Qavi Khan - Surviving the Silver Screen
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   

ON STAGE HIS PERFECT Urdu diction has the audience spell¬bound. On television, he turns even the most low profile role to his advantage.

 On the silver screen Mohammad Qavi Khan Is never seen prancing around -trees, lip-syncing songs. His Image as the prototype of serious acting has won him praise from the harshest critics.  

The youngest of four brothers and sisters, Qavi Khan was born in Badaun, in 1942. A few years later his family moved to Peshawar , where he stayed before coming to Lahore in 1964. His relationship with the performing arts-started at the tender age of six. He started off on Radio Peshawar in a programme, Nannay Mian In which he played the title role.

"Since 1951 till today, I accept offers on radio,"Says Qavi

His early training at Radio Peshawar molded the impeccable speech, in between the time spent at the radio station and school. Qavi Khan started playing cricket. After graduating from Edwards College, Peshawar, he was given a job at the Grindlays Bank on the basis of playing excellent cricket - But playing cricket and working at Grindlays were not his ambitions. He was looking towards Lahore — the metropolis of art and culture.

"I came here in 1961, It was the same year in which I performed on stage for the first time at the Open Air Theatre,"

says Qavi, sguinting his eyes as he recalls memories of his early career Acting on the stage at The Alhamra Arts Council followed In 1962. "I don't remember the name of the play. What I remember is that the tickets were priced at Rs three or four, and the auditorium had the capacity of 149 seats," explains Qavi. Now the only horizon left unexplored was the cinema. Director Diljeet Mirza gave Qavi his big break in one of his movies Riwaj. "I was his assistant director and also I played the role of one of the villains".

 
At the heels of the release of Riwaj came the launching of a tele¬vision station in Pakistan. Television became the focal point of demonstrating his acting skills. He was approached by TV producer Fazal Kemal to act in a play called Nazrana. "I was given the lead role supported by Kanwal Naseer. The other cast Included Munawwar Tauflq, Begum Khurshid Shahid and Bakhtiar Ahmed." Nazarana became Pakistan's first ever play to be aired on TV on November 26,1964.

Between the theatre, radio, TV and films, Qavi Khan had little time left to give to the bank. He was working at the Outward Bills department but was rarely seen at desk. His employer Mr Sutton saw more of him on television than the bank. When the pressure of work mounted on all sides'Qavi decided to make acting a full time career. He took one of the biggest risks of life and quit working at Grlndiays Bank in 1966. "I was working for 24 hours at a stretch. There were times when I would go to the bank without having had any sleep and end up taking a nap on the bad of the bank's night watchman," Qavi speaks with amusement. He pauses to sip tea and recollect the era of the sixties.

"Ather Shah Khan's serial, Lakhon Mein Teen, where I played the role of Mr No, was a tremendous hit. Can you imagine I was only 22 yeais old?"

And as young as that, he was offered the role of playing Mohammad Ali's father In S M Yousuf's Bahu Rani. "You know, working with him was not particularly enjoyable. I always felt that the atmosphere was too formal. Besides, he was the top hero at the time, it was impossible for me to imagine that I could be friendly with him." Bahu Rani proved another important step In Qavi's career, but at the same time set pace for his future roles. At the age of 22 he had given a convincing performance as Mohammad All's father. Producers and directors docked to him for similar, if not the same characters.

In 1968, Mohammad Qavi Khan met Naheed at the Alhamra Arts Council, though he was not term their first meeting love at first sight, he decided to marry her "I don't believe in love Marriage Is an Important element in a person's life, l saw it more as an experiment than anything connected with emotions and all that rubbish," he says honestly. Anyhow, like his career, the experiment was a success. They have hour children now their sons are studying In Canada while the two daughters are married. "I was such a worka¬holic that immediately after our nikaaah, I went straight back to the sets to work. In fact, I did not attend my own vallma and was work¬ing," explains Qavi. He graciously credits his wife with a sweeping wave of his hand as he draws attention to his home."It Is entirely her effort" The innumerable statuettes won by Qavi are lined up on one side of the lounge where we are seated. In one corner is the framed Pride of Performance certificate, awarded to him in 1985, acknowledging his versatility in acting.

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Whether it was a wish or the stubbornness to prove his command in every sphere of the performing arts, Qavi Khan tried his hand at direction. He produced 13 films in all and directed one. His home productions Pasban and Ek Sitam Aur Sehi were banned by the Pakistan censor board. Pasban, a story about the integration of Pakistan, was eventually released in 1984. To Qavi's dismay, the movie scored badly at the box office. Now, at this point In life he admits candidly that his career in movies suffered a great loss. "It was the beginning of my downfall in Lollywood." After his failure in cinema, Qavi Khan devoted his time entirely to television.

In the mid-eighties, he reached the peak of his career when doing the series Andhera Ujaala.

"I was the honest ASP trying to curb crime In the city," comments Qavi on his role in the series. His phenomenal success on the small screen lured him to contest the non-party elections of 19B5. "Even though I lost to Liaqat Baloch, l managed to get 9,975 votes, it was also a way of measuring my popularity as an actor, I was surprised to see the number of people watching Andhera Ujaala. People from the department of police praised me for depicting an honest ASP."

Andhera Ujala is one among many plays to win Qavi adulation from the public and approval from critics. Co-stars like Samina Ahmed and many others applaud him for bringing life to characters. "Despite my differences with him, Qavi is a brilliant actor. It Is enlightening to work with him," says Samina Ahmed, deputy programmes director at The Alhamra Arts Council, However, she believes that Qavi has failed to fight for the cause of television artists, "On an Individual basis he is exceptional and goes out of his way to help people'.However, when it comes to concerted efforts, Qavi is only for himself." Samina goes on to explain how he extricat¬ed himself from the strike observed by the artists some two years ago to Improve their pay structure. "I, along with many others, was disappointed in him," she says regretfully. Qavi denies the allegation vehemently by saying that his efforts were aborted by the callous attitude of the government.

"I wanted to establish an acting Institute but the government failed to help me on that score. It was a matter of one man against a bunch of autocrats," he says defensively.

Qavi's admirers can catch him on television in Khwab Azab, play-Ing the part of an honest professor. His forthcoming series includes Kagaz, starring Saleem Sheikh and Maria Wasti. 'At this point in my life I can say with honesty that I am satisfied. I was slightly disap-pointed at PTV for not crediting my work at the recently held PTV awards. Anyway, I will keep on acting till my last breath," Qavi' recovers quickly from disappointment. After four decades of service to Pakistan's performing arts, he knows the real reward lies not in some bureaucratic acknowledgement of achievement but with the audience who switch on their TV to watch the thesplan.

By Shehar Bano Khan