Pakistan comedy artistes Ali Hassan and Irfan Malik talk about the state of satire and the boundaries of humour

“Even before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could extend his hand for friendship, Doordarshan did it by inviting us to be a part of Yeh Zindagi Hai Gulshan. This will certainly bridge the gap between the two nations,” say Ali Hassan and Irfan Malik, Pakistani comedy artistes who are a part of the show.

Ali plays the role of the protagonist’s father and Irfan is the brother of Hassan’s wife. “Ali is a music director, and Irfan makes it a point to stop him from succeeding in his works. There are intense tussles within the characters and Irfan would continuously provoke Ali’s wife to fight with Ali,” says the producer and director of the show Suhaib Ilyasi.

The duo has appeared previously on Great Indian Laughter Challenge.

Do they see any difference in the comedy scene in India and Pakistan? “It’s only a difference of a few words. There we have Urdu, here we have Hindi,” says the hefty Ali. “The main difference is that of theatrical comedy, there is more of comedy theatre done in Pakistan, in India we don’t see much of it,” Irfan adds.

The difference is also in the vibrancy of political satire.

“I believe in comparison to India, we have given a freer hand to the media in Pakistan, so, such shows could run. And the audience is always interested in such shows; they always look forward to an artist dressed up as a politician or as a famous personality and poking fun,” he explains.

But at a time when the lines between humour and offence are increasingly blurring, how do they manage? “We have a principle of restricting our humour to ourselves. And in that too, we make it a point to ensure that we make no comments which may be offensive to anyone’s family or make personal comments. Humour should be fit for family viewing. Most of our comedy involves making fun of each other, so that leaves little scope of offending others. If we perform a skit with a politician as a subject, then the direction team mellows down the act if it goes beyond permissible boundaries,” Ali says.

Commenting on the recent Pakistan elections, Imran Khan’s pre-election propaganda and post-election mockery, Ali quips, “Before the elections, there was an sms circulating which said that Imran Khan will bring a new Pakistan; when Nawaz Sharif was declared the winner of these recent elections, there was another sms circulating that there is no money for a new Pakistan and we’ll have to work with the old one.”