BY MUSHTAQUE B BARQ
Talent is a verve that governs your microcosm. Performance is the response that an artist involuntarily or voluntary showcases before the audience to eternize the art that describes life. A courageous man alone can display his latent faculty on the stage and for a resilient who knows how to bring the best out of his own Pandora box. When proficiency conquers the orthodox forts then only one sets his own rule and turns to be a torch bearer. One such poise persona is Makhan Lal Saraf. Born at Chinkral Mohalla in Srinagar city which was considered as the hub of cultural activities. He was trained by R K Braroo and Pran Kishore Ji. After passing his matriculation, Saraf was lucky to find a job at Amar Singh College Srinagar 1956. Saraf was the founder of Rangmanch, Kashmir Theatre and Bhoorang. He started his theatre in 1956 with Pushkar Bhan’s play Grand Rehearsal. He proved himself to the satisfaction of experts when he acted in Kashmiri films like Maanziraat , Mehjoor and Motherhood. His performance in a TV serial by Sham Benegal lured many directors to cast him. M L Sarraf is not only an actor and director but also a writer. His productions include Dr.Faustus, Kuss Log Davuss and Taqdeer Saaz. He played lead roles in Hero Machama, Mangoo, Aknandun , Ba Chuss Tchoor , Aaraam Haraam Hai . His popular performances in Pazar Yeli Mood, Pagaah Sholi Duniya, Ghulam Begum Badshah, Cherry Truch, Kruhun Seeri, Hazar Daastan, Me Chum Aash Paghich and Seemab. He is known for his entrance on stage. His grandeur and attire coupled with extraordinary voice penetratingly correspond to his gestures, creating a perfect aura for emotions to drain the state of the mind are his features as an actor. His stage movements would generate special effects on the stage hard to find in those days when technology was in infancy. His innovations have turned him as a prototype of theatrist. Makhan Lal Saraf is a second generation Theatre artist of Kashmir, thereby carrying forward the undertaking of first generation performers. His litheness as an unaffected actor came to fore in Prem Nath Versus Prem Nath. He not only lionized the theatre by being loyal to his masters, but also conducted experiments both in acting and setting. Apart from acting, he is an author of two books From Actor to Artist (English) and Drama Movement in Kashmir (Kashmiri). He has performed in Trivanthpuram, Bangluru, Madras, Calcutta, Lucknow, Chandigarh, New Delhi-through J&K Academy of Art ,Culture and Languages with operatic form of plays directed by Pran Kishore. He is a member of sab committee on Drama and Dance in the Academy of Art, Culturel and Languages J&K.
He has been awarded with ‘Production Awards’, a medal for Acting by J&K Government, 12 best Acting Awards by J&K Academy, cultural societies and foundations, “Natya Saman “ from Allahabad Natya Sangh Allahabad, Sadiq Memorial Society Award, Award as Actor/Director by Bakshi Memorial Society, Award for “life time achievement” by Jhelum Art Society Srinagar, The best play award —inter-college Drama Festival -1994, Badshah Award for Acting by EKTA (KTA) Srinagar, Life time achievement Award by Theatre and Film producer’s cooperative Srinagar 2012, Life time ‘Achievement Award’ by SNS foundation Kashmir 2013, Life time contribution to ‘Radio Drama’. Award by Radio Kashmir, Srinagar 2013, and The best Director Award by Academy of Art, Cultural and Languages Jammu 2012, The Best Acting Award for 2012 and 2014 by Academy of Art, Cultural and Languages Jammu, “Sharika Saman” by All Kashmiri Pandit Conference Jammu -2014.
Pran Kishore declares him an institution of acting and serious actor, fit to any role, may it be comedy, a middle class family character and writer. Saraf changed the style of theater. He started to work on Theatre from Habba Kadal, and we would sit there and select plays to be performed there. Later on he moved to Tagore hall and I picked him for Radio and he performed beyond my expectations. He has also written many plays for TV. His contribution in theatre is that he promoted satire dramas. In most of my Operas he played a leading role. He is a humble and generous actor.
“I started my theatre career with Makhan Lal Saraf in his Rungmunch dramatic club somewhere in 1969. He was a sort of inspiration for me to take up theatre. Acted in two plays directed by him. Before the arrival of TV, he was an established and popular top-grade drama artist Of Radio too. Later he acted in numerous TV productions as well. Though he established himself as a powerful actor on Radio and TV, yet it is his contribution to Theatre that sets him apart. His first love is and has been theatre. He is one of very few in the Valley who kept the torch of theatre glowing in very difficult circumstances. I am amazed at his energy and passion for theatre even at this age. My only personal regret is that though being highly gifted and versatile he by and large remained in a certain grove all along and did not venture out much and try different subjects, treatments and characters. God bless him.” Ashok Jail Khani, Actor-director.
