Agha Hashar Kashmiri was an eminent Urdu poet, playwright, and dramatist who was called the “Shakespeare of Urdu.”
Agha Hashar Kashmiri (3 April 1879–28 April 1935) was an eminent Urdu poet, playwright, and dramatist who was called the “Shakespeare of Urdu.” A number of his plays were Indian Shakespearean adaptations.
An influential Parsi theater playwright, Agha Hashar Kashmiri’is first play, Aftab-e-Muhabbat, was published in 1897. He started his professional career as a drama writer for the New Alfred Theatrical Company in Bombay, on a salary of only 15 Rs. per month. Mureed-e-Shak, his first play for the company, was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. It proved to be a success and his wages were later raised to Rs. 40 per month due to his growing popularity. In his works, Agha had experience introducing shorter songs and dialogues with idioms and poetic virtues in plays. He then wrote several more adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, including Shabeed-e-Naaz (or Achuta Daaman in Hindi), Measure for Measure, 1902) and Shabeed-e-Havas (King John, 1907).
Yahudi Ki Ladki (The Daughter of a Jew), published in 1915, became his best known work. In the coming years, it became a classic in Parsi-Urdu theater. It was adapted several times in the silent film and early talkies eras, notably Yahudi Ki Ladki (1933) by New Theatres, and by Bimal Roy, as Yahudi (1958) starring Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari, and Sohrab Modi.
His most remarkable plays are Sita Banbas, based on the Ramayana; Bilwa Mangal, a social play on the life of a poet with a passion for whores; Aankh ka Nasha (The Witchery of the Eyes) which deals with themes of treachery and the evils of prostitution; and Rustom O Sohrab, a Persian folk story and tragedy. Several of his notable Shakespeare-inspired plays are Safed Khoon (White Blood), based on King Lear and Khwab-e-Hasti (The Dream World of Existence) described as “a mutilated version of Macbeth.”
Towards the end of his career, Agha created the Shakespeare Theatrical Company but could not stay in business for long. He also joined Maidan Theatre — a tented theater to accommodate large audiences — where he earned a credible name in Urdu drama and poetry. He later moved to Lahore to experiment in film production but died before the completion of his first film on 28 April 1935. He was buried in Miani Sahib graveyard in Lahore.
Agha was married to Mukhtar Begum, a renowned classical singer from Calcutta and elder sister of Farida Khanum- a Pakistani singer.
Agha Hashar Kashmiri died on 28 April 1935 in Lahore, British India. His 70th death anniversary was observed in Karachi in 2005 at an event organized by the National Academy of Performing Arts at the Arts Council of Pakistan in Karachi. Zia Mohyeddin, chief of the ‘National Academy of performing Arts’ and other speakers paid tributes to him. Dr. Anwar Sajjad said,” Whenever the history of theater in the subcontinent is written, Agha Hashar Kashmiri will certainly hold an important place in it”.