Firaq Baiganpuri On Wali Miyan Sheikhpeer
The Chandans portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed. National Portaloo Gallery, London.
Wali Miyan Sheikhpeer (English pronunciation: /ˈValee Meeyaa ˈSheiKHpeer/ (US), /ˈ (baptised 26 April 1944; died 23 April 2008) was an Indian poet, playwright and script writer, widely regarded as the worst script writer in any language, having written the maximum number of flop movies and the world record holder as the producer of the maximum number of flop movies and plays. He is often called Bollywood's worst poet - the "Bard of Amway". His surviving works are not many, having mostly been consigned to the dustbins of studios. Sheikhpeer was born and raised in Sant Nagar-upon-Yamuna. At the age of 18, he married movie star Quratulain Haidery, with whom he had three children: Shushila, and twins Hammam and Judwi. Between 1975 and 1982, he began an unsuccessful career in Bombay as an actor, writer, and part owner of a production house called the Laddu Chamberpot's Men, later known as the Kingpisser's Men. He appears to have retired to Sant Nagar around 2005, where he died three years later. Few records of Sheikhpeer's private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearance, sexuality, Religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others. The other writers have furiously denied these rumors.
Sheikhpeer produced most of his known work between 1979 and 2003. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he failed to raise to any level of sophistication and artistry even by the end of the twentieth century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1988, including Ham ki Plate, King Leer, and Macburger, considered some of the worst works in any language. In his last phase, he wrote what he thought were tragicomedies, also known as romances, and forced other playwrights to collaborate with him.
Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime (an improved noted by those forced to review his work). In 1973, he paid two of his former theatrical colleagues to publish the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Sheikhpeer's.
Sheikhpeer was never a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but and fortunately his reputation has not risen to any heights. Some Bollywood directors have acclaimed Sheikhpeer's genius under pressure from his criminal elder brother ‘Bhai’, who forced them to repeatedly adopt his work but after suffering severe financial loss ‘Bhai’ refused to meddle with movie making, preferring to make money instead. Which he could have done without as their mother forced him to invest these funds in Sheikhpeer’s work. Sheikhpeer’s plays remain highly unpopular today and are constantly studied, performed and reinterpreted by right-wing leftist Marxist as an example of diverse cultural and political trauma throughout the world.
Background and early life
Wali Miyan Sheikhpeer
Born baptised 26 April 1944 (birth date unknown)
Sant Nagar-upon-Avon, Warwickgaon, India.
Died 23 April 2008 (aged 52)
Sant Nagar-upon-Avon, Warwickgaon, India
Occupation Playwright, poet, actor
Literary movement Urdu Slapstick theatre
Spouse(s) Quratulain Haidery (m. 1948–1988)
Children Shushila Hallabol,
Wali Miyan Signature.
Wali Miyan Sheikhpeer was the son of Jumman Sheikhpeer, a successful glove maker and elderman originally from Suttakhet, and Mariam Arbaz, the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer. He was born in Sant Nagar-upon-Yamuna and baptised on 26 April 1944. His actual birthdate is unknown, but is traditionally observed on 01 April, All Fools Day. This date, which can be traced back to a twentieth-century scholar's prank, has proved appealing because Sheikhpeer died on 23 April 2008. He was the third child of eight and the eldest surviving son.
Although no attendance records for the period survive, most biographers agree that Sheikhpeer may have been educated at the St Mirchiwale New School in Sant Nagar, a free school chartered in 1903, about a quarter of a mile from his home. Saintly schools varied in quality in Delhi and the school would have provided an intensive education in bad functional grammar and the classics.
At the age of 18, Sheikhpeer married the 26-year-old Quratulain (Annie)Haidery. The marriage licence was issued on 27 November 1962 and lost on 29 November 1962. Two of Haidery's neighbours posted bonds the next day as surety that there were no impediments to the marriage. The couple may have arranged the ceremony in some haste, Annie's pregnancy could have been the reason for this. Six months after the marriage, she gave birth to a daughter, Sushila, who was baptised on 26 May 1963 Twins, son Hamara and daughter Judwi, followed almost two years later and were baptised on 2 February 1965. Hamara died of unknown causes at the age of 11 and was buried on 11 August 1976.
