Shadi Lal Kaul : who can forget him!

The actor had to overcome his personal challenges too. As they say, those who make people laugh have a tragedy hidden inside, Shadi Lal too had to go through a rough phase when his son lost the battle to cancer.
Shadi Lal Kaul : who can forget him!
GK Photo

In the early 1980s, shops would close, buses would ply faster to reach the destinations, and people would hurry home to be on time for watching Shamas ud Din Altamash humouring them with new dialogues. Shamas ud Din was the character played by noted actor Shadi Lal Kaul in a famous serial Shabrang telecast on TV from 1981 to 1983.

The Kashmiri dialogue "Begum Salaal Tse Kyaazie Goyee Malaal" by Shamas ud Din was a runaway hit. Not only every second husband would tease his better half with the dialogue, but even the roadside Romeos outside womens colleges particularly M A Road found a new pick up line in it.

The drama was even popular in Pakistan and Pakistan Administered Kashmir, as the station would get letters of appreciation and word of mouth praise.

Shadi Lal reminds of the golden times that had started somewhere in the sixties. "Todays generation cannot imagine what it was like to be living in those times," said Shadi Lal who was born in 1954 in a middle-class family in Chotta Bazar, Srinagar. There was no one in his family that was even remotely associated with showbiz. 

"Something in me was always attracted to the theatre and dramas. I had seen a couple of plays which probably stuck with my inner self and the journey started," said Shadi Lal who had his initial education from GHS Arya Mandir and later graduated from Amar Singh College.  

The actor started his journey by starting his own drama clubs. In 1973 he established Yasmeen Dramatic Club together with Abdul Rahim Kuchay, but the club wound up soon. In 1974 together with actor friend Ayash Arif, he founded Kali Das Theatre, which achieved the pinnacle of success.

Their drama Asiv ti Lasiv, was a hit and it made Shadi Lal an overnight star. His dialogue delivery, perfect timing in comedy and his facial expression became his UPS's which he further improved along with his journey.

In 1975, Shadi Lal presented a hit drama Tassruf , which bagged him best actor award. "It was an eventful year and the same year I got a job in Sales Tax Department," said Shadi Lal. "But even the unlikely job couldn't keep me away from the theatre. I feel when there is passion, one can manage, job, home and his own dreams too."

The actor derives his inspiration from common Kashmiris be it a clerk, tongawalla, contractor, teacher and other such persons. "All of my characters are based on people, whom I have known my life. I keenly observe them and carve characters out of them. As there is an element of reality in them, people love them," said Shadi Lal, whose characters convey serious messages in comedy serials. "I was fortunate to have been born in Chotta Bazar where one could find a person of almost every genre and it was a goldmine for my material."

Be it corruption, food adulteration, social issues or husband-wife relations, Shadi Lal has weaved his comedies around all such topics and excelled with his perfect dialogue deliveries. 

Some of his hit dramas were Tratte Buzun, Laash Ghar, Dastar, Out of Date, Zaher, Bi chaddath ni, Tijaratuk Aasan Tareeki, Zalur etc.

He even made a drama loosely inspired from his own department. The comedy was called Local Tax Extra. The drama was so popular that the tickets worth Rs 5 were brought in black at Rs 20. It gave tough competition to cinemas nearby too. In a first Doordarshan brought OB Van and Multi Camera set up to record this drama. It was later repeatedly telecast on TV. The drama ran for 80 shows in theatres alone.  

To reach the rehearsals for drama Yi Janam ti Su Janam on time, many a time he had to make excuse at his office. Once running out of idea Shadi Lal bandaged his entire right arm faking an injury. His boss immediately allowed him to leave and were lenient with his late coming. A couple of days later Shadi Lal reached the office, but this time he forgot that he had his fake injury on right arm and instead bandaged his left arm. His boss wondered how has your injury transferred from one arm to another arm overnight. A commotion, excuse and his comedy helped diffuse the situation.

He was suspended a number of times and had to give explanation hundreds of times for his absence. Shadi Lal retired in 2012 as Audit Supervisor.

Shadi Lal managed to give hit after hit and he became a darling among people. "I earned love, affection and blessing from all people irrespective of religion, caste or creed," said Shadi Lal. "Strangers would hug, invite me to their homes, old women kiss my forehead and youngster would raise slogans. I feel blessed to have earned such affection."

At one point of time, such was his popularity that it was difficult for him to venture out of his house to go to the market or visit any marriage party. Thousands would flock around him. Sometimes he had to run just to evade thousands of people.

The versatile actor also acted in two serials Gul Gulshan Gulfam and Katha Sagar telecast on national TV. In the later, he rubbed shoulders with veteran actor Om Puri and it was directed by Shyam Benegal.

Asked about whether he thought of moving to Bollywood, Shadi Lal says "it was never in my mind to go there. When I worked with them I didn't find anything new. Secondly, the success I achieved in Kashmir's couldn't be replicated anywhere else."

Recalling his theatre days Shadi Lal says, there was a lot of struggle but there was satisfaction in it too. "We used to print and paste the posters in the middle of night fending off dogs and fighting off challenges put by army and police. Nobody would give us a room on rent for rehearsal and we had to struggle on that front too. There were brilliant drama clubs and one had to compete with them to produce better dramas," he said. "Todays you have everything but still the theatre and art is missing. I am sure it will come back, but it will take some time."

Once Shadi Lal was even arrested for a short period of time at the behest of his landlord. Another time the situation became turbulent due to hanging of Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto and they had to cancel their shows. "Keeping the poster of cancellation inside our pherans, we joined the Anti-Zia ul Haq procession shouting slogans like Benazir hai Nazir Zalimo ki qaid me, we reached Tagore Hall and announced cancellation," laughs Shadi Lal.

The actor had to overcome his personal challenges too. As they say, those who make people laugh have a tragedy hidden inside, Shadi Lal too had to go through a rough phase when his son lost the battle to cancer. He still gets emotional at the mere mention of the fact. But he recovered himself and went to make people laugh.

"My only intention is to bring some moments of happiness in people's lives. This is the reason I chose comedy as my genre and desisted from serious stuff," said Shadi Lal whose family has been always supportive of his passion.

The turmoil of 1990s affected him too, as he along with his family had to migrate to Jammu. 

In 1987  he staged a drama titled Bi Vanha Poz, which revolved around an MLA who was elected for the fifth time but was dissatisfied that he was given a ministerial portfolio again. He wanted to become a Chief Minister as he was fed up of being Minister for Agriculture, culture etc. The party refused his demand and in turn he threatened to reveal the truth about what happens in the party, in case he is not made CM. Now everybody is thinking what will he reveal and drama builds on that.

This was his last show at Tagore Hall and kind of predomination about political upheaval. It took him almost 15 years to return to Tagore hall in 2002 when he staged his all-time hit drama Local Taxes Extra.

Despite acting non-stop Shadi Lal hardly made any money to sustain his life, but he never complained about it. His only complaint is that the society and government don't recognise the talent of artists the way it should. "Even in Jammu they present Dogra Rattan for their artists, but here the situation is discouraging," said Shadi Lal who till date has never received any State award. 

But the things don't matter him a lot. Being in the show-business for 40 years, Shadi Lal is still full of energy and working on his next project. Acting in more than 1000 serials later, he feels the show has just begun.

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