Umer Sharif is referred to as the “King of Comedy”, Sharif is considered to be one of the greatest comedians of South Asia. He was a Pakistani actor, comedian, director, producer, and television personality. Mohammad Umer was born on 19 April 1960, into an Urdu speaking family in Karachi. He spent his formative years in Liaquatabad, the very locality that produced a number of national legends, including international hockey players, literatteurs and qawwals. A comedy entertainer of Umer’s caliber was a rarity until then.
Belonging to a lower-middle class family, Umer lost his father at the age of four. Being the youngest of his siblings, there were no restrictions on the young Umer, which helped cultivate his brilliant sense of humour and sharp wit. By the time he was in his teens, Umer was visiting theatres to watch stage shows and had started to mimic everyone in his neighbourhood — from passing beggars to neighbourhood goons and bullies, he spared absolutely no one.
Umer started his career, at the age of 14, from Karachi as a stage performer. His talent landed him at the Adamjee Hall for a stage play where he was given the role of a Gujarati fortune-teller at the eleventh hour, after the original actor had to leave due to a family emergency. Umer excelled in the role of the fortune-teller and, despite being only 14 at the time, he managed to win a motorbike, a year’s supply of fuel and 5,000 rupees in cash in recognition of his performance.
Some of his extremely popular comedy stage plays were 1989’s Bakra Qistoon Pe and Buddha Ghar Pe Ha. Sharif became a very popular star during this period, much of the success came from the fact that he started to record his stage shows and his videotapes were rented out in a similar manner to movies. Yes Sir Eid and No Sir Eid were among the first stage plays to come out on video.
He initially made his stage name Umer Zarif, a tribute to his “spiritual mentor” and legendary Pakistani actor Munawwar Zarif, but after being stunned by the Egyptian lead actor’s performance in Lawrence of Arabia, he changed it again to Umer Sharif.
In 1976, Umer wrote the stage show Bionic Servant, inspired by the famous TV series Six Million Dollar Man starring Lee Majors, and thus his lifetime association with the already established comedian Moin Akhtar, who also starred in it, began.
Although Umer remained a part of the famous TV show Fifty-Fifty for some time, he became persona non grata at PTV during the ’80s after his inability to stick to a script and his predilection for what was considered ‘crass’ street humour at the state broadcaster. Those were the days of Gen Ziaul Haq’s martial law. Video shops were quite common in those days and VHS cassette rentals of movies, mushairas and geet malas at a meagre cost of 10 rupees a day sounded infinitely better than hauling one’s whole family off to a cinema or a theatre.
He introduced juggat in Urdu theatre which, until then, was usually associated only with the culture of Punjab. Punjabi actors were famous for catcalling, yet there was no such concept among their Urdu-speaking counterparts.
Be it the introduction of the words ‘burger’ or ‘mummy daddy’ to define teenagers belonging to the affluent areas of Defence and Clifton, or his use of the word ‘maila’ for the rough and tough guys from the other, less-privileged areas of Karachi, Umer managed to indulge and entertain the audience wherever he performed.
His jokes made people laugh everywhere Urdu was understood and spoken, not only in Pakistan but also in India and the South Asian communities in the UK and the US. He would freely and good-naturedly taunt overly ‘made-up’ ladies, became the voice of helpless husbands, while his mimicry of a groom was a class act. Corruption was his bete noire and he exposed it in departments such as law enforcement, customs and hospitals with his between-the-lines sarcastic wit and humour. The manner in which he parodied airline crews and copied the style of the stewards and stewardesses was something only he could manage to do.
In October 2009, Sharif started hosting his own late-night talk show, The Shareef Show, on Geo TV. He interviewed many actors, entertainers, musicians, and politicians on the show. He also appeared as a guest judge on the Indian stand-up comedy show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, alongside Navjot Singh Siddhu, and Shekhar Suman.
UMER SHARIF – AWARDS:
Along with numerous awards he got, Sharif received National awards for Best Director and Best Actor in 1992 for Mr. 420. He received ten Nigar Awards. Sharif was the only actor to receive four Nigar Awards in a single year. He received three Graduate Awards. Sharif was also a recipient of Tamgha-e-Imtiaz.b A recipient of the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, Umer Sharif remained active till 2019.
The untimely death of his daughter Hira, in February 2020, left him utterly shattered. His health deteriorated and he became bedridden. By the time the Sindh Government intervened and Umer was flown out of Pakistan in an air ambulance on September 28 for treatment in the US, it was already too late for the ailing comedian. He died on October 2, 2021, in a hospital in Germany.