Infobox actor|
imagesize = 150px
name = Zarganar
birthname = Thura
birthdate = birth date|1961|1|27
birthplace = Yangon, Myanmar
deathdate =
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occupation =
yearsactive = 1981-
spouse = Lwin Mar Oo
partner =
children = (1) Myat Kaung (2) Nge Oo Mon
parents = Aung Thein (Nan Nyunt Swe) and Kyi Oo
influences =
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website =
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Zarganar ( _my. ဇာဂနာ; also translated as Zar Ga Nar, or Zargana; born 27 January 1961) is a popular Burmese comedian, film actor, and a film director as well as a fierce critic and frequent political prisoner of the Burmese military government. Known for his wicked puns against the government, Zarganar, whose name translates to "tweezers", is widely considered to be the most popular comedian and satirist in Myanmar.

Zarganar has been banned indefinitely from performing publicly or participating in any kind of entertainment related work since September 2006. Zarganar was awarded the Lillian Hellman and Dashiel Hammett Award, given by the Fund for Free Expression, a committee organized by New York based Human Rights Watch.cite news|title=Laughing all the way to prison|url=|date=2006-06-12|accessdate=2007-09-26|publisher=The Irrawaddy, quoted on Burmanet]

Zarganar has been under arrest since 4 June 2008, for speaking to foreign media about the situation of millions of people left homeless in Cyclone devastated Irrawaddy delta.cite news|title=Zarganar Arrested, Cyclone Relief Money Seized|url=|date=2008-06-05|The Irrawaddy] The government has formally charged him with "public order offenses" which could lead to up to two years in prison. [cite news | title=Myanmar charges comedian with public order offence | url= | date=2008-08-01]

Early life

Zarganar was born Thura to a political and intellectual family in Yangon, the youngest of three sons of well-known writers Kyi Oo and Nan Nyunt Swe. The young Thura accompanied his parents on speaking tours where he used to entertain people by giving talks and doing imitations, and earned himself the nickname "Mimic".cite web | url= | title=Zarganar's auto-biography | accessdate=2008-08-03]

Thura graduated from Yangon's elite Dagon 1 High School in 1977 and received a degree in dental surgery from Yangon University of Dental Medicine in 1985. While in dentistry school, he worked as a volunteer literacy teacher in Chin State and wrote about his experiences in a book, published by the "Sape Beikman", the country's official literary publishing house.


Thura first found success while still in college, performing amateur stage comedy shows at Yangon's universities under his stage name Zarganar (tweezers). He banded together with students from various colleges and institutes and formed a dance-troupe called "Mya Kyun Tha". Later, he formed a drama group called "Moe Nat Thuza" which performed at student gatherings. Zarganar soon became a household name when his troupe began appearing on Burmese television in broadcasts of anyeint (a type of traditional Burmese theater) shows.

After completing his dentistry studies, he took to the stage full time. In 1986, he formed the "Mya Ponnama Anyeint" troupe whose shows frequently appeared on television. He quickly became known for his expert ability to concoct double entendres. And his willingness to use them in farcical routines highlighting the failures of the government delighted millions of awe-struck audiences. He got away with a highly popular play, “Beggar,” which ridiculed the late dictator Ne Win and his cronies. Friends and colleagues marveled that he stayed out of trouble and out of jail.

That all changed in 1988. Zarganar was arrested for participating in the nationwide uprising in 1988. He would be in and out of prison for next five out of six years. After his release from prison in 1994, Zarganar was prohibited from performing on stage but allowed to participate in video productions, working as producer, director, scriptwriter and actor. But his work was closely scrutinized by the censors and military intelligence, in a cat-and-mouse game in which Zarganar and his audiences took delight in sidestepping the authorities.

In 1997, Zarganar soon ran afoul with the authorities for his movie "Lun", and was promptly banned for another three years from the show business. He was allowed to do films in 2000 (but still no comedy shows or stage theater).Since May 2006, Zarganar has again been banned from the show business indefinitely, for giving an interview to the BBC.

Artistic contributions

Zarganar's contributions to the revival of popularity of "anyeint" among the younger generations of Burmese cannot be overstated. Anyeint shows are traditionally led by one or more female performers who dance and sing playful songs, and a troupe of comedians (usually 4 or 5) provide comic relief between the sing-dance routines of the female performers. Before Zarganar came along, the popularity of anyeint shows had been in long decline (especially in urban areas).

