Good acting is subjective. We may like or dislike an actor’s performance for entirely different reasons. There is no scale on which one may judge performance; it all depends on the individual taste. Then, there are trends that actors follow. There was a time when melodrama was in fashion amongst mainstream actors. It was before the era of Stanislavsky and his method acting, before the global recognition he has later enjoyed.
My experience with actors is limited to a decade. However, I have observed how the veterans have directed their actors in their unique ways. What I learned during these observations was about believing the actor, regardless of the technique these actors preferred for their performances.
A good actor, for me, is someone who makes me believe in what they are portraying. It is a blend of body language and psychological attributes, balanced or imbalanced, according to the demand of characterization.
This list is in no way a proclamation of anything, but similar to sharing recently discovered music with friends. However, many in the list will be known to most.
For the younger crowd, he is the old boy of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) who recites Urdu poetry. To educate the young ones, he has performed in numerous films and theatre plays across the globe, including in the famous David Lean epic ‘Lawrance of Arabia’ and ‘Khartum,’ amongst many other popular titles. Despite his international success as a film actor, he has always been a theatre buff. Not only that, but he has spent much of his old age in setting up and running the only theatre academy in Pakistan. But I am not a fan of him because of his work in the cinema or his recitals. I am a fan because when for a brief moment, he started performing the famous Shylock monologue from Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice.’ It was just before the actors started prepping for the first play at the in-house theatre of Napa.
Why do I remember this one performance, you may ask? Because that day I met a Jewish person for the first time in my life. I looked into Mohyeddin’s eyes and saw the ghettos of Venice and generational humiliation, the struggle to keep the identity of a human, and the hope for equality.
Shafi Mohammad Shah
This fellow from the small rural town of Kandiaro, Sindh, was able to etch his craft onto my mind. I was a small boy when I watched his television performances. Recently, I re-visited his performance for Noor ul Huda Shah`s ‘Jungle.’ What amazed me was how despite his bulky stature, he managed to play a jubilant youngster and the flawless transition his character made into a vengeful person seeking revenge from his father. He used an aura in his acting that made an impression on me. His comprehension of subtleties in human emotions went beyond my emotional intellect.
Abid Sahab`s performances had an easy rhythm. His way of playing a character was about playing with negative space. His portrayals were flawless, as if he had already been through such experiences. His characterization did not seem new in the sense that his reaction to situations was not dramatic, but relatable to everyday life incidents and our reactions.
Talat Sahab’s ability to control the attributes of a character, as if the character is playing Talat Hussain, is one of the rarest skills I have seen in performers. His command over oscillation, both physical and vocal, is an inspiration for many actors. Not only does a generation of Pakistanis who grew up watching his performances love him, but so do the Norwegians, who awarded him with an Amanda Trophy for best supporting actor.
She was the first performer I witnessed who successfully pulled off the character of Zareena, a person not in her age bracket. Instead of relying on dialogue, she used her body to play the role of a chirpy youth. I have not seen anyone do that in the theatre since Begum Jan. I am glad I did not know her as a person because her work stays with me forever, in its purest form. That is what she loved doing with her life: expression through art.
Brilliant and original are the only two words that come to mind when I see her performances. She has played numerous characters of nuance that her understanding of the human condition outshines her performance, in addition to helping her with the characterization. She makes me believe that I am in rural Sindh of deewarain with the duality of hope and pessimism she embodies in her portrayal.
Unlike Abid Sahab, Mr Hasan`s character treatment was clamorous, in a controlled communicative manner. He embodied all the objective attributes through body language. The loudness in his tone, what Grotowski calls biological chaos, had an order to it. This command over his vociferous vocalization and actions made him a powerful performer.
The first time I saw Adnan, he was portraying Oedipus Rex in Zia Mohiyeddin’s production for the National Academy of Performing Arts. Adnan played Oedipus with such command over his projection of vocals and body language; he kept the audience spellbound even though he was wearing a mask: a tradition in ancient Greek plays. Since then, I have worked with him on a handful of plays and, even after ten years of collaboration, he still succeeds in surprising me during every production.
I have not seen her work on television. The performance which made me her fan was when I worked as a consultant on a film in which she was an actor. The grace with which she carried her performance was not only phenomenal but convincing enough to dominate the narrative itself. Although her character was a catalyst, she outshone the principal lead with her subdued rhythm in an otherwise male-dominated film.
She acts her part the way it is supposed to be played; not too overt and neither too subtle. The balance that she strikes is uncommon in her peers, who often play characters loud and obnoxious. To achieve such sensibility early in her career is commendable.