Suraj Raina, Actor- Director says : If we talk about the Indian film industry, we call Raj Kapoor Sahab _ the “Show Man of Bollywood”, and when we talk about Art & Culture in J & K, we call Makhan Lal Saraf the “Show Man of J& K”. He has established a remarkable footprint that is recognizable not only in J & K but in the whole country. The chapters in the history of theatre, TV, Radio, Film, and Writings are incomplete if we don’t mention him.
Being my maternal uncle, we share a very special relationship. Though I was a member of the Abhinav Bharati theatre group, he brought me into his plays, where I learnt a lot about aesthetics in theatre. He directed Doctor Faustus through his theatre group Kashmir Theatre and offered me to play the character of an angel in it. It was a memorable experience in the journey of my theatrics. I also acted with him in some street theatre performances which were not scripted. He taught us how to build a situation on any given social problem of the area in which the Nukad Natak is to be performed. Instant and effective, challenging the sensitivities of the performers. Wow! I never had any such experiences before or after those street theatre shows. He provided me and other artists a platform and taught me how to utilise it.
In the later stages when we migrated from Kashmir, I requested him to honour me by accepting to act in my TV productions and even write for me, which he willingly did. His presence added value to my productions. The biggest asset is the quality of his voice and his unique art of modulating it to suit the character. This trait made him a recognizable voice in the broadcast space of that era. In the end, I can say he is a legendry who believes in creating new legendries to carry forward his legacy. May God bless him with a long life filled with health, happiness, peace and joy always. I simply Love him.
Avtar Mota, an ace artist informs that in acting, Makhan Lal Saraf has something special that sets him apart from his peers. This something special brought him to the higher pedestal of theatre where he commands the much-deserved respect of a Guru.
As an actor, he has the ability to transform beyond recognition. He can transform his good physique into a distorted and unrecognizable version of himself even without the use of prosthetics. He did everything what was expected of him, he kept changing his posture, centre of balance and his speech patterns to perfection. This technique made his performance powerful and believable for audiences and critics alike.
Saraf demonstrated presence of mind, confidence and magnetism on the stage. He attracted the audience by virtue of his skill. In any role, you find him in the pursuit of perfection. He is a great master insofar as an understanding of human behaviour is concerned. Possibly this exceptional quality is the biggest tool that has honed his acting skills. For many actors he could be a school to learn facial expressions, body language, dialogue delivery, gestural language and audience connect. With more than sixty years of experience on the stage whereat he produced, directed and also scripted some plays, he ruled the hearts of one and all. Saraf has a unique distinction of being the first theatre artist in Kashmir whose book was taught as a course text in the Kashmiri Department, University of Kashmir. My best wishes for his long life and good health.
Bansi Raina, actor shares that his association with ML Saraf – started during the recording of Pushkar Bhan’s famous Radio Serial SINDBAAD MACHAMA -in which he was playing main Jin and Saraf along with PL Handu were playing Jin’s daughters, Singari and Jingari. He was invited to join Rangmanch Theatre around 1968 -which Saraf with others had founded in 1967. He was earlier with Kala Kendra and remained in Rangmanch Theatre up to 1972 and subsequently founded another group called Kashmir Theatre. He has worked with Saraf in Kus log Davas-insaaf-Talash—Ba Chus Tchoor together. To him –Saraf is more suited as an actor for slapstick comedy like Grand-rehearsal. As a director –Saraf’s clear vision of storytelling is incomparable. He is born theatre man with an urge to improvise and experiment. Wishing him long life and sound health.
Rajesh Kaul, Ex-Director and Head of Dept. Media Centre, writes: An Actor requires to be skillful at playing a role that is a dramatic departure from self or playing a role that’s a dramatic departure from characters you play most. M L Saraf is one such actor who is blessed with excellent stage, screen and vocal presence, ability to enter into another character and engage with the audience. He has a tremendous understanding of dramatic techniques viz: facial expressions, body language, speech modulation, gestures and poise. He is friendly, an extrovert with a terrific sense of humor.
My first meeting with Saraf sahib was in 1970 at Amar Singh Degree College where he worked as a section officer and I had to submit my admission form. Later we frequently met in the college dramatic club during rehearsals. He, being well versant with stagecraft, helped Dr. R L Shant who was directing Moliere’s play The Miser for college production that year. Sarf helped in set designing and undertook responsibility for makeup. Following year, he directed Kashmiri one-act play Extension written by Prof. Hari Krishan Kaul.
