Zulfiqar Khan’s story would have been a classic Bollywood flick only if it weren’t real: a gold medalist from Panjab University who failed to make it big in Bollywood and returned to Chandigarh to rise to fame with his ‘mission’ to empower the underprivileged through fine art and theatre.
In fact, Khan, 45, seemed to be just working his way to the pantheons of social work for children, if it weren’t for his sudden fall on Saturday. Today, the Theatre Age director is left disgraced in jail, at least until proven innocent, after allegations that he sexually exploited the very children whom he promised to show “a meaningful path”.
Khan was just another commoner who descended on the City Beautiful in late 1980s to study theatre. In the initial years, however, due to lack of acting skills, the Panjab University refused him admission. But Khan, more determined than hard working, gave another try and eventually came out with a gold medal from the same varsity.
ROSE TO HEIGHTS
Dreaming to make it big, Khan would cycle his way through the city streets and over a period of time mustered a lot of support and goodwill for helping street children.
He projected himself as the saviour of the street kids and soon made great connections not only in the administration but also with industrialists and politicians. His former associates recall how, after passing out from PU, Khan went to Mumbai to try his luck in acting and got a small role in a television serial.
He struggled for about two years, they said, only to return in 1992 to form Theatre Age, a non-governmental organisation.
Soon Theatre Age grew and more slum children joined. In 1993, his group came out with a play ‘Raja aur Kisan’ at Tagore Theatre, which led him to be honoured by the Chandigarh Administration as the best creative artiste of Chandigarh a year later. And then there was no looking back.
In 2007, Khan also bagged the prestigious Tara Chand Saboo Excellence Award for outstanding contribution for the welfare of underprivileged children by the then UT governor. He was also awarded the Bharat Muni Award for his contribution in the field of Indian theatre.
‘PEOPLE TRUSTED HIM’
Khan directed more than 42 plays with slum children and made his name in the city for putting the children living in slums on a ‘creative path’.
He also focused on the education of the slum children and presently 55 children were enrolled in his group. Khan used to claim that he took care of his students’ food, stationery, clothes, fees, and books. Khan’s efforts were acknowledged by one and all and got a lot of positive media acknowledgement too.
Khan would also request people to donate old newspapers to his organisation to be made into paper bags to fund his work.
“The entire day we used to collect waste paper. People had trust in him and he used to get huge donations in form of clothes, books and even ration. He had set up a store in Dadumajra where all the donations were stored,” said Kanwarpal, Khan’s former aide, who is now the whistleblower in the case.
However, there were many who accused Khan and his brother of using the resources to amass personal property. They said they have two houses at Sector 25, two in Dadumajra and a flat at Sector 48. They also claim that his brother has a showroom at Sector 32. What nobody, at least most of the people, had not even an inkling that more was yet to be known.