The name of Shah Sharabeel is nothing new when it comes to musical theater in Pakistan. The man behind the evergreen musical adaptations like Moulin Rouge and Phantom of the Opera is all set to return to theater after 4 long years with his latest play Twins Apart that would be staged from February 12th till March 17th at the Arts Council, Karachi. Known for making stars rather than taking stars in his plays, Sharabeel’s latest musical will have new faces and will be an amalgamation of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers as well as the Bollywood saga Karan Arjun and he wants to make it clear that is not an adaptation but an inspiration. However, the director who launched the careers of many TV stars of today terms the upcoming production to be his most difficult task, due to the many issues he faced during the rehearsals. The News Tribe had a chat with the ‘Star Maker’ where we discussed why he terms his upcoming drama the most difficult of his plays in the last 29 years. Excerpts:
TNT: You are making a comeback to theater after four years – back then people preferred theater over cinema, the ticket rates were less expensive and there was no Pakistan Super League. The scene has changed since; how do you plan to tackle these issues?
Shah Sharabeel: Whenever I take time out for a stage play from my schedule in England, I make sure that there is no postponement, no backing out no matter what as the window to do something meaningful is too small for me. This time we first acquired dates in all three major cities before we went on the floor but it became very hectic to achieve so much with so many odds. The rise in the dollar rate has damaged us the most; the PSL timings are off as well and the road leading to the Arts Council is damaged, add some jealousies and politics to the situation and that’s exactly what’s happening to us. Also, many of our potential sponsors had committed to Anwar Maqsood’s upcoming play which will take place after ours so yes, the situation isn’t ideal. But trust me, ‘the more the odds, the better the play’ is what I have believed in and that’s exactly what I am hoping for this time.
TNT: What do you mean by the jealousy and politics; I thought those were things of the past?
Shah Sharabeel: Our play Twins Apart is not an adaptation or translation of Blood Brothers but an inspiration and many people didn’t like; they even complained to the company that has the copyrights and one of our main sponsors backed out after that. Now that the issue has been resolved, we are working hard in the rehearsals to prove that the play can sustain despite all odds. Yes, the circumstances aren’t ideal but they have never been except for in two of my plays, one of them was ‘You Only Marry Twice’ in 2015.
TNT: Tell us something about the play, the actors and the play’s duration?
Shah Sharabeel: Twins Apart is the story of two mothers, two brothers and revolves around a love triangle that makes it all the more interesting. We have taken fresh actors who will be working with me for the first time because that’s how I operate. The play and its music are in Urdu and we feel that the family-oriented play’s emotionality is engaging which will click with the audience Insh Allah. We will try to surprise the audience with the visual treats all hopefully, the play will engage the audience for two hours and 15 minutes, without any interval. My previous plays were over two and a half hour long so this one is shorter because we wanted to cater to audiences of all age groups.
TNT: Why did you go for new actors when you could have gone for established ones?
Shah Sharabeel: I always go for new actors and that has been my style ever since I started doing theater in 1990. The philosophy of our theater is to maintain family-oriented values and that’s why I believe in ‘manufacturing stars’ rather than going for big names and professionals. It feels good when the actors who have worked with me and are now doing well take out time for my plays and I ensure that they get to say encouraging things about the newcomers. This time, we have actors mostly from NAPA and other places – the main lead Rehan Nazim is not just a good actor but also a talented singer. He is Faizan Sheikh’s brother in law who played the lead with his now-wife Maham Aamir in You Only Marry Twice. Like all actors in his family, Rehan is organized and punctual and is opening up, showing his talent. Then there is Faraz who did an Anwar Maqsood play and Faiza who is basically an IBA grad who teaches in some school in Karachi.
TNT: In 2020, you will complete 30 years on stage which is a huge achievement in Pakistan; what do you have to say about that?
Shah Sharabeel: In the past when someone used to tell me that they have been doing something for 30 years that made me feel awkward because that is a long time. Now that I am completing my 3 decades in theater and all I can say is that it has been a great journey. For the first 10 to 15 years, I performed in Islamabad; Lahore took the next 5 to 6 years and since 2005, I have done a few plays in Karachi. The City of Lights has a special place in my heart as I will rate their audience as 9/10; the people, especially from the business community, is very fertile and supportive here and there are fewer politics and issues here than Lahore and Islamabad.
TNT: Your play hasn’t been marketed like it should have been especially on the platform most popular today – the Social Media. Why?
Shah Sharabeel: When it comes to social media marketing, I am at my worst because a) it’s not in my DNA to exaggerate things and b) I always try to remain humble when my play is being performed. Yes, I know that digital is the next big thing and 90% of the coverage comes from social media but when you are confident of your product, people will come to the theater no matter what. We plan to stage the play in Karachi from 12 February till 17 March daily from 8:30 PM onwards whereas two more stints in Islamabad and Lahore will follow in March and April. God willing, if the play does well, we might bring it back to Karachi for a re-run after Ramadan. It all depends on the people and that’s why I am hoping for a miracle … like always!