By Hasan Abidi
Louis Lumiere once remarked, “Cinema is an invention without any future.” But post partition, Pakistan had to confront a plethora of problems in giving a semblance of a future to her film industry. Although Eveready Pictures had already been floated in 1946, paucity of finance was a critical issue. 1947 saw the establishment of Evernew Studios. However, it wasn’t till 1948 that the newly born nation produced its first feature film, Teri Yaad.
The country’s film industry had to wait three more years before any of its movies could cross the milestone of a golden jubilee. Sassi, an Eveready Pictures production graced the screens non stop for 50 weeks. The sophistication and grace of Santosh and Darpan gave a head start to cinema in the 50s. Beyond doubt, the era of the 60s and 70s will go down as the golden age of Pakistani cinema.
And it wouldn’t have come by, had it not been for directors like Nazar ul Islam. Director of the most successful Urdu film in Pakistan’s history “Aaina” (1977), he also directed movies like Ahsaas, Ambar, Bandish and Nahin Abhi Nahin, throughout the golden age.
If the Urdu movie industry were a fiefdom, there has only been one Emperor. Muhammad Ali (1931 – 2006), undoubtedly reigned the Golden Era of Lollywood. His towering persona could only be bettered by his deep baritone. You add to this package a God given talent that could transform any character into a real life person next door, and you have your Shahenshah-e-Jazbaat. Anna Wintour said, “Create your own style. Let it be unique for yourself, and yet identifiable for others”. Ali had this inimitable methodology to his approach before getting into the skin of every character he played. And he did all the ones in the book. No wonder nobody won more Best Actor awards than him. Some of his works include Charagh jalta raha, Aag ka Darya, Insan aur aadmi.
And now we come to the ultimate charmer of all time. The Chocolate Hero of Pakistan, Waheed Murad (1938-83) was unarguably the most iconic romantic star in our history. Period. But he was more than just an actor. He was also a style icon. Be his hairdo or the way he walked, his dressing sense or that classic smile, setting many a hearts on fire. He was a trend setter. Through two straight decades he captivated an entire nation. If Ali was the king, Waheed sure was the prince. He had a cult following among his vast female fan base. Armaan, his 1966 blockbuster, was Pakistan’s first Platinum Jubilee movie. Who could forget the classics Koko Korina and Akailay Naa Jana? Some of his other works include Heera aur Pathar, Baharon Phool Barsao, Kaneez.
We had never seen the likes of him before. Perhaps we never will again. With a career spanning almost five decades Nazeer Beg, popularly called just Nadeem, is perhaps the best ever thing that happened to Urdu cinema. Only a man full of talent and self belief could have filled the mighty shoes of Muhammad Ali and Waheed Murad. It was no mean task. But destiny has been on Nadeem’s side. After all with a debut like Chakori, who could have stopped him? And nobody could. His pairing with Shabnam was epic. Their flick, Ainaa has been the most watched and longest running Pakistani movie of all times. With a tremendous repertoire, his longevity has been his hallmark. Being a superstar to three generations of cinema lovers, Nadeem is a hero, who didn’t fade away.
Shamim Ara (1938-2016), established herself as the foremost actress of the 1960s Pakistani cinema. To her credit movies like ‘Anarkali‘, Saiqa‘ and ‘Khaak aur khoon‘ were not only monumental dramatic landmarks, but also established her as the leading lady of the 60s. And then came the distinction of being the first acknowledged woman director of the Pakistan film industry. Never before in Pakistani culture had one woman as an actress and then as director commanded this much aura. Her works also include Saalgirah and Dauraha.
There have also been other notable names from the 50s to the 80s, starting from Sabiha Begum, Zeba, Nayyar Sultana, Sangeeta to Rani. But the title of the most popular heroin of all times will undoubtedly go to Jharna Basak, stage name, Shabnam. No female lead in the history of Pakistani cinema has ever seen such longevity of numero uno status and uninterrupted success. After all playing romantic lead for a quarter of a century is no ordinary achievement. Among the many losses that the East Pakistan tragedy deprived us of, Shabnam has been one of them, as she is now settled in Dacca.
Although Shabnam created a niche for herself in the realm of romance, Babra Sharif proved her versatility as an artist who ventured into comedy, romcoms and even tragic role playing. Having a television background, without a shadow of doubt, she was the most crafty actress of the 70s and 80s.
Aslam Pervaiz (1932-84) will forever be “the villain” of Pakistani cinema. A natural actor, he brought immense vice to his villainous roles, much to the awe of his viewers and critics alike. He was the bad guys of the 60s and 70s. With credits like Zarqa, Awara and Kabhi Kabhi, he is a legend of the golden era.
But like all good things, the golden era also came to an end. A slow but agonising one. Cinema of the 80s and much of the 90s, was a sorry spectacle.
Sam Ewing says “There is no thief like a bad movie”. And all Pakistani cinema had to offer were bad movies. One after the other. Lollywood’s decline actually began in the 80s, when classy producers and crafty directors were replaced by upstarts looking for a quick kill. Normally it came at the expense of creativity and aesthetics. On top of that, the ultra repressive draconian reign of general Zia wasn’t the help art needed in those days. The relatively subtle and generally sophisticated Urdu cinema was subdued by advent of gandaasas and crass violence, that became the hallmark of Punjabi movies. Although received with open arms in the heartland of Punjab, it did irreparable harm to Pakistani cinema. By the arrival of the 90s, the damage was done.
But even in those days, there were some success stories.
