Umer Sharif: Tribute to the Laughter Merchant – News
They say humor can be one of our best survival tools; Perhaps this is why a significant percentage of Asians rely on few names to satisfy their sick relatives. And Umer Sharif’s plays have played a central role in bringing joy and laughter into their lives.
As all good things come to an end, this person, too, who has brought countless joys and laughter to every home, bade farewell to the world on Saturday, October 2, after battling a prolonged illness. He was taken to the United States via an air ambulance when his health deteriorated and the plane had to make an emergency landing in Germany where he breathed his last.
The news was first announced by Dr Mohammad Faisal, Ambassador of Pakistan to Germany, who tweeted: “With deep sadness it is announced that Mr. Umer Sharif has passed away. In Germany. Our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Our CG is present at the hospital to help the family in any way.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was saddened to learn of Sharif’s passing. Speaking to his Twitter account, he said he had “the chance” to tour with the comedian to raise funds for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital and he acknowledged that Umer was “one of our great artists and will be missed ”.
Messages started pouring in from artists and dignitaries around the world who expressed their grief on social media. Well-known comedians like Johny Lever, Javed Jaffrey and Kapil Sharma mourned his death. On numerous occasions, these world-famous comedians have confessed their adulation for the legend and how their work is influenced by his humor.
A few years ago, when I was interviewing Govinda in the United Arab Emirates, he commented: “Whatever comedy I know is because of Umer Sharif sahib. A lot of people say they are his fan, but I’m someone who is beyond his fan. I am his bhakt.
A young Umer Sharif on stage
His plays are like songs you can play on repeat, you remember the words and the punchlines, and you never get tired of them. “His comedy was something that was shared and loved across the border, just like the songs of Noorjehan or Lata. It doesn’t matter what part of the world you are from; if you understand urdu or hindi, chances are you are a fan of Umer Sharif. Here in Toronto, it has become a tradition to watch his plays during the Eid holidays when friends and family get together. We have a lot of Indian friends who we have watched his plays over and over again and we just laugh our heads off, ”says Malika Merchant, a Pakistani expat living in Toronto, Canada.
Born in 1955, Umer faced live audiences at the age of fourteen using Umer Zarif’s name, but later made him Umer Sharif. VCRs were a luxury then. His audio cassettes were also in demand. He would never help but make jokes about the biggest stars of that time or their physical attributes.
In one of his audio tapes from the 80s, he selected two of the best-known personalities of Pakistani superstar Babra Sharif and tallest man Alam Channa. As Babra was one of the smaller actresses, he said “Alam Channa wears socks the size of Babra” and when they walk together “it looks like a father goes to the market with his daughter to buy her balloons. “. This upset Babra for a while, but she later said, “I’m lucky my name helped Umer bhai in its content.”
Known for shamelessly picking names, during his famous 15-minute stint at the Zee Cine Awards, Umer mentioned that the event’s management team advised him to refrain from making jokes about the Bachchan family. And guess what, Amitabh was the first one he picked as soon as he started his act on stage. Obviously, Amitabh appreciated him and applauded each of his lines.
Speaking of Amitabh, Umer Sharif’s videotapes have taken comedy to unprecedented heights. In 1989, when Amitabh Jadugar came out, its copy was sent to Pakistan by Indian distributors in exchange for one of Umer Sharif’s most famous plays, Bakra Qiston Pe. A barter we’ve never heard of.
“In the 1980s in India our only source of entertainment was Doordarshan and the movies that were coming out. But, at that time, one of the best gifts our family received was a set of video tapes from Bakra Qiston Pe. It was the era of pure comedy, and I was probably one of the millions of Indians who repeatedly laughed and watched the genius of Umer Sharif. This piece made him a household name and is still remembered after so many decades. It is a great loss not only for Pakistan, but for all fans of all nationalities. I would just remember him as a merchant of smiles, ”says avid Indian fan, Yogesh Pandit, who resides in the United Arab Emirates.
The best thing about Umer was that he wasn’t just the king of words and one-liners, but no one did physical comedy better than him. He disguised himself as a monkey, jungle man, robot, eunuch and so on and did it all. For example, his entry scene in Budha Ghar By Hai? where he walks on stage dancing to a drum beat wearing layers of shirts, a bandana and sunglasses.
While dancing he takes off his shirts one after another and when he takes off all the extra layers he seamlessly transforms into a street vendor selling clothes, leaving the audience divided. This kind of physical comedy is a rare sight these days, especially in the growing digital world.
Umer’s play, while comical in nature, had an underlying tone of sarcasm and cultural commentary. Its performances often reflected the society we live in and its content shed light on the issues that these societies regularly face. Perhaps this is why his content has survived decades and thanks to the influx of digital media, the new generation has also been introduced to the legend’s work through videos uploaded by fans around the world.
For many who grew up in the ’80s and’ 90s, Umer Sharif’s name was synonymous with laughter and through his work he will continue to live on in the hearts of millions of his fans.
Here is the man who gave us smiles and laughs and who did not know any other language.