Theatre is my life, my passion- USMAN PEERZADA

Recently a host for THE CONSUL, Farhan Khan, interviewed the Pakistani “Theatre Guru”, Mr. Usman Peerzada. Here are excerpts from the interview:


Host: Thank you very much sir, for your time. You have a great profile as an actor, director, and producer. If we talk about your family, how did this career start and was your family okay with this?

Guest: In our family, my dad had always emphasized on the fact that we must complete our education, no matter what we do. He used to say that if one is well educated then no matter what they do, they do it with discipline.

Host: Tell us something about your education.

Guest: I went to Government College Lahore and was a part of the batch of 1967. Before me, my great- grandfather Peer Qamar- ud -din graduated from the same college in 1868, almost a century ago. My father and grandfather also went to the same college. Education came to our family at the early stage of the British rule, 1858-1947, though the family passion at that time was law. My grandfather was also involved in politics.

Host: So how did you get interested in theatre, the exact opposite of law and politics?

Guest: When my father went to study, theatre interested him a lot in Berlin. He took classes to learn more about theatre, and worked there for a long time. When he returned, the Indian subcontinent was still under the British. He started enlightening people with his knowledge of theatre as the Indian subcontinent was way behind the western world.

Host: Is this how Rafi Peer Theatre took birth?

Guest: Yes, indeed. We set up the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop in 1974, the same year my beloved father passed away. I wanted to complete his image of a country aware of its significance, its ways and its vast culture. Following his set patterns of how things would go, we introduced a company named “Rafi Peer Theatre”. It’s been 45-46 years since the company first started, a wall just outside shows the works we’ve done in all these years. I often get shocked seeing the wall and all the things that we have achieved, which by the grace of God we as a family have achieved. The people in these dark ages would only admire our hard work to preserve and promote our culture, once we are no more.

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Host: What significance do you think art has?

Guest: In these dark times, we need to grasp on to our culture, so it can pull us out of the dark. Art and Folklore is not only a ray of hope, but a path towards what is right and wrong.

Host: There is a myth that we follow an adopted and copied culture of our neighbor, India and not promote our own culture. What do you have to say about that?

Guest : The people who say so shouldn’t forget that, our neighbors were once a part of us, of what we are. Our cultural roots are all aligned it not that old of a story if we consider history. This land Pakistan and it’s bordering countries; Iran, Afghanistan, China and India all give each other strength.

Host: Why do you think did we forget about our roots?

Guest: This land is known to have been conquered and conquered yet again. This was the greatest reason why our roots aren’t clear to us. First the Aryans wrecked the Indus Valley, than the Hindus washed away their traces and conquered India and introduced their ways. Then the Muslims; the Ottomans, Mughals and more came who conquered and introduced their ways, cultures and art. Finally, the British came who totally wiped it all and introduced western ways of life. People each time adapted to the ways of their rulers to impress them. From Sanskrit to Persian to Urdu to English, all this evolution makes us what we are today. These conquerors added a lot to what we are today.

Host: Do you think we are preserving our history or what is left of it?

Guest: At a very low level and you will be shocked to know that across the border in Hindustan the contributions made by these people are being modified, they are trying to rewrite the history by doing so. They are brain washing their youth with movies like Panipat, showing Rajputs as rich, notorious heroes and Mughals as wild, half-maniacs. If you read Tuzk-e- Baburi, you’ll know about The Mughals’ contribution to our culture today.

Host: As we are talking about Rafi Peer theatre, what’s going on there?

Guest: A lot of work. We are working on Festivals; we had a recent festival in Karachi, which was a huge success. Another project that my family and I started was the Nautanki Theatre. It mostly works to raise awareness on certain issues. We are working on a major project in Punjab raising awareness through Theatre and Puppetry. We are also working on a project with Oxfam which is a gender based theatre concept and often do theatres on the importance of family planning.

Host: That is amazing. You are doing a lot for the country what about international projects?

Guest: Internationally, we are working on Sufi Festivals, so people abroad can stay in touch with the rich Sufi music and poetry. We are also working on developments with kids’ related things. We run the world’s 3rd largest Museum. There are shows in the morning and we have an open air theatre. We have restaurants, as well just for supporting our family and these Theatres, as the government doesn’t offer us aids and it’s once in a blue moon we get donations, that aren’t enough, so we need to earn money. We also support the system by doing projects like the one we are doing with Oxfam and Family planning, as I already mentioned, also by working with multinationals often, giving them advice regarding how to advertise the product with our influence in it.

Host: You are a part of the most successful and leading businesses, regarding puppets. How do you think puppets impact a child and his personality?

Guest: It really depends on the story. A child has a developing mind, he relates to the puppets more than animations as they are small like him, with relatable scenarios. The way we benefit from the puppets is unlike anyone else. We have always had this Educational Element in puppetry. We have closely worked with schools and developed projects like poetry appreciation and discovered some ways to teach Mathematics, History and Geography to children productively and efficiently through puppets.

Our traditional puppetry has been erased, destroyed to its roots. Nobody cared enough to preserve it. The old traditions eventually died out. Now, we share a bond with our neighbor India which has the same traditions as us, but the puppetry on the Rajasthani side, the old Patay Khan puppets have almost faded away, from Pakistan.

Host: Sir, how was your experience as Romanian Consul General. It was a very proud moment for you and the nation, but what were your feelings?

Guest: I’m humbled. It’s a ceremonial job mostly given to businessmen, while I’m an artist. I tried my best to develop stronger business ties with Romania, which would flourish Pak-Romania ties. Visa issues and the countless European laws were the biggest hurdles, and I couldn’t surely help these issues. I was just the Consul General and couldn’t help the businessmen with their visas or Doctors and Officers with their holiday trips, which I regret deeply.

Host: Finally sir, we’ve seen you playing all the roles in the industry, how has been your experience as a versatile Actor.

Guest: I don’t know how to manage my schedule, who to give time to and whom not to. Right now I’ve got things on my mind I need to get done. I am off to Turkey, for a bit of a break, a holiday and also to select some locations for the movie that I am about to make. There are two, three drama serials and some more upcoming projects. [Alhamdulillah] I still get work as I am sincere to my work, I love my work as an actor and I would never want my work as an actor to suffer because it contributes greatly to blooming my creativity.

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