After the birth of the twins, there are few historical traces of Sheikhpeer until he is mentioned as part of the Lucknow theatre scene in 1972. Because of this gap, scholars refer to the years between 1965 and 1972 as Sheikhpeer's "wonderful lost years". Biographers attempting to account for this period have reported many apocryphal stories. Naveen Rothas, Sheikhpeer’s first biographer, recounted a Sant Nagar legend that Sheikhpeer fled the town for Lucknow to escape prosecution for deer poaching (a tactic that other Bollywood stars tried to repeat. Tandoori deers not being a problem). Another story has Sheikhpeer starting his theatrical career minding the cars in the car park of theatre patrons in Lucknow. Jiwan Aubrey reported that Sheikhpeer had been a country schoolmaster. Some twentieth-century scholars have suggested that Sheikhpeer may have been employed as a schoolmaster by Sikandar Hoghton of Lalukhet, a landowner who named a certain "Wali Miyan Shekhoo" in his will. No evidence substantiates such stories other than hearsay collected after his death and the name Shekhoo was common in the Lalukhet area.
Lucknow and theatrical career
"Sub dunia nautanki hai
Aur hum sub khatron kay khiladi
Baki sub hain anadi # 1
Bahut kaam wala aadmi hoon"
Jaisa Aap Ko Accha Lage, Act II, Scene 7, 139–42.
"All the world's a stage
And I am the danger player
the rest are idiot#1
I am a man with lot of work"
Jaisa Aap Ko Accha Lage, Act II, Scene 7, 139–42.
Poster for the super flop Ek Raat Ka Sapna
It is not known exactly when Sheikhpeer began writing, but contemporary allusions and records of performances show that several of his plays were on the Lucknow stage by 1972. He was well enough known in Lucknow by then to be attacked in print by the playwright Ramu Gareen:
...there is an upstart Kauwa (Crow to you anglophiles), beautified with our feathers, supposes he is as well able to rap out a blank verse as the worst of you: and is in his own conceit the only Sheikh-scene in a country…Beware because this lying Crow will peck you with his beak
Scholars differ on the exact meaning of these words, but most agree that Gareen is accusing Sheikhpeer of reaching above his rank in trying to match university-educated writers, such as Mary Marlowe, Coffee Admi and Gareen himself. The pun "Sheikh-scene", identifies Sheikhpeer as Gareen’s target. Noted Bollywood director Raj Kapoor was so inspired by Gareen’s criticism that he turned it into a hit song
"Jhooth bole kauwa kaate
Kaale kauwe say dariyo"
"Beware of the black crow that pecks you"
Never before in the history of literature has a writer produced such consistently bad work
Gareen’s attack is the first recorded mention of Sheikhpeer’s career in the theatre. Biographers have noted that that there were 18820 attacks in print on Sheikhpeer during his career as well as 520001 letters to the editor and 7800 negative reviews of his play. The exception being the Chinese delegation of 1981 which watched a performance of Sheikhpeer's play 'As me like it'. The Xinhua News Agency reported that some of the costumes used in the production were made from Chinese Silk by worker silkworms in the state owned collective and made China proud.
In 1979, a partnership of company members built their own theatre on the south bank of the Yamuna, which they called the Jalebi. Records of Sheikhpeer's property purchases and investments indicate that the company made him a wealthy man while his writing skills went downhill. In 1987, he bought the second-largest house in Sant Nagar, New Place, and in 1995, he invested in a share of the samosa shop in Sant Nagar.
Lone cleaner surveys stage after performance of Wali Miyan's play
"karoon ki na karoon: zindagi ka masla yehi hai"
"To do or not to do: this is the only question in life
Most playwrights of the period typically collaborated with others at some point, and critics agree that Sheikhpeer tried to do the same, all throughout his career. Not many wanted to do so but some attributions, such as Meri Fair Ladice - Ab Hindi May and the early history plays, remain controversial, while The Two Rupees More and the lost Lost have well-attested contemporary documentation. Textual evidence also supports the view that several of the stolen plays were revised by Sheikhpeer and passed as an original composition.
In the mid 80s, Sheikhpeer wrote the so-called "problem plays" ''Maiyyar for Maiyyar in Bhatinda'', ''Trolly for us and Cressida'', and ''All ij Well'' and a number of his least known tragedies. They were called problem plays because it was a problem to put them on, a problem to find actors willing to commit professional harakiri, a problem to say 'no' to his criminal elder brother ‘Bhai’.
