For the past ten years, comedy shows on television have secured their own cachets. These shows predicate mostly on politics, politicians and political events, though recently social personalities and social problems have also carved their way into these shows. The word comedy is still under-represented here because parody or mimicry and lampoon or satire overwhelm all else to cast a semblance of comedy – to appease viewers’ sense of humour. Amongst three famous shows, Hasbe Haal, Khabarnak and Khabardar, which are aired late night from three different platforms from Thursdays to Sundays, two threads can be found common running through them. First, they create humour through political, and sometimes social, mimicry and satire. Second, they are founded by one person, Aftab Iqbal, who started Hasbe Haal in January 2009, Khabarnak in September 2010 and Khabardar in September 2015.
Taken together, these shows are the testimony of the fecundity of Iqbal’s mind. The character Azizi being performed at Hasbe Haal was known to the readers of Iqbal’s Urdu columns years before Iqbal incarnated the character in Sohail Ahmed, a stage drama jugat baz or punster. The transformation of Ahmed from a punster into a comedy show performer who can confidently utter words on politics took place under Iqbal’s supervision. There is noticeable a huge difference of improvement between the witticism and the associated versatility in roles performed by Ahmed in early days at Hasbe Haal and now. Iqbal kept on exploring and encouraging Ahmed to perform better and in a variegated way than before till the time the character outgrew its creator. Owing to his performance on the show, Ahmed bagged Presidential Award for Pride of Performance in March 2011.
Iqbal faced the same aspect again when the character which he had created at Khabarnak – to perform various roles imported from a dummy museum under his supervision – came to life in Mir Ali (Mir Mohammad Ali). There is found a conspicuous difference of improvement between the witticism and the concomitant versatility in roles performed by Ali in early days at Khabarnak and now. The dummy museum was a solution to the absence of mimicry which was later on mastered by Ali and owing to which he was also bestowed with Presidential Award for Pride of Performance in March 2015. Currently, Iqbal is running Khabardar at some other TV channel. Iqbal is the only creator whose three creations – Hasbe Haal, Khabarnak and Khabardar – are simultaneously entertaining people every week. Nevertheless, all the three shows discuss in their own peculiar ways not only political topics but also social ones. In fact, Iqbal earns a credit for constructing a whole mimicry-cum-satire industry which may keep on serving the people of Pakistan ad infinitum.
The rise of Ahmed as a mimic was by impersonating mainly Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain whereas the rise of Ali as a mimic was by copycatting mainly Yousaf Raza Gillani, though both mimics claim to have been performing mimicry before joining the shows. Whereas Ali is only a mimic, Ahmed is a renowned punster. The way Ahmed copies Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Firdaus Ashiq Awan, Maulana Fazal ur Rehman Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jahangir Badar, Ali has not been seen outperforming Ahmed. Nevertheless, Ali has his own strength to showcase when he copies Yusuf Raza Gillani, Imran Khan, Qaim Ali Shah, Shahbaz Sharif, Sheikh Rashid, Zaid Hamid, Anwar Maqsood and Ali Azmat. The role of Afat Iqbal performed by Ali was brilliant. Both Ahmed and Ali have expanded their sizes much to the benefit of the viewers but less to the benefit of the hosts. Interestingly, unlike Hasbe Hal and Khabarnak, Khabardar is still devoid of any character who can outgrow its creator. Secondly, Khabardar still lacks any performer who could match Ahmed or Ali and be a prospective winner of another Presidential Award for Pride of Performance.
In Hasbe Haal, as a host, Junaid Saleem has braved the getting-larger role of Ahmed outsizing him, but in Khabarnak, as a host, Naeem Bukhari could not battle Ali, who kept Bukhari under pressure from day first. Bukhari left Khabarnak in February 2016. In Hasbe Haal, the space hogged by Ahmed is ceded by Saleem but, in Khabarnak, the space required by Ali could no more be conceded by any host. Resultantly, in Khabarnak, Ali has no rival even as a mimic co-performer and no new host can join the show to reclaim the space appropriated by Ali. As the ever-growing role of Ali in Khabarnak was one of the reasons for the departure of several co-performers to accompany Iqbal to found and run Khabardar at another television channel, the ever-rising role of Ahmed in Hasbe Haal left no need for protecting Najia Baig, a co-performer, from being waned. In February 2016, the parting of Baig left a scar on the aural presentation of the show, as along with her departed guffaws in a mellifluous voice distinctive to her alone.
In Khabarnak, the rise of Aisha Jehanzeb from a background staff member to a co-presenter and then to a main presenter replacing Naeem Bukhari was splendid thereby testifying for the existence of talent if tapped scrupulously. However, her unnecessary and unwarranted recent (fleeting) replacement with Jugnu Mohsin indicates two points. First, the popularity of Khabarnak has the potential of inviting the influential sections of society to vie for its hosting. Second, merit is still ineffective in protecting a talented person of a humble socio-political background from being a casualty. Mohsin’s entry could have been justified when Bukhari left Khabarnak, but not now. Jehanzeb was never an understudy nor an epigone to anyone, but has improved a lot to deserve the seat of the main presenter.
Iqbal, as a host, is haunted by three main criticisms. First, he is sufficiently narcissist who needs personal projection whenever an occasion arises. Second, he loves to be a martinet even at the cost of others’ honour and prestige. Third, he has developed an overarching personality which keeps performers in the show uncomfortable and the production staff unnerved. Nevertheless, the strengths of Iqbal are two. First, he keeps on innovating. Second, he has accumulated knowledge and experience on various aspects of life and the same he keeps exuding. This is how one aspect of his personality offsets the other.
There are signs aplenty that both Hasbe Haal and Khabarnak still follow Iqbal. There can be quoted several examples. For instance, Iqbal introduced the segment of mini-stage performance in Khabardar in the beginning of 2016 and the same was tailed immediately by Hasbe Haal and Khabarnak. Similarly, when the late Naseer Bhai joined Khabardar, the administration of Khabarnak had to introduce his counter-part in its song-guessing segment.
In short, it is apparent that any innovation Iqbal introduces in Khabardar has a direct bearing on the rest of the two shows. Second, it is not that these three shows are in competition with one another but it is that Hasbe Haal and Khabarnak are in competition with Khabardar.