Daily Times: Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lahore Lahore Aye: Early days of Lahore’s movie world

By A Hamid

The year was 1957. The Lahore movie industry, having overcome its teething troubles, had come in its own. The city’s movie studios were busy round the clock. Two of the studios were working from shift to shift to complete two movies, which not only had the same story but the same leading actors. Both were based on the legendary tale of the lovers Laila and Majnu. One was called Ishq-e-Laila and the other Laila Majnu. The first was being directed by Munshi Dil with Santosh Kumar and Sabiha in the lead. The other, directed by Anwar Kamal Pasha, starred Aslam Pervez and Bahar. Qateel Shifai had written the lyrics for Ishq-e-Laila. I was associated with the Anwar Kamal Pasha unit.

The producers were in a race to be the first to release their work. Each studio had posted spies in the rival unit who kept their principals informed of up-to-the-minute developments. Qateel Shifai had written the entire lyrical score of Ishq-e-Laila in two days flat. Both movies were released on the same date and while Ishq-e-Laila becamea hit, Laila Majnu flopped badly. Ishq-e-Laila was the movie that launched the career of Qateel Shifai as a leading movie lyricist. Almost all the numbers for which he had written lyrics became runaway hits, especially ‘Laila Laila Laila’ and ‘Sitaro tum tau so jao’. This movie also put Iqbal Bano in the front rank of playback singers.

As for Anwar Kama Pashal, one box office disaster could not damage his reputation. He had scored so many hits in the past that he was seen as the surest guarantee of a movie’s commercial success. His unit used to work simultaneously on two or three movies. His production office was located in his house on Zaildar Road, which was always a popular meeting point for the industry’s leading stars.

Pasha’s Qatil, Gumnam and Sarfrosh had smashed box office records. I was employed by him at a monthly salary of Rs 500, which was not such bad money in those days. I would bike to Zaildar Road every day from Fleming Road where I lived and attend all meetings held to discuss screenplays and scripts. Pasha was a good writer himself and his style was dramatic. The great hit line from Sarfrosh ‘Chori mera pesha hai aur namaz mera farz’ (Thievery is my profession and praying is my duty) was Pasha’s work. He remains one of the pioneers of Pakistani cinema whose role in the industry’s consolidation was pivotal. Anyone cast in a Pasha movie was assured of immediate fame. We used to get the most entertaining visitors, all of them movie hopefuls. Pasha would meet them when he was free and give them the opportunity to show their talent.

I would watch these amusing performances without saying a word.

Someone would walk in and announce that in Bombay he had played the hero’s personal attendant in a Soharab Modi movie. Someone else would claim to have worked in Agha Hashr Kaashmiri’s celebrated drama Said-e-Havas. One day a man walked in, touched Pasha’s feet, then stood up quite erect and declaimed in a dramatic voice, “Kishori, tu kis baagh ki mooli hai! Tera baap jis aasman ka dumdaar sitara hai, mein uss aasman ka suraj hoon. Tu nai jis charagh ke neechay janam liya tha, mein uss charagh ka tel hoon’ (Kishori, who do you think you are! I am the sun of the sky in which your father was just a passing comet. I am the oil that lights the lamp under whose light you were born) Then he went down on his knees in front of Pasha and declared, tears rolling down his cheeks, “Reham, reham, Zill-e-Ilahi reham! Mein iss khandan ka chishm hoon; mein iss khandan ka charagh hoon jis ke baap dada ki hadiyaan aap ke mahal ki bunyadoon mein dabi hooi hain’ (Mercy, mercy, mercy, Your Majesty! I am the a scion of that family, the bones of whose elders lie in the foundations of this palace.)

He next spread out his hands in supplication as he sat at Pasha’s feet and between sobs declaimed, “Zill-e-Ilahi, mein aap se koi bheekh mangnay nahin aaya. Mei tau siraf ye arz karnay aaya hoon ke mujhay meray baap dada ki hadiyaan vapas kar dain. Meray baap dada ki hadiyaan Pasha sahib vapas kar dain” (Your Majesty, I am not here to beg for charity. All I have come to submit is that I may be returned the bones of my ancestors. Pasha sahib, return me the bones of my ancestors.) While delivering the second line, he became so emotional that instead of addressing ‘Your Majesty,’ he addressed ‘Pasha sahib’.

One day another young fellow walked in, genuflected before Pasha and said, “Sir has not perhaps recognised me.” Pasha replied that he indeed had not. “I worked in Mahbub Khan’s Roti,” The man said. “I saw that movie but I do not remember seeing you in it. Where were you?” Pasha asked. “Sir, there was a shot in the movie that showed the funeral procession of the hero’s father.” “Yes,” Pasha replied. “Sir I was the body inside that box.”

Almost all leading actors of the day used to drop in to see Pasha, which was how I got to know most of them. That was where I first met the actress Nayyar Sultana, as well as Siddiq Zarif, older brother of the comedian Zarif, whose movie Patay Khan had been a big hit. Siddiq Zarif was very witty and a good friend of mine. I would off and on go to see him in Qila Gujjar Singh where he lived. One day as I was sitting in Pasha’s room, Siddiq Zarif walked in. At the time, Pasha was working on the script of his movie Anarkali, the legend about the beautiful palace attendant who fell in love with Crown Prince Salim and was walled alive by Emperor Akbar the Great. “Pasha sahib, what movie are you working on these days?” Siddiq Zarif asked. “I am making Anarkali”, Pasha replied. “And who is the heroine?” he asked. “Nur Jehan,” Pasha told him. “Then the movie should be renamed Old Anarkali,” Pasha suggested.

A Hamid, the distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer, writes a column every week based on his memories of old Lahore. Translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan

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