Kashmiri Comic Tickles Funny Bone Of Muslims, Hindus
7 September 2006
Srinagar: In Indian Kashmir, where a deadly 17-year-old Muslim insurgency has touched almost every family with tragedy, it is easy to make people cry and tough to make them laugh. But funny-faced Nazir Josh, the region's leading television and theatre artist, has the talent to entertain the people, despite the gloomy backdrop of 44,000 deaths since the eruption of the revolt against Indian rule. When Josh appears on television in the Muslim-majority northern Indian state, everyone guffaws at his funny appearance, bizarre make-up and his unique style of speech. He sometimes appears on screen wearing a three-piece business suit with a medieval crown on his head and a huge tie dangling below his waist. Other times he wears an untidy police uniform with his shirt untucked and a belt hanging around his neck. 'May God be kind to you, but He won't be,' Josh says at the start of every conversation in his latest hit television serial. The one-liner has Kashmiris in stitches. 'Frankly I don't know what's in me and why people start laughing when I come on screen,' says Josh, whose monologues are often critical of authorities. 'But I'm happy I can give them those moments of entertainment and make them laugh a bit,' says the comic, who is mobbed everywhere by well-wishers. Shooting a scene in Indian Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, Josh seeks to make his co-actors comfortable before the cameras roll with a few jokes. 'Darling! How you are?' he asks in English as he approaches the actress who plays his wife in the new Kashmiri series Shail Tarukh (Gimmick) about a man seeking to become a politician. 'Go away. You have achieved nothing in life,' she drawls deadpan in Kashmiri. Josh rotates his eyes and says: 'Now the worst is over. Today I have joined politics and soon we will have everything.' To impress his on screen wife, he asks the man who plays his security guard to salute her. Lean and clean-shaven, Josh started acting as a child in amateur theatricals in his hometown of Budgam in Kashmir. He first acted before the television cameras in the early 1980s and had intended to play serious roles. His cousin, Kashmir's first filmmaker Bashir Budgami, discovered Josh's comic side when the actor signed up to play the lead role in the 52-episode Hazar Dastan (One Thousand Tales). The serial catapulted Josh into a household name. Josh now is a mega-celebrity. People want to be photographed with him and clamour for his autograph. 'He provides us with those rare moments of fun and laughter,' says Burhan Yasin, a student. While Josh is a Muslim, his humour speaks to both Hindus and Muslims. Islamic militants have closed down all cinema halls in Kashmir so entertainment-starved residents have to tune in to television. But such is his local star power that the rebels have never criticised Josh.