Zarganar helped to revitalize the art by changing the format upside down. By using humor to push the envelope against government censors, his anyeint shows generated immense interest among Burmese of all backgrounds, and in the process attracted new generations of fans to anyeint shows. Zarganar did not invent the art of using puns and double entendres, which had long been part of traditional Burmese humor but in many ways he perfected it in the Burmese language. (The tonal monosyllabic Burmese language with many homophones seemed particularly suited for double talk.) People were drawn to his seemingly innocent vaudevillian routines filled with silly banter among comedians not only because they were bitingly funny but also because they cleverly highlighted the failures of the government.

In the mid-1980s, Zarganar and his comedians were the main draw to their anyeint show. People went to see the comedians first, and the pretty female performers second. Today, Anyeint shows are still nominally led by female performers but the comedians-cum-social commentators are what most people go to see. Anyeint shows are quite popular and invariably the most popular shows are led by the comedians such as "Thee-Lay-Thee" willing to challenge the government.

Political activities and social work

During the 1988 uprising, Zarganar was arrested for being an "instigator" and sent to the notorious Insein prison for a year. After his release he was arrested again during the 1990 elections for giving political speeches and sentenced to another four years in prison. (His father, also a political activist, at one point gave a speech at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, leading to a ban by the state censors. His mother Kyi Oo was also elected as an independent candidate.) In 1991, the Fund for Free Expression, part of the Human Rights Watch organization, awarded him a Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett Grant. [ [ Human Rights Watch report, 1992] .]

Soon after Cyclone Nargis devastated vast swaths of the Irrawaddy delta in early May 2008, Zarganar organized a group of an estimated 400 Burmese involved in the entertainment industry to provide volunteer disaster relief aid in the cyclone-damaged areas. [cite news|title=Zarganar’s Relief Role|url=|date=2008-06-02|The Irrawaddy] He divided the volunteers into groups of helpers, who took aid to 42 villages, some of which had until then received no help at all after the cyclone.

List of recent run-ins with the government

* February 2006: The government bans a movie that Zarganar directed, "Run Out of Patience".

* May 2006: Zarganar is banned from performing in the country for his interview with the BBC regarding government regulations on the thingyan water festival, and for making a television commercial suggesting Taiwanese independence. [cite news|title=Junta cancels Zarganar’s programme on HIV/AIDS|date=2006-12-04|url=|accessdate=2007-09-26|publisher=Mizzima News, quoted on Burmanet]

* February 2007: A state-run newspaper the "New Light of Myanmar" accuses Zarganar of participating in "illegal" activities and inciting "public unrest and violence" after his speech at a debate at the American Center, a venue operated by the US embassy in Yangon. [cite news|title=Junta accuses US center of inciting public "unrest"|date=2007-03-15|url=|accessdate=2007-09-26|publisher=The Irrawaddy, quoted on Burmanet]

* 26 September 2007: Zarganar is arrested at his home for his participation in the ongoing anti-government protests. During the preceding two days he had, with fellow Burmese celebrity Kyaw Thu, publicly delivered food and water to Buddhist monks preparing to protest. During the preceding weekend, he had urged the public to support the monks in radio interviews from outside the country. [cite news|title=Top Myanmar comedian arrested for backing protests|date=2007-09-26|url=|publisher=ANTARA News Indonesia]

* 4 June 2008: Special Branch police and other authorities took him from his home in connection with this work, along with a computer, VCDs and US$1000 saying that they needed to speak with him for a couple of days. [cite news|title=Leading comedian working for cyclone victims arrested|url=]



Between 1985 and 1988, Zarganar starred in four films and eight video movies as the lead actor. He took on supporting actor roles in his movies since 2001. He also tried his hand at directing. In 2004, with the aid of local non-governmental organisations, Zarganar directed three short videos and a film for the purpose of raising awareness of HIV and AIDS in the country. [cite news|title=Zaganar tells why he directs Aids awareness movies|date=2004-07-16|url=|accessdate=2007-09-16|]


*"Da Myo Gyi Lè Phyit Tat Ba Dè"
*"Modern Nay A Phay"
*"Daga Khaut Than Mya"
*"Shar-Shay Gya Thu Mya"
*"Ta Wa-Wa Ta Ha-Ha"
*"May-Kyan-Yit-Thaw Zatlan Da Bot"
*"Paut Paut Myaut Myaut"
*"Pyi Gyi Mandaing Mya Gyi (Part II)"
*"Sanda Pinle"
*"Bar Bar Bar Mha Ma Thi Bu (Part I)"
*"Aye-Say Ba"
*"Chit Chit Nè Thungegyin Hna Yauk"
*"Zar Kanar "
*"Lu Kè"
*"A-Thet Ta-Ya A-Na Ma Shi"

External links

* [ Recording on YouTube of radio interview with Zarganar, September 23 2007]


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