Yousuf Kamal, known more widely as “Shakeel” passed away yesterday at the age of 85. Shakeel sahab’s legacy on Pakistan Television has been marked by shows like ‘Ankahi’ and ‘Aangan Terha’, but he gave Pakistan television its first urban male lead in the 70s.
While PTV had presented great shows like ‘Alif Noon’, ‘Khuda Ki Basti’ and ‘Jhok Siyaal’, they all centered on the working class or rural life, which in fairness showed the reality of Pakistan. However, Shakeel sahab embodied the upper-class urban male who had been educated abroad and would inherit wealth. However, his characters’ journey would not be about becoming a huge business tycoon or throwing lavish parties. It was about grappling with a society going through change from traditional to progressive in the Pakistan of the 70s.
Zair Zabar Pesh
Haseena Moin’s first iteration on the urban upper class family was ‘Zair Zabar Pesh’. Shakeel plays a young man, “Khadim”, just returned from abroad with a degree and ready to work in the family business. Obviously his mother wants to marry him off as soon as possible without his consent which results in a lot of shenanigans in the first episode.
However, the hook here is that his best friend “Sharjee”, played by the late Jamshed Ansari, tells him that he should count himself lucky. Without his name and wealth, no one would give him a second look. The two friends then make a wager. Khadim will assume a fake identity, get an apartment or a house, and a job without revealing who he is. And he has to do this for an entire month.
Khadim gains employment as an assistant to an antiques collector. The show also includes performances by the brilliant Roohi Bano and special appearances by Qazi Wajid and Mehmood Ali.
One of PTV’s most iconic shows, this one starred Neelofar Abbasi as the titular character; a headstrong woman in the changing urban landscape of Pakistan. The play is about how women’s voices are suppressed in traditional households in Pakistan and how Shehzori breaks the mold.
Shakeel sahab starred as Mustafa, Shehzori’s husband who cowers behind her fearing his father, played by Mehmood Ali. It also features a brilliant performance by the late Arsh Muneer who talks about her own experiences as a woman in the household akin to many women in Pakistan.
Again, like Zair Zabar Pesh, the play featured the changing dynamics of urban life in Pakistan.
Shakeel’s first role as an older man was in ‘Uncle Urfi’. This also featured a man returning to Pakistan after being educated and employed abroad. ‘Uncle Urfi’ was about the titular character shedding light on the double standards prevalent in Pakistan’s urban circles such as adhering to antiquated traditions while pretending to be progressive, or how the youth was rebelling against their parents.
Rather than a continuous story, ‘Uncle Urfi’ was more of a sitcom which relied on a new problem every week to entertain viewers and carry the story forward. In all this, ‘Uncle Urfi’ was the voice of reason, trying to reconcile common sense with progressive ideals and tradition in a changing Pakistan.
Shakeel sahab’s roles in these TV shows presented a very different type of leading man. I don’t think it’s ever been repeated. His roles embodied a kindness and softness despite his position of power and privilege. He was always the one to help others, be they men or women or children. And his roles were always set in a comedic or light atmosphere so as to let the message sink in while making you laugh or smile.
But that was the PTV of another time. And Shakeel sahab was its golden boy.
May he rest in peace.