Acting, hosting, writing, educating and entertaining — the only name that comes to mind when you think of someone so multi-talented is Shoaib Hashmi. A professor of economics associated with Government College Lahore for most of his life, Shoaib was the right person at the right time for a PTV that was expanding its transmission after the Fall of Dhaka.
Considered the pioneer of satire on state-owned TV, he had an eye for talent, hand on the nation’s pulse, a progressive background and magic in his pen.
Born in 1938, Shoaib remained a saviour for PTV throughout the 70s. After completing his education — a Masters from the London School of Economics and a course from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art — Shoaib returned to Pakistan and started his professional life. In the morning, he was teaching economics at Government College and in the evening he was entertaining the masses on TV. Akkar Bakkar was his first production on TV, which was a desi version of Sesame Street. People still remember the show because of its skits and the tall Big Bird aka Bee Battakh.
Bee Battakh brought Farooq Qaisar of Uncle Sargam fame to the front. Qaisar was a student at the National College of Arts where Shoaib’s wife Salima Hashmi ran the show. Akkar Bakkar was followed by Taal Matol and Sach Gupp, shows that were more political commentaries than entertainment. Taal Matol and Sach Gupp introduced veterans Salman Shahid, Samina Ahmed, Naveed Shahzad, Irfan Khoosat and Arshad Mahmood to TV.
Hasnat Ahmed and Ahmed Shafi used to speak in English without knowing much about the language. “Gentleman lady” became famous as a synonym for a lady from their skit. ‘Suno Such Gupp Karo Gup Shup’ was the famous song that brought actor/musician Arshad Mahmood to the fore after he proved his worth behind the screen. Shoaib was the one who introduced the legendary Nayyara Noor through one of his programmes on TV.
Facing the music
After enjoying a progressive period during the Bhutto era, Shoaib had to face the wrath of General Ziaul Haq. He clearly was aware of the thin line between real pun and phakkar pun but, sadly, the men in charge did not. When Shoaib’s TV show Balila was aired in the late 70s, it hit the martial law regime hard and had to be taken off air. Balila, a car by Fiat, was shown to be abandoned in a courtyard while everyone else was busy with their work. A depiction of Pakistan, it was taken off air after a couple of episodes were aired and “decoded” by the martial law regime.
If that was not enough, he was amongst the 80 enlightened and progressive teachers from various government colleges who were transferred to remote areas of the country at the time. Shoaib was sent to Pind Dadan Khan for a couple of years.
His link with veteran poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz — his wife Salima was Faiz’s daughter — was also a factor in his punishment and later detention. Known for his criticism of army rules, Faiz remained in exile till 1982 and Shoaib served as the perfect substitute for the literary giant. Be it the women’s right struggle or a movement by labourers, Shoaib Hashmi was there to lead the cause.
He was the recipient of both the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz and the coveted President’s Award for Pride of Performance.
Shoaib was paralysed after a stroke over a decade ago. He remained bedridden for years and finally passed away on May 15, 2023, survived by his wife Salima and two children.
Shoaib Hashmi was a literary genius who will be remembered as the man who brought colour in the lives of viewers back in the days of black and white transmission.