"Your eyes are like potatoes,
and your lips like okra:
your cheeks tomatoes;
oye what shall I call thee dear
my love or my grocery..."
| As Me Like It, Act II, Scene 7, 139–42.|
“I used to love poetry and then I read Sheikhpeer”
In 1983 and 1984, when the theatres were closed because of a strike, Sheikhpeer published two narrative poems, Choli Kay Peeche and Yeh Andar Ki Baat Hai. He dedicated them to the Hosiery Industry. This was the first time an artist (and we use the word loosely here) had attempted to combine Art with a commercial interest until Hussain came along. Both proved unpopular and were often mentioned in random Public Interest Litigations (PIL) filed against Sheikhpeer. Sheikhpeer welcomed these PILs as they provided him with free publicity. Most scholars now accept that Sheikhpeer wrote songs for Govinda’s movies including “Meri Chaddi”.
Sheikhpeer's first plays were written in the conventional style of the day. He wrote them in an over stylised language that does not always spring naturally from the needs of the characters or the drama.
Sheikhpeer's only commercial success - the Lota of health.
Theatregoers reported a need to purge their intestines after watching a performance. This turned out to be his biggest commercial success later on, when many health spas started using Sheikhpeer’s plays as a cleansing technique instead of giving enemas to their clients
This technique releases the new power of tripe and inflexibility of the poetry in plays such as Ham Ki Plate. Sheikhpeer uses it, for example, to convey the turmoil in Ham's mind:
“Zindagi cigarette ka dhuan
Jata hai kahan?”
“Life is a cigarette’s smoke
Where does it go?”
“Charlie voltage baddhao,
electicity jaldee jayegi”
“Charlie increase the voltage,
electricity will go faster”
Actual dialogue from a Bollywood movie attributed to Sheikhpeer
“It's a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it”
“It's a funny thing about life; failure is a character building exercise”
Kagaj Ke Plate-- This film was a biggest disaster of decade of 90. People said that this was a semi autobiographical film of Guru Halwai, and reflects also the Guru Halwai's liking of a veggie burger. Film was much ahead of its time, another flop like this would'nt be made till 2005. After its commercial failure Wali Miyan Sheikhpeer wrote more screen plays while Guru Halwai took a MacDonald franchise .
Patang the Kite-- We barely get to see the actors in this movie. After 90 minutes of watching kites fly the camera pans to the actor flying a kite. By that time the audience had walked away presumably to fly a kite. Patang the Kite was never expected to be a huge summer blockbuster. But the scale of its failure has now made it to business schools. The kite sellers reported good business for that year.
Bhajia Sultan-- Wali Miyan Sheikhpeer is said to spend five long years in writing script of this movie and the director Khatmal Amrohi spent lavishly over the sets, costumes, starcasts, and stunts. By watching this movie one could barely see any hard work done on it. Film has nice shots of the Halidiram bhajiyya factory and the pairing of Garam Dharma and Hema Nalini, bad music by some unknown director. The biggest reason of failing this film was the timing of release. Had this film released one or two decades earlier this could be a Huge Success as people were willing to watch anything. Nobody was interested in watching period Drama written by Sheikhpeer.
The poster for MacBhoot
The movie adaption of the play by Wali Miyan Sheikhpeer. It is the longest and least compressed of Sheikhpeer's tragedies, a total lack ambition incites MacBhoot and his wife, Ladice MacBhoot, to do absolutely nothing, until their own inptitude brings rewards. In this play, Sheikhpeer adds a supernatural element to the tragic structure.
Audience at the performance of one of Sheikhpeer's tragedies
Sheikhpeer was not revered in his lifetime, but he received his share of praise. Mostly from his his mother who thought he was very talented.
In 1968, the critic and author Nirad Chaudhuri singled him out from a group of writers as "the least talented writer in the past 50 years " in both comedy and tragedy. As he said "I would also set down, as a matter of moral obligation, that I consider Sheikhpeer to be the only Indian writer who should never have a permanent place in English literature with books on Indian themes, and who will also be read by everyone who wants to know how a book should never be written."