BY MUTTAHIR AHMED KHAN
When Mr. Mansoor saw my PTV’s play “Toba Tek Singh”, he contacted my elder brother Sarmad Sehbai and expressed his wish to cast me. After a few discussions and sharing of details, I consented and came to Lahore from Germany for this very purpose
Catch Line: Manzar Sehbai added charisma, charm and made the audience stick to the screens till the end of ‘Bol’ movie. S Plus talks to this veteran actor and asked about his venture as an actor.
Introduction: Although predominantly emerged on the showbiz horizon of the sub-continent with his swaying performance in the Lollywood’s hit venture “BOL”, Manzar Sehbai is a qualified veteran thespian and has been associated with the field of Literature and performing arts for the last four decades.He was residing in journey for almost four decades and this was the reason behind his relatively less familiarity with the Pakistani film and TV lovers. After the premier of BOL, he is paying regular visits not only to Pakistan but also to India where he is busy in his shootings and dubbings of the Bollywood films. After the socio-art film “Ya Rab”, he has received other International offers. During his recent visit to Karachi, S Plus availed the opportunity to enjoy a detailed coffee session with him. The man I met in the lawn of his sister’s house in Defence, clad in jeans, T-shirt and joggers with humble and friendly disposition, and was really very different from the strict and fanatic Hakeem Saheb of the film BOL.
Apprising people, who still consider him to be a foreign artist, of his personal background, Sehbai explained, “I was born in Sialkot in 1950. My father Asar Sehbai was a public prosecutor and got transferred to Lahore when I was very young. My schooling started from Junior Model School, Lahore. Then, I completed graduation and my Master’s in English from Government College Lahore and also worked with the globally famous Dramatic Society of the College where Usman Peerzada, Salman Shahid, Imran Aslam and Sheheryar were my contemporaries in that organisation.”
He joined Pakistan National Council of Arts Islamabad, right after completing his Master’s, where he worked with Saleem Chishti and other highly experienced figures in the fields of Art and Literature. In 1976, he left for East Germany, on scholarship for achieving Ph.D. in Theatrical Sciences. Although, he could not complete the degree because of certain circumstances and his family affairs, he did research for more than 4 years in the subject field and availed the opportunity to learn a lot. “I went to Germany for the sole purpose of my education and did not plan for staying there permanently, but, gradually I settled there.” Sehbai recalled the old days.
The Government College’s Dramatic Society had a tradition to stage classic Western plays in English, and for, the very first time, in the history of the college, a totally indigenous and Urdu play titled as “Darkroom”, was staged there, in 1969. This play, written by his elder brother Sarmad Sehbai, laid the foundation of Manzar Sehbai’s association with performing arts. “When things are destined to happen, they do happen even in a bit odd and strange way. Initially, Professor Hashmi simply refused to look at the script, but, after a few days, he himself asked for it and decided to give us go-ahead for the venture” told Sehbai. “He assembled the concerning students that included me, Peerzada, Sheheryar and Sarmad and assigned the roles to each of us according to the script and characters and the work on this play started. It was staged at Kinnaird College Lahore at Theatre Festival. Our theatrics adventure proved to be very successful and won prize in the Festival.” Sehbai further related the story.
During 1969 to 1975, he also worked in PTV’s plays and tele-films. He played leading role in the play “Paani Ke Qaidi” that was directed by Yawar Hayat and written by Intizar Hussain. Then, he acted in “Keeh Janaan Main Kaun” written by Sarmad Sehbai and directed by Shahid Mahmood Nadeem. Next, after a lapse of 3 decades, he was seen as leading role in a long play titled “Toba Tek Singh”, based on Manto’s short story with the same.
His coming onboard with the crew of “BOL” was unexpected as Shoaib Mansoor first planned to offer Hakeem’s role to Naseer-ud-Din Shah who couldn’t commit due to his engagements. “When Mr. Mansoor saw my PTV’s play “Toba Tek Singh”, he contacted my elder brother Sarmad Sehbai and expressed his wish to cast me. After a few discussions and sharing of details, I consented and came to Lahore from Germany for this very purpose.” He described with pleasant disposition.
Commenting on his upcoming Bollywood venture titled “Ya Rab”, he described it as a pleasant experience, “Ya Rab” is my film debut in Indian film industry....as it was BOL in Pakistan. I wanted to experience a venture of working with the people living across the borders. I must say both of my experiences are unforgettable. I received immense pleasure of working in Lucknow and Mumbai” For his Bolloywood experience and optimism for future he stated. "I have been offered in many other movies but I will decide after looking at scripts and the nature of my roles. My very next project is a Kolkata based film "Jihad" directed by Hameed Hasan.” He further said.
Responding to a question as to whether he had same pleasant memories associated with the general public in India as he had with the film community, he said, “I remained immensely busy in shootings and, despite cherishing a strong urge to visit different locations and meeting people there, I could not fulfil my desire. Even when I was staying in Lucknow for shooting, I didn’t have time to come out of hotel and explore the city. Next time, I would definitely try my best to meet general public and visit important places and picnic spots.”
Recalling his golden days in the Government College Lahore, Sehbai emotionally expressed, “GC is interwoven with my biographical experiences and my admission into GC was a milestone in my youth. It gave me the opportunity to articulate myself the way I had always been longing for. GC enabled me to explore my real identity. It gave me the strength to develop my perceptions in many ways; it simply triggered my creative urge to do things in my own way. GC is simply my soul mate. I still miss the pleasant evenings we all friends spent on the coffee shops at Mall Road”
A very frank, straight forward and learned figure Mr. Sehbai is a person one would like to meet again. He is very firm about his concept of being an actor and does not believe in a character’s being small or minor or supporting or major. Every character is important for the actor and he must do his best to infuse a spirit of reality into his role. Before signing a role, an artist must understand the spirit of his character and must be committed to do justice to his work.” He advised sincerely and thoughtfully.