A luminary of Pakistan’s silver and small screen, Shakeel for decades captivated audiences with his unparalleled talent and charismatic presence. Born with movie star looks (those dreamy eyes!) and a screen presence to boot, he could have been remembered just for that. Yet he dodged the pitfalls of being just an exceptionally good-looking star and left behind a career studded with memorable and mesmerising performances.
His greatest ability was to turn characters as diverse as the stoic unsmiling Taimur saheb in Ankahi and the carefree chilled-out Mehboob Ahmed in Aangan Terha into household names. If you ever sat with your family around the only TV screen in your house to watch a PTV play starring Shakeel, you knew that the characters he portrayed weren’t just characters; they were family who made weekly visits to your home through your TV screen.
Born Yousuf Kamal in Bhopal in India, Shakeel migrated to Pakistan in the early fifties. Fate intervened, when he crossed paths with film director S.M. Yusuf, who recognised his potential, rechristened him Shakeel and offered him a pivotal role in the film Honehar.
Then in the true tradition of success stories, his first film tanked but not before giving birth to Shakeel the star. With his striking looks and undeniable talent, he soon carved a niche for himself in the film industry. He also quickly picked up on the changing cinematic landscape and made the bold decision to transition to television, a move that would redefine his career.
The seventies marked the beginning of Shakeel’s reign on the small screen. It was during this era that he graced our screens with his unforgettable performances in Haseena Moin’s legendary plays. From Happy Eid Mubarak to Shehzori, Shakeel’s on-screen chemistry with Neelofer Aleem captivated audiences and became the stuff of legend. His portrayal of Uncle Urfi in Moin’s eponymous play solidified his position as a versatile actor capable of embodying diverse characters.
He collaborated with renowned playwright Fatima Surayya Bajia, and breathed life into numerous unforgettable characters in plays like Anna and Uroosa. His talent knew no bounds; his impeccable acting skills, coupled with a magnetic presence, made him an integral part of some of the most iconic dramas in the history of Pakistani television.
With an excellent command of the English language and a voice that one could never ignore, it comes as no surprise that Shakeel also worked in radio, where he initially showcased his talents as part of a school broadcast programme. However, radio didn’t become his primary platform and he found his true calling in theatre and eventually television.
As a professional actor from the pre-social media generation who believed in letting his work speak for itself, many may not know that Shakeel was quite the trailblazer in his heydays. Not only was he one of the few actors who managed to excel on both the silver screen and television, he also appeared in Pakistan’s first colour TV drama, Parchaiyan. He worked on a children’s sci-fi show, Tick Tick Company and broke another barrier when he became part of the first serial shot abroad by PTV. When NTM, Pakistan’s first private channel, decided to make a splash with their big budget blockbuster drama Chand Girhan, guess who made the cut?
And so, a long extraordinary acting journey came to an end when Shakeel passed away on Eid day this year, leaving his fans heartbroken yet grateful for the countless moments of joy, laughter and heartfelt emotions that he gifted us throughout his illustrious career. His performances will continue to resonate with audiences, reminding us of his unparalleled talent and his ability to bring characters to life with authenticity and grace.