Where art thou Pakistani Cinema?

Cross post: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/11/10/comment/where-art-thou-pakistani-cinema/


Reminiscing the golden years and some of the best stars


The treat of treats in my younger days was being taken to watch a local flick. It was the ultimate! No Karachiite can forget the beautiful ‘drive-in’ cinema on Drigh Road near the airport. The huge screen set up in the ground with speakers along with head phones for each car as it parked itself next to each pole equipped with the system placed systematically all over the cinema grounds. The speaker would be affixed to the window of the driver’s seat. The volume could be turned up or down. Watching the film from each individual car, one had all the privacy in the world. Watching the movie under an open sky in the breezy Karachi nights was an unforgettable experience and remains tucked away as a treasured memory in my box of memories. Called the ‘Dreamland’, it was followed by others to reap profits.

There were other ‘regular’ cinemas: Bambino, Rex, Rio, Nishat, Prince and Lyric to name just a few. As young girls growing up, we were certainly not allowed to see every movie unless and until first viewed by a hawk-eyed aunt and approved for viewing for the virgin eyes. One movie all of the young girls of the family were packed off to see was “Tehzib” by my maternal grandmother who probably felt this was a good storyline for future wives. If I recall correctly I may have been a student of intermediate at that time. We were of course properly escorted by an aunt for the trip to the cinema.

One dressed up for a momentous occasion as going to a cinema, much as one would dress up for a party. Owner of one cinema hall who was patient of my maternal grandfather, the renowned Dr M A H Siddiqui, had given the keys to one of the private boxes in his cinema to him. A treat for a brood of grandchildren who could view any new blockbuster without worrying about buying tickets — of course only if duly approved by an elder after viewing the same film first. The closest cinema to our house back then was the Khayyam Cinema in Nursery Commercial Area, not as well furnished than its bigger contemporaries but easily accessible and clean enough. The crowds were cultured, no hooliganism or loudness there. Emotions displayed at such events were quiet, a tear here, a sniff there, a laugh quickly subdued.

Between 1950s and the 1980s one found a cinema in virtually every area of Karachi: North Nazimabad, Saddar, Korangi, PECHS, Drigh Road (now Shahra-e-Faisal). Movies were doing their silver jubilee followed by golden and platinum jubilee. Not just Urdu films but English ones too. Raiders of the Lost Ark had cinemas running to full capacity with bookings running into weeks. Special showings were held for leading politicians and their families, one example being of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ for Field Martial Ayub and his Cabinet in 1962 in Bambino.

It was after the 1980s that the decay started setting in. As cinemas went out of business, they were converted into auditoriums or wedding halls, plazas and office buildings. Someone wrote and I cannot say if the numbers are correct, “In 1980, before Zia Pakistan had over 600 screens. So it will take two, maybe three decades before Pakistan gets a respectable number of screens to support our film industry once more.” It is a fact though that state policies affect the entertainment sector, the arts and crafts. That the policies of state impact all arenas of life is a foregone conclusion.

Who can forget the brilliance of larger than life actors of yesteryears from our silver screen? The ‘King of Comedy’ Lehri, who ruled the screen for three decades, was not only proud winner of the Nigar Award for nearly a dozen Lollywood films but was also awarded a monthly income by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in her first tenure. His performance in master pieces like ‘Tum Milay Piyar Mila’, ‘Naukar’ and others pale others into oblivion.

When one talks of the heroes of our silver screen, the first one that springs to my mind is our Chocolate Hero and my personal favourite Waheed Murad. 1966 saw his rise to super stardom with his maiden film Armaan. The film made it to platinum jubilee in Karachi, becoming the first flick in Urdu to do so. Starring with another heartthrob of our film industry, the evergreen Zeba, Waheed Murad was there to stay. His song from his filmSaheli sung by legendry Amanat Ali Khan with the lyrics ‘Aankhain ghazal hain aap ki aur hont hain gulab’, and music composed by M Ashraf, remains a favourite to this date.

Zeba was and remains an icon of classic beauty and grace. Her first golden jubilee film was Taubah and her last was Mohabbat Ho Toh Aisee in 1989. Named Shaheen by her parents, Zeba was the name that she adopted for films. Her pairs with both Waheed Murad and Kamal were hot favourites with her admirers. Her film Heera Aur Pathar remains a classic to this day.

Married to Robin Gosh, the Bengali actress Shabnam with her dusky complexion and huge doe eyes had enthralled many. A versatile actress, Shbnam worked in Lollywood from 1960s into 1980s. Her stardom and place in the industry was assured by her first Urdu film‘Chanda’ in 1962. This film followed ‘Harano Din’, a Bengali film, extremely well received in 1961. ‘Talassh’ made her a household name in Pakistan. She played the leading romantic role for nearly three decades on the silver screen. In all probability, the only actress in Pakistan film industry to achieve this benchmark. Winner of coveted Nigar Awards (18 times in all) and the Pakistan National Award (thrice), she did her last stint of acting in‘Amma Jan’, a Bengali film that was predictably a super hit.

Muhammad Ali, the tall good looking husband of Zeba, the superstar was known for his emotional acting. Dubbed as Shehenshah-e-Jazbaat, he made it to the list of top 25 all time greatest actors of Asia (CNN March 4, 2010). ‘Chiragh Jalta Raha’ was his first film, premiered by Mohtarma Fatimah Jinnah in the second week of March 1962 at the Nishat Cinema. Interestingly his role was of a villain in his first film. He was the recipient of 10 Nigar Awards as leading actor and one for supporting actor along with Pride of Performance Award in 1984.

Nadeem is another favourite with me for his versatile acting giving depth to each role he played. He was no longer Nadeem but became the character he played. The President Award for Pride of Performance is well deserved. Making an entry into Pakistani Film Industry in 1967 his rise to fame was meteoric. In its history, 24 films reached diamond jubilee. The unparalleled Nadeem starred in 10 of these 24 ventures. Aina, is a tribute to his versatile talents, is maybe one of the best films made in Pakistan at many levels. It was screened continuously for five years in Karachi. He won five National Awards since 1983 when they were created. Something that few may know, he was also a playback singer and sang many of his songs. The popular song, “Kahan ho tum ko dhoond rahi hain yeh baharain yeh saman” released in 1967 with Firdousi Begum remains a super hit to date.

Shamim Ara, the eastern beauty, a dancer in Uttar Pardesh, Putli, came to Pakistan to visit her relatives and caught the eye of Najam Naqvi who cast her in his film ‘Kunwari Baywa’.Though the film did not do well, Shamim Ara, the name she took for films, was accepted by her audience with open arms. Shamim Ara was on her way to stardom and never looked back.

These icons were the base of Pakistani cinema at its peak.

The producers, music directors so on and so forth. Each deserves a space of their own to do credit to their contributions.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: yasmeenali62@gmail.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

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