Shakeel — the eternal hero of Pakistani TV

Shakeel — the eternal hero of Pakistani TV

From radio to theatre, film and eventually TV, Shakeel was a true representation of what a hero should be.
03 Jul, 2023

It was the tail-end of 1991 when the then captain of the Pakistan cricket team, Imran Khan, came to our school to collect funds for his Shaukat Khanum Hospital. School and colleges played a huge role in the initial funding for the hospital Imran had visualised for cancer patients. The World Cup down under was just around the corner and he was set to leave for Australia in a couple of weeks. An ‘eligible bachelor’, he was the centre of attention for both cricket crazy boys like us as well as the teaching staff who were mostly female.

All the teachers who usually came to school with the lightest of makeup were decked out with semi bridal makeup. However, there was only one teacher who was unmoved and unchanged. The head of the arts section, known to all as Mrs Shakeel, not only introduced Imran to the audience but also remained calm throughout. It was later revealed that she had a far bigger star at home who had been charming audiences since before Imran was making his Test debut as a teenager.

Shakeel, the veteran actor, was appearing in Fatima Surayya Bajiya’s Uroosa and Haseena Moin’s Kohar at the time of Imran’s arrival, and had mesmerised generations with his work and personality.

Shakeel was not only an actor, but a true representation of what a hero should be. Dressed immaculately, he had a sense of nearly everything that made a man look dashing. He was a product of the era when “chocolate heroes” — a young, fresh-faced hero specialising in romantic roles — were all the rage.

Born Yousuf Kamal in Bhopal, India nine years before Partition, he migrated to Pakistan by the early 50s. By 1965, he was working at an ad agency in Karachi and would quench his thirst for creativity by appearing in theatre productions. It was here he was spotted by film director SM Yusuf, who offered him the role of Waheed Murad’s younger brother in Honehar.

Poet Fayyaz Hashmi and SM Yusuf chose Shakeel as his stage name and he was introduced to the world. In the presence of actors Syed Kamal and Yousuf Khan, directors SM Yuusuf and Iqbal Yusuf, a combination of Yusuf and Kamal would not have survived. Though hailed for his uncanny resemblance to Hollywood star Tony Curtis, Shakeel sailed while Honehar sank at the box-office. By 1970, Shakeel had lots of offers and he continued with films, but within a few years he realised that films were not his cup of tea.

After several flops and watching actors with unconventional looks dominate, Shakeel moved to TV. Unlike Talat Hussain, who reverted from his film name Farooq Jalal when opting for TV, Shakeel did not shed his.

It was in the early 70s, Shakeel got noticed with Haseena Moin’s long play Happy Eid Mubarak. His pairing with Neelofer Aleem became popular and was instrumental in the success of Shehzori, another of Moin’s earliest hits on PTV. Soon afterwards, he played the titular role of Uncle Urfi, where he had no qualms about playing a middle-aged person, despite being in his mid-30s at the time. Since then, Shakeel never looked back.

Like Moin, Shakeel also became a necessity for the dramas by veteran playwright Fatima Surayya Bajjiya, with Afshan, Ana and Uroosa being prime examples. Bajjiya’s younger brother Anwar Maqsood also used Shakeel to perfection as Mehboob Ahmed in the 1984 classic Aangan Terha. As a retired civil servant who used to work in the Meteorological department, he enacted the role with perfection. He used to tease his on-screen wife Jahan Ara (played by Bushra Ansari) and enjoy one-liners from his dancer-turned-servant Akbar, one of Saleem Nasir’s best roles to date.

Shakeel continued to enthral audiences for over half a century. Be it as Taimur Ahmed in the 1982 Ankahi, King Abu Abdullah from 1983’s Shaheen, Taufiq in the 1991 magnum-opus Uroosa, Babar sahab in Chand Girhan (1992), Ehsaan of Tum Se Mil Kar (1999) or later dramas like Meri Zaat Zara Bay-nishaan (2009) and Mujhe Mere Khuda Pe Yaqeen Hai (2013), Shakeel was a man who made the viewer believe the character he was. He even portrayed the first prime minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, in Jamil Dehlvi’s film Jinnah in the late 90s.

He was also awarded the Presidential Pride of Performance award for his contributions in the field of acting in 1992.

Shakeel had a unique record — he was the first actor from films to excel on TV in both serials and long plays, he appeared in the first coloured TV drama Parchaiyan, worked on children’s sci-fi show Tick Tick Company, appeared in the first serial shot abroad by PTV and was the first of many actors who appeared in the blockbuster Chand Girhan, the big budgeted serial from Pakistan’s first private channel NTM.

Shakeel started out in radio when he went over as part of the school broadcast programme. Due to his excellent English, he did some shows on radio but could not keep up with it. Theatre seemed more appropriate for him, but he settled for TV. Just like his debut on TV, which was on Eid in the early 70s, the curtain was lowered on his life on another Eid day.

Shakeel lived like a hero and just like his dramas, bowed out in the presence of his loved ones.