Exclusive Interview with Tariq Abro of Kollege Jeans

For many youngsters today TV isnt the only medium they enjoy.. Thanks to  Netflix, a lot of people have taken to following foreign shows.  However, back in the 90s and early 2000, Pakistani television aired some very fine comedy shows like Family Front, Teen Batta Teen and Kollege Jeans.

The likes of Faisal Qureshi, Ayesha Omer, and Ali Zafar made acting their full time career. Anjum Shahzad is now a successful director.  However, one of the actors from Kollege Jeans who did not appear on our television screens is Tariq Abro. Out of limelight today, we still got around connecting with him, thanks to social media.  So we wasted no time in catching up with him.

Let us take it from the beginning.  How did you land up in Kollege Jeans?

I was friends with Faisal Qureshi and Nini was the director of Kollege Jeans. We were in NCA’s cafeteria when both of them were also there. I remember Nini said that they were short of one person in their sitcom and asked me to do 2 to 3 scenes for them. However, I wasn’t part of the sitcom in the first few episodes. Back in those days people used to email as mobiles were not common. We didn’t have social media either. So the director got emails from people praising my character in Kollege Jeans. After that I was asked to take up for the role on a regular basis. That’s how I eventually became part of the sitcom, totally coincidentally.

Most of you were amateur actors.  Was acting difficult at that point in time or was someone mentoring you guys?

Well none of us were professional actors. Some of us were about to graduate while some had completed their studies. But more or less we all had been part of performing arts; from music to theatre we used to be part of the NCA stage.  So acting in Kollege Jeans was basically being our original selves. For example Ali Arif’s character used to stammer as he did in real life. Same goes for my character, I have a specific accent and I kept that.  But we did enhance our parts. Ahmad Ibrahim and Faisal Quereshi acted like they were in college. We all acted like we used to act around campus.

As for mentoring, we all had certain chemistry with each other as we had already spent around 4 years studying together, living in hostel, fooling around. At times we used to add or subtract to the script while shooting. That is why we also kept our original names in the drama. We didn’t face any problem during that time. One benefit we had was of shooting in the campus. We used to ask students to act for extra roles as well.

Kollege Jeans was an instant hit, why did you not group up with Faisal Qureshi and co for other projects?

I did do a play with Nini and also joined Faisal Qureshi in 2012 for Kollege Jeans which hasn’t gone on air yet. We shot about 13 to 14 episodes in Bangkok. But I could not decide to further continue it as profession. I did my graphic designing from NCA and wanted to continue it as my profession. On the other hand, the world of showbiz also tempted.  When I used to go for some projects, I was also asked about my graphic designing profession.

So I thought at length and knew I won’t be able to continue acting a long term profession.  I focused on my degree, also did my Fine Arts along with graphic designing. Story writing and concept building is something I still do but my interest wasn’t completely to be in front of the camera.  I was asked to be part of Faisal Qureshi and Nini’s other projects as well. However, they were in Karachi and I was in Lahore by that time and we couldn’t really coordinate. With my 9 to 5 job it wasn’t convenient to give time to both.

The good thing about Kollege Jeans was that it had great humor but no obscenity, unlike today’s sitcoms and other shows. How do you see today’s TV in this perspective?

To begin with I don’t watch a lot of television these days. I have observed about dramas and sitcoms especially that now it is taken as a job. Actors don’t put in a lot of their own input or creativity into their characters. It is merely taken as a job and not as an art form. An actor gets hired for a sitcom, it continues season after season, the actors get their salary and it all goes on. After a while the idea starts to get stale but the drama continues without punch lines or good humour.

There are one or two sitcoms that are doing better. But since I m not into TV these I can’t compare more. But one thing is that we can’t compare these sitcoms with Kollege Jeans. We all came from one place and the whole feel of it was different. Sitcoms today have actors who come from different places and only get to know each other on the sets.  So our comic timing was better. Our director was also a year or two senior to us.

How are  you doing professionally these days?

When I left Kollege Jeans in 2004, I applied and worked for ad agencies, printing press and did some freelance work. Also worked in an NGO and in 2011 I came back to Sindh. I got an opportunity in Hyderabad with the same NGO I was working with in Lahore. Nowadays I have my own art and design studio. I do workshops here related to fine arts, graphic design, textile along with  advertising and production work. I also train students on camera work, story building, all things related to production.

What was it like studying in NCA? Tell us about your time in university.

University time is the golden period of everyone’s lives I guess; be it for people who studied in 60s or 80s. Everyone cherishes their student life. I have personally learnt a lot from my time in NCA. I got many good opportunities to work on my skills. But as a student I wasn’t that good.  I have had my share of failing a few times I admit. With practical work like painting and designing I did good. I performed throughout in the music and dramatic societies of the university. I do however miss my hostel life. If we were sleeping, we would sleep for long hours at a stretch. Back then we didn’t even have a mobile phone, so that distraction was not there either. Mazaydaar time tha.

With whom would you like to collaborate with if you have to work nowadays?

To be honest, I don’t think I would be able to work in the media with my own current work schedule. I have my own production house and I prefer working behind the camera than in front of it. In the future if I plan on acting it might be for my own production. Let’s see.

Do you plan to venture into acting or directing?

Yes I do have plans and I m also currently working on this. I make short videos, documentaries and produce in my own studio, Collage Studio of Art and Design. As for a big project for television, it might work out in the future.

Tariq Abro became a unique part of the sitcom. But then you disappeared. What did you do right after Kollege Jeans finished?

There were three seasons of the sitcom. I was part of it for two seasons. Till 2003 I was acting and also working afterwards. After this in 2004 I got married, which meant more responsibilities. I got busy with practical life, work, and home. After that I didn’t do any other projects for television.

 How much were you guys earning from acting at that time?

Talking about my own expenditures, I used to spend around 2000 to 3000 rupees in a month. In the beginning I used to get 1500 per episode and there were a total of 4 episodes per month. Then the director increased the amount with the passage of it. So by the end I was earning 10 to 12 thousands a month. There were seniors actors too like Samina Peerzada, who obviously would get more. But in that time, I used to feel that was enough.

What advice would you give to anyone starting acting today especially as a comedian?

It is more important to be a good actor first. A comedian alone cannot do something great if he/she doesn’t have a good team. It is important to have the other actors and director around that would make the comedy work. If the actors in a scene are not responding well to the comedian’s dialogues etc the comic timing will get lost. Also an actor needs to understand the character. We didn’t have YouTube back in our time. Today youngsters have this platform where they can record their own work and share it with the world. If it is good enough, directors or production houses will get to you. These days it is relatively easy to approach the media, thanks to social media platform. So yes, no need to hold back, if you have the talent, explore it and share it.

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