“I can never forget the day when we were performing a theatre play for General Musa and a fire broke out backstage. A few of us tried to extinguish it with water while the play continued as if nothing had happened. Soon there was water everywhere and General Musa, who was a sport, continued to watch the play with his feet up ignoring the flood-like situation,” says Qazi Wajid laughing while remembering the incident.
The actor admits that he gives the impression of being funny but is actually a very serious person in real life. “I don’t read humorous books or see comedy films. I only read serious books because I like them. I love antiques and paintings and am an avid reader of poetry.”
Wajid was one of the busiest persons on PTV during its heyday, doing the highest number of plays from Karachi. He emphasises that they were all quality plays then. “I don’t know how I did it, it was a ‘kefiyat’, an urge to do things, and as I was young, I had the energy too. My talent is inherent and I have honed it with the director’s guidance.”
His colleagues, too, were extraordinary. People like Shakeel who while being religious was worldly as well, Mahmood Ali who did a lot of theatre with him and Subhani ba Younus who was a versatile artist. “I have lost good friends. The radio team has totally gone, along with S.M. Saleem who was a great actor and teacher. In those days there were values, and hard work was appreciated. Now things are done instantaneously, without homework and hard work.”
The man who had people lining up at his door in the past, is now willing to do any role as offers have dwindled considerably. “As you grow older, regardless of how good you are, you are pushed to one side. In other countries, good artists keep getting good roles,” he says in a slightly bitter tone.
It all began when he was a young boy. Seeing skits in a scout jamboree stirred the little actor in him. A friend took him to Radio Pakistan and Wajid’s first programme Naunihal, a weekly drama for children made him popular. Later Hamid Mian Kay Yahan, the longest radio serial spanning 30 years, came along, and then Qazi Ji Waghera Waghera, written by Shaukat Thanvi.
Wajid then stepped into films and theatre. “I did not like films much, and as I was a Karachiite and films were made in Lahore, I bid goodbye to them soon.” In theatre, at that time, Khawaja Moinuddin’s Taleem-i-Balighan, Mirza Ghalib Bunder Road, Wadi-i-Kashmir, Lal Qila Say Lalukhet were classic plays in which he acted.
Bedari was his first film on children — a copy of the Indian film Jagirati — produced by Ratan Kumar’s father. Ratan Kumar made this film when he migrated to Pakistan. Its songs Chalo Chalain Maan and Youn Di Hamain Azadi were the talk of the town. “I did the role of a stammering child to perfection,” reminisces the artist. When he got the role, his parents were not too worried thinking it was a phase that would soon pass.
When TV was officially introduced in 1967, he was in Lahore doing Mirza Ghalib Bandar Road Pey. Returning to Karachi, Wajid did his first TV series Aaj Ka Shair in which a poem of a famous poet would be the base of the story. The next popular serial was Khuda Ki Basti in which he played the role of Raja.
He remembers those days when artists had to do the programme in one take because there was no editing back then. With only one studio there were time constraints as well. “In 1969 when we finished Khuda Ki Basti, we went to Pindi to record Taleem-i-Balighan for PTV. During this time, I also did cassette stories for children called Cassette Kahaniyan by Farid Ahmed (W.Z. Ahmed’s son) which were very popular. Even today people come up to me saying they grew up listening to those cassettes.”
Hawwa Ki Baiti and Khuda Ki Basti gave him unforgettable characters. In Hawwa Ki Beti, he did the role of a tabla man selling his stepdaughter and in Sauda, which Seema Tahir directed, he played the character of a Bandar Ka Tamasha man. “It was a very unusual role and I enjoyed doing it. You have to put in your feelings to create a character.” He has a penchant, he says, for doing negative roles though they have been few and far between.
Having travelled abroad extensively for shows, Wajid says that expatriates love their artists and Anwar Maqsood’s Loose Talk and Loose Mushaira have been the most popular for him. “People enjoyed it immensely and everything went smoothly which is a godsend on such trips, and we were treated royally too,” he adds. He went to China to do a play Rishtay or Rastay in 1986, a joint venture of Pakistani and Chinese governments based on the Silk Route, an experience that he says he will not forget as the Chinese were very courteous and the country was beautiful.
Wajid’s association with radio has been a special one, as he feels strongly that radio is a place where one acquires acting talent. All the outstanding artists of the past have been radio artists and did well on TV because of their training in radio. But with the advent of TV, radio unfortunately started declining and has almost disappeared. “After the death of the experienced radio artists, radio is now officially dead for me,” he says bluntly.