When I joined Srinagar Television Mr. Saraf was already there in the first batch of approved artists like Sudhama ji Kaul, Trilok Das, H. N. Gurtu, Som Nath Sumbli, Nabla Begum, Abdul Majid, etc. Saraf, already an established artist of stage and Radio dramas, did not take much time to understand the audio-visual medium which was different to an extent. His fast pick up in understanding nuances of a small screen, which is different from theatre and Radio where an actor is supported by a prompter (on stage) and a written script in hand (for radio) production. In television, one had to remember the dialogues from beginning to end including the catchwords of the co-actors. In the early 70’s TV Srinagar would produce only studio-based plays which had to be done in one go without any outdoor shooting, editing or post-production. An actor had to memorize each and every bit taught in rehearsals. A single mistake would mean going from ab-initio. His performance in the first comic series SODE TE BODE produced by Shri Farooq Nazki around the same time made him a household name. Then there was no looking back.
I remember his outstanding performance as an egoist class- IV employee in telefilm Yi Zahar Kus Cheyi based on Padam Shree Som Nath Sadhu’s radio play of the same title produced by me under a software scheme in 1983. In 1987- 88, I was to produce a special programme for world theatre day. A casual conversation with M L Saraf resulted in a well-researched doc-drama Kasheeri Munz Dramuhuk Irtika scripted and anchored by M L Saraf. It went very well with the viewers and came out to be a study film which once Late Moti Lal Kemu Sahab conveyed to me personally that DD should preserve it for future references. Alas! The film was destroyed in the 2014 floods. This research work became the base for his book on theatre in the Kashmiri language Drama Movement in Kashmir. Makhan Lal Saraf has deep insight into human character and understanding of human behavior which helps in shaping up the characters he performs. I wish him good health and active life.
“He is a multifaceted personality and contemporized Kashmiri theatre. He brought so much on Kashmiri stage. His theatre movement in the form of a book is worth reading and the best book for researchers. He has written a biography on Pushkar Bhan. Even after migration, he established Boorang at Jammu and performed many plays, especially in the Kashmiri language. In 1970 the first workshop was conducted by The School of Drama under the leadership of a famous director Ibrahim Alqazi, in that completion a folk play was performed by his group that attracted the attention of viewers and experts. In Arnimal he played a role of father, in Tipu Sultan and Vitasta , he set his own standards as a matured actor.” Ayash Arif, Actor-director.
“Saraf Sahab ,an artist par excellence is known to every Kashmiri. He has performed for Radio Kashmir, DDK Srinagar and for the Theatre. He has written and directed a number of plays. Besides artist, writer and director he is a very affectionate human being. Always helpful to co-artists.” Brij Khishori, an ace artist.
“I have not seen any theatre actor like him in Srinagar. I cast him twice, his set designing concept, light arrangement, his entry on the stage, his voice and above all his positioning on the stage is matchless. In Haput , he played a double role and justified both characters.” Bashir Dada, Actor-director.
Q:- What made you a theatrist?
I think I was made for theatre. It was on my nerves and I just applied myself to explore my talent. It was the time when social TV was a far distant dream and Radio was the only medium available to broadcast your views. In that scenario, Theatre was the only source after Radio to engage people. I used this platform to highlight social, political, and economic issues through plays and it was my dream to have an indigenous theatre and it was a dream come true like situation when I established many Theatre Clubs. There were so many things around and I was very keen to present the position of the society on stage and this lured me to the theater.
Q:- What made you an ace writer?
I started as a theatre actor, but with the passage of time, I innovated the traditional theater and I had a gut feeling that my innovations will certainly help the upcoming generation to carry on the theatre, so I utilized all my experiences as an actor to re-shape my scriptwriter within me and in doing so I felt the need of recording my experiments and techniques I learned in the form of a book and in this way I was able to produce two books. I had many research papers as well that have been turned into plays. All I believe is that once you are obsessed with creativity, everything follows you.
Q :- Since we know much about you as Actor-director and Writer, What is your message for forthcoming theatre artists?
Any message is incomplete unless one takes it seriously. I would like to instruct the upcoming theatre artists to practice and read more about theatre. We are living now in advanced age wherein technology is like a magical lamp, you click or rub it, things will happen. I want them to utilize the sources to polish the skills. It is really tough to survive as a theater actor for one has to perform live before the hostile and humble audience as well, so as an actor on the stage, one is not what he is off the stage, he is a character on the stage and he must learn and research on the ground level to justify his role. One has to live with the character he is playing on the stage otherwise all appears just overacting. Acting requires natural flow and a lot of self-motivation. One cannot spoil the character because an actor lives for and on the character, so the character needs a lot of character. Any deviation in this regard is considered character assignation and I am against it. One should stay loyal to the stage. Only a loyal actor can perform perfectly.
Mushtaq B.Barq is a Columnist, Poet and Fiction Writer. He is the author of “Feeble prisoner, “ Wings of Love” and many translation works are credited to the author like “ Verses Of Wahab Khar” and “ Songs Of Sochkral”