That’s what I’ll be doing in this case too. I am currently researching and brainstorming over the script. Then, we’ll begin rehearsing,” she added.
“And yes, of course it’s a risk but this has never deterred me. I enjoy experiencing new things. My earlier work in comedy had been with Moin and Anwar Sahab. Now, I will be on stage alone,” she said.
Ansari doesn’t consider herself “comical looking” so she says she has to rely on performing her lines with comic elements. “The audience has certain expectations of me. They don’t want to see me slip on a banana skin and make them laugh. The script I am constructing has to be relevant without being shallow or resorting to below-the-belt humour,” said the veteran actor.
The ‘below-the-belt humour’ that Ansari referred to is a frequent element in present day stand-up comedy shows. Sexual innuendo and making personal jokes is often used to create shock value on the pretext of it being ‘funny’.
Malka-e-Tabassum Bushra Ansari on the other hand is being planned out in a different way. “It’s going to be script unique to Bushra Ansari,” explained Mahmood.
“A lot of times I have observed that women don’t have the comic timing that men do in the stand-up genre. They are too concerned with being woke and that kills off half their performance. There can’t be any rules in comedy. The audience has to take a joke as a joke, have a laugh and go back home. Bushra Ansari isn’t worried about being woke at all. She’s very funny, her comic timing is impeccable and she’s a seasoned performer,” he said.
“The content director of the show is Syed Nini and I am the director. The show will premiere in Karachi on June 14 and will continue to be staged till July 21 at Karachi Arts Council,” he outlined. “Then, we will stage it for 20 days in Islamabad and 20 days in Lahore. Sometimes, there will be two shows per day.”
Is Ansari ready to come on stage for such extensive time-spans?
“Yes,” said Mahmood.
“Yes,” said Ansari.
Yes, we’ll be watching.