More than 700 movies and a Guinness World Record as the most prolific actor, Muhammad Sultan Khan, known to us as Sultan Rahi (1938-96) was god of Punjabi cinema for almost twenty years. Although he appeared in a few Urdu flicks, it was Punjabi movies where he enjoyed a cult status from the late 70s all the way to the mid 90s. And for those who were exposed to the hysteria that Maula Jatt and few of his other releases caused, will testify to that. He brought the Punjabi cine goers in droves, and was perhaps the most bankable star at the box office, of all time. His tragic murder at the ripe age of 58 brought to end an illustrious career that knew no bounds. It is pertinent to mention here that there had been no Sultan Rahi, without Mustafa Qureshi.
Plato famously said, “music gives life to everything”.
And we wouldn’t have had classics like Chakori, Armaan and Aaina without their equally captivating music. Local Cinema ever since its inception has been fortunate enough to churn out legendary music composers, lyricists and playbacks with regular intervals.
No discussion of Pakistani movie music can stand on its feet, without the mention of Khwaja Khurshid Anwar (1912 − 1984). A renowned filmmaker, writer and director in his own right, it was his musical prowess that brought him critical acclaim. He ruled the musical corridors for much of the 60s and 70s.
The post Khwaja Khurshid era saw the rise and rise of Nisar Bazmi (1924 –2007). Bazmi remained one of the most famous musicians of South Asia. Timeless jewels like Ranjish Hi Sahi, Ik Husn Ki Devi Say, Mohay Aaii Na Jag Say Laaj and countless more still remind us of his true genius.
With a career spanning over six decades, and a star power that could light even the darkest of rooms, Noor Jehan (1926 – 2000) was perhaps the greatest female voice, along with the incomparable Lata Mangeshkar, to have ever graced a recording studio in the Sub Continent. At her peak, she was the epitome of singing. Malika-e-Tarannum’s career spanned almost seven decades enveloping three generations of music buffs, mesmerised not just by the sheer brilliance of her talent, but also by its longevity. With over 10,000 songs, a Pakistani playback record, she was a class in her own. Along with Mehdi Hasan, she gave us some timeless duets.
Mehdi Hassan Khan (1927 – 2012) was to playback singing, what Sachin Tendulkar is to cricket. God of a singer, Khan sahib reigned Pakistan’s movie industry for almost half a century. He was simply the greatest. Although referred to as Shahanshah-e-Ghazal, his skills in other genres were equally unparalleled. No singer has had this much influence, as Khan sahib had over generations of singers that followed him. But there shall always be just one Mehdi Hasan.
It won’t be far fetched to call him the Kishore Kumar of Pakistan. Ahmed Rushdi, (1934 – 1983) was a one man music army. Versatile to his bones, he has to his credit introduction of pop singing in South Asia. Ko-Ko-Korina anybody? His command over lyrical expression stood him apart. He was an actor’s singer. But it was his signature style of singing that distinguished him from his contemporaries. He recorded around five thousand memorable songs for 600 released films and a record for a male playback.
On the comedy side, there has been no dearth of talent either. From Munawar Zarif (1940 – April 29, 1976) to Lehri (1929 – 2012), and then from Rafi Khawar (1944 – June 2, 1986) known as Nanna to Umer Sharif, almost every era of Pakistani cinema has been blessed with legendary comedians. Without them, its history would have been a bit dry.
The mid 90s saw certain glimmers of hope, in an otherwise bleak situation.
It won’t be unfair to give credit of the 90s revival to Syed Noor’s Choorian. A Punjabi flick, it earned a whopping Rs 180 million at the box office. Well ‘whopping’ given the dismal box office returns in the 1990s. But it was Javed Sheikh’s Yeh Dil Aap Ka Hua, that brought investors to the ailing movie industry. A 2002 release, it crossed the unthinkable Rs 200 million mark and brought a much awaited dose of oxygen to those affiliated with an almost dead industry.
Woody Allen once said, “If my films don’t show a profit, I know I am doing something right”.
It would be safe to say, that Shoaib Mansoor is a name synonymous with creative genius. The multi talented director, producer, writer, lyricist and music composer has been a force to reckon with since the 1980s . Who could have thought that the creator of TV classics like Ankhai and Fifty Fifty and of course Dil Dil Pakistan will one day also steal the credit of reviving the sick movie industry, taking it into the 21st century through Khuda Kay Lyay in 2007. But it was Bol, the 2011 release, that set the benchmark igniting the latest revival of local cinema.
Now the Nadeems and Shabnams have been replaced by the Shaans and the Reemas. Shaan, son of the late Riaz Shahid, has established himself as a lead actor, through stellar performances since Bulandi, Ghoonghat, Sangam, Mujhay Chand Chahyay and all the way to Khuda Kay Lyay and Waar.
Reema, has been the leading female actress of the new generation. Unarguably the post-Shabnam era belongs to Reema. She has appeared in more than 200 films and has now ventured as a director and a producer.
To say there is humungous potential in the movie business here, will be an understatement.
Although there are signs of a vibrant industry on the horizon, its true promise can only be achieved, if technically sound and qualified film makers come to the fore, bringing original content and international standard productions to viewers.
The Woody Allen type.
Lately, the done to death boy-meets-girl formula has been challenged by the contemporary Pakistani cinema. Issues confronting our society have taken the front seat. Credit to the fresh crop of young directors/producers, who are bringing a fresh approach to cinema.
As a consequence, a new-look industry has popped up. Better late than never.
If we are up to the daunting task of keeping up with the competition from English films and not to mention our ever present next door neighbour, our industry is bound to keep itself abreast with modern technology and realistic topics. Else, the afore mentioned will continue to have the ears and eyes of our movie goers.
(The writer is a freelance columnist, social worker, poet and political analyst)