During the condolence meeting for BM in Karachi, every speaker took the opportunity to talk in detail about his and deceased painter’s close and intimate relationship. Listening to the same sort of stuff repeated one after other not only reduced the interest of audience, but turned all those words, shallow, hollow, redundant and meaningless. Until Anwar Maqsood came to rescue the audience attending the session, by requesting the next participants to be brief, so that no other artist passes away during those long speeches.
This was just one aspect of the painter, actor, writer and connoisseur Anwar Maqsood, who is known primarily for his incredible and unmatchable sense of humour. Millions of viewers of Urdu programmes in Pakistan and other countries have enjoyed his subtle satire and sophisticated comments on the socio-political situation. There is a long list of TV programmes, which he wrote, acted in and directed, all endowed with the unmistakable mark of the man and mind we call Anwar Maqsood. In some way his sense of humour can be compared to that great Urdu author, Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi. Like Yusufi, his sentences are also chiselled, his prose is immaculate, and his play on words is precise. Actually all this comes from his immense reading of classical and contemporary literature, his vast knowledge of music and his deep interest in the world around him. He observes, picks and presents some of the most unusual and uncanny personages, situations and scenario in most intelligent and entertaining way. Therefore his comments on political conditions (which is hilarious in any case!) are pieces that can be cherished and enjoyed after the momentary situation has changed.
But the sharp wit is not only in his writings, because his conversation provides great occasions to laugh and enjoy. However at the same instance his words make people think about the matters of life, with philosophical overtones. But this career for Maqsood has not been simple or smooth, because on many occasions he had to face the state’s power and oppression, to silence him. In fact his is a good example of how to speak truth to power, which he does, following the Armenian proverb: ‘Always tell the truth in the form of a joke’.
Yet for him the history of speaking truth has not been a joke, but has brought serious consequences. There was one instance during the period of General Zia ul Haq when he was asked to be a compere for Pakistan Television’s annual awards. The event was originally planned to be held at the Lahore Fort and it was to be broadcast live on the channel. But for some reasons, the venue of programme was moved to Alhamra Art Council. During the military dictatorship of Zia, Lahore Fort was known for state torture on political opponents, resulting in many disappearances and deaths. On the eve of the award ceremony, Anwar Maqsood announced that the real reason for shifting the venue of the programme from the Fort to Alhamra was that the authorities at Lahore Fort did not allow the live broadcast of the programme. Because anything coming out alive from there would tarnish their record.
This single sentence resulted in Anwar Maqsood being banned on state media. But he could not be contained, no matter how oppressive, huge and stifling the state machinery was. Thus he continued with his work until the state recognized its folly and the restrictions were lifted, discreetly though.
One may have assumed that during those years of silence and invisibility, Anwar Maqsood have picked another medium, painting, to express himself; but he had been working as a painter long before Zia came to power. His canvases are part of many important collections, including National Art Gallery, Islamabad, and others. Regardless of the circumstances, he has been active as a visual artist for years and on a regular basis.
It would be interesting to compare and analyse the person’s work as a painter and his contribution as a writer and actor. Even though one tends to hardly link the two expressions, believing that painting and acting are two different activities. Painting (like writing) requires the solitude of the studio, while acting needs stage, camera, crew and audience. However there seems to be a connection between all that Anwar Maqsood pursues as his creative expression. The liveliness in his words and the naturalness of his performance are replicated in his canvases, which are created with vivid colours and in strong hues. Simplified shapes, large faces and lyrical lines are a few features of Maqsood’s art, that has been enticing and impressing art viewers and collectors for a number of years.
In fact the choice of a rich colour palette, which does not follow the usual, normal and common approach or academic code (like many giants of Pakistani art, Anwar Maqsood is also a self taught artist!) has a parallel in his writing, which is as vibrant as his paints. His expression, both in verbal and visual formats suggests a certain type of boldness that converts immediate incidents and familiar objects into sublime entities, which can be enjoyed on various levels.
Anwar Maqsood represents that unique league of individuals from our society who are not satisfied with one mode of creative activity. For them, life as a whole is more important then its compartmentalization in various specializations. Someone who belongs/belonged to Renaissance Italy, but by being in these surroundings, he brings the vitality of character, tolerance for others and wealth of knowledge to us, because despite of his excellence in every field, he is primarily a man of the people. He loves them and they adore him!