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     Volume 7 Issue 39 | September 26, 2008 |

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One Off

In living and loving
Occupational Hazards

Aly Zaker

I have been asked to write a 'tongue- in- cheek' piece for this special issue. I do not see any way that I can be more 'tongue in cheek' with any subject other than myself and hence that's what I have embarked upon to deliberate on. I have now lived with advertising for over four decades and about five years less than that with acting. I must share first with my readers how I came about into the world of advertising. For that I would like to quote here from the beginning of a book that I have been striving to write for the last three years. This quote, I think, will also give some idea about my own assessment of the 'up' and 'down' sides of the trade. I am going to name my book 'a hilarious stint' if ever I can manage to find a publisher. So, here's what it is.

“I was walking down the Jahangir Road in down town Karachi. My destination was a small government residential house in an area called the Martin Road quarters. It was winter. And some winters in Karachi can be cold. They used to say it's the Quetta wind that's started blowing. Anyway, I was walking through the deserted road, my hands in my trouser pockets. I was wearing a light cotton jacket for I had never imagined that it'd be ten at night when I could leave work and get back home. Home meant a room in a tenement quarter shared with a Bihari family. In those days of being a trainee executive we had to work hard and early home often meant, say, eight in the evening? As I was walking I kept thinking as to what could have gone wrong with the copy that I had written for one of our most important clients that morning. Then, I don't know why, I started to giggle. This I now know was a giggle of despair. When I took the rough visual of the newspaper advertisement together with the formula bound headline, body copy and the pay off line to the client, the marketing manager of the company started off with volleys of accolade. He had never expected that the copy could be so well written and the visual, suggested through a pencil sketch, could be so appropriate. Then he started speaking his mind. He said, “Well it deserves to go to the press as it is but then how about going for right alignment of the head line and left alignment of the copy? How about replacing a couple of words with this and this alternative and how about replacing the proposed visual with something more, I should think, more dynamic and how about making the overall lay out a little moreerrsexed up”? By the time he was through with his “how about” bit I could hardly recognise the ad that was presented to him. It was thoroughly disfigured.

I had not realised that I was near home 'round Bashir Mia's paan shop. His voice brought me back to reality. He was saying, “...arey bhai zaker mia, tum keya pagal ho gaey ho? Akeley chaltey, chaltey hus rahey ho”? (hello Mr. Zaker , have you gone mad tonight? Laughing all by yourself?) I kept laughing and said “Hun jee aaj to pagalhee ho gayen hum” (that's right sir I really have gone mad tonight). This was well over three decades ago. I dare say, the scenario hasn't changed much over these decades. But, of course, there is always a brighter side to all that does not seem so appealing in the beginning. Advertising has taught me to open my eyes to things like sets of convictions called brands, noticing people around me or beyond, being born in to belief systems, societies shaping behaviour patterns, brands regulating lifestyles, et al. Though, I must confess, that I had to also devise an advertising film or two in line with the wishes of the 'client's daughter'. What a cocktail of misery and pleasure. Well these are occupational hazards. I have walked a long way on this road since those early days in Karachi and despite less 'ups' and more 'downs' of the trade, do not regret being in it. As I keep pointing out to the young professionals, at the end of the day the agency has the last laugh, the agency being the organisation where the advertising professionals worked. In the course of a day of advertising professionals' chores, they get to meet so many kinds of personalities and each one of them, dictated by their personal or corporate identity, is so diverse and different in their opinion about similar issues that life for us becomes really interesting. Exchanging notes on these with colleagues at the end of the day may really be hilarious.

I started my journey in acting precisely five years after I started on advertising. The bondage with this art form became very strong and is growing stronger. One of the reasons may be that I do not have to act for the sake of living. I can pick and choose my roles as well as the Directors and even my co-actors that I have to work with. In my journey as an actor there are also many anecdotes that are worth sharing. Most of these have to do with my experience with my 'fans (?)' especially the ones who have seen me in various television plays. It is not rare that an actor is approached, ostensibly by a fan, and after showering a whole lot of eulogies on his acting as the actor is about to leave, the fan says, “okay brother see you again; by the way what is your name?” It happened once that a man approached me. He was so happy to see me right there in his own environ that he wore a grin that was there forever. He said, “You know you are my great fan”. I said, “I think, you mean, you are my fan!” He said, “Yes, you are my fan”. I had earned quite a bit of saliency working in a play called Bohubrihi by Humayun Ahmed. My role was that of a Mama (maternal uncle). It was a very funny role. Mama was kind of a loony. And, that made the role take off. Till now some of the viewers who saw it on BTV talk about it. I understand some pirated CDs of that play are also available in the market. Despite my role being a success, because of it, I had to get into various kinds of embarrassing, often annoying situations. Mama, more than a manner of address became almost like a catcall. Suppose I was resting under a tree in a village in between shots, a sudden sharp call would ring in my ears, “Mama”. I would jump out of my slumber. Eventually, I became almost paranoid about the mama sound. I was once acting in our stage play Galileo. Galileo is one of my most favourite roles. Towards the end Galileo, now imprisoned by the church, asks his disciple Andrea what was the meaning of science. And then goes on to explain that the role of science was to discover truth through the application of logic. The words used in the dialogue were “revealing truth through suspicion.” This dialogue had always involved me so much emotionally that I used to be on the verge of breaking down. I could see my audience sitting up, crying at the ordeal of Galileo. Here he was, a helpless man, torn between his passion for science and the dictates of the church prohibiting him from practising it. In one of the shows, when everyone was totally involved in the play, someone from the back of the hall, in a sharp singular voice gave that most haunting and fearful call, “Mama”. For me it was like a call to inferno, a death sentence, the end of the world.

But, please don't get me wrong. I must confess that, my experience with acting in any media has been one of ethereal pleasure and excitement. A kind of a rebirth, whether it was Bohubrihi or Dewan Gazi, Macbeth or Nuraldeen, Tempest or Galileo.

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