Daily Times: Sunday, April 09, 2006

Lahore Lahore Aye: Lahore’s old movie studios

By A Hamid

It is said that moviemaking in Lahore began with a young man from Bhaati Darwaza by the name of Abdul Rashid, who was destined to gain countrywide fame as AR Kardar. But this was before my time. His constant companion in those early days was M Ismail, one of the finest character actors of his time. When I was growing up, there used to be a movie studio on Ferozepur Road close to the canal called Upper India Film Studio. In those days, all I wanted was to become an actor. I had already tried my luck at Bombay and Calcutta. Off and on, I would visit the Upper India studio, which was housed in a large house by the side of the tree-fringed canal.

The famous stars of the time were Majnu, Manorma, Pran, M Ismail and Ragni. For a while I had had a tremendous crush on Ragni, but I had never been inside the studio. I would stand outside under the trees and watch the stars come in and out. The great movie villain of those days was Ajmal. This studio then took the name Pancholi, followed by Shori, only to be renamed one more time after Pakistan. In 1947 that was the only movie studio in Lahore.

Soon after, the Screen and Sound Studio appeared on Ferozepur Road, which I began to visit with friends. By now I no longer wanted to be an actor, being wholly involved with short-story writing. The next two studios to be built in Lahore were the Shahnoor on Multan Road and the Evernew. My recollections are rooted in the period 1947-48, when Pakistan was in its infancy. The pre-independence centre of movie activities, Royal Park, still lay deserted. Sahir Ludhianvi, who had moved from Ludhiana to Lahore had taken possession of the lower floor of a house in Royal Park. This he shared with several friends. Ahmed Rahi, Arif Abdul Mateen and I would sleep most nights there. We were all transients with no fixed address. The portion that we occupied was made up of two rooms, a kitchen and a bath. The kitchen was never used. I don’t quite recall where we used to eat. Our funds were limited. When we ran out of cigarettes, we would relight the butts we had chucked on the floor. Then one day, a large red-coloured house facing Nishat Cinema on Abbot Road was allotted to Sahir.

So much has changed since. There is now a market where Nishat Cinema used to stand, and in front of the red house there is a long row of tikka-kabab and takka-tuk sellers, partially blocking the view of the house. In those days, one had a clear view of it from the road. A pagoda-shaped annexe stood next to the wall of the Capital Cinema, which was where Ibne Insha lived. I would often go to see him, walking past his father who would be comfortably installed on a cot, puffing at a huqqa. He was a soft-voiced, kind and quiet man who always wore a turban. Besides my strictly literary friends, I also had a wide circle of acquaintances associated with the movies as lyricists, dialogue writers and artists. Among the poets, I used to hang around with were Tanvir Naqvi, Hazin Qadri and Baba Alam Syahposh.

There were two famous hotels in Royal Park. One of them was called West End, the other was called Bristol. The upper floors of these hotels had suffered fire damage during the 1947 riots. West End had a long, corridor-like room which was so cool that even in summers it needed no fan. That was where I first met the celebrated villain of the Punjabi cinema, Mazhar Shah, and Asad Bukhari. They were both well-dressed, well-mannered and well-spoken young men, who also had excellent literary taste. They had an amazing memory for classical Urdu verse. Mazhar Shah was often in a suit, complete with a waistcoat. Asad Bukhari, robust, handsome and personable, had yet to get into the movies.

Whenever Ibrahim Jalees would visit from Karachi, he took a small room at Bristol. Sudhir and Santosh were the popular movie heroes of the day and Saifuddin Saif, Qateel Shifai, Tanvir Naqvi, Hazin Qadri and Ahmed Rahi their favourite lyricists. The music directors who ruled the industry were Master Inayat Hussain, Master Ghulam Haider, Rashid Attre and Baba Chisti. Another great musician whose contribution to the enrichment of our film music is immense was Hassan Latif. Since Shahnoor was not quite built yet, most movies were shot at the former Pancholi Studio and the Screen and Sound Studio. Many cinema houses still showed Indian movies. Pakistani industry was just beginning to cut its teeth and the facilities were primitive, but it is to the great credit of its workers, from producers to directors to cameramen to sound recordists to set makers and technicians that against all odds, they continued to produce movies.

A few years after independence, Anwar Kamal Pasha, Khurshid Anwar, Saifuddin Saif and Nazir Ajmeri put their great talent into the industry. Khurshid Anwar was already a big name in undivided India, having scored runaway hits that bore his unique and inimitable stamp. He was to direct some of the great box offices successes of the day. These people were not really commercial-minded in their approach, always being conscious of being artists. There wasn’t much money around then anyway, nor were the artists given to greed. Their approach was that of enthusiastic amateurs. Gulberg had yet to come into existence and all that Samnabad had were some newly constructed quarters in Pakki Thathi. Shah Aalmi was nothing but huge pile of rubble, which actually was put to use in the building of Gulberg and Samnabad.

The movie industry had its share of confidence tricksters who would lure young men dying to become actors to rob them of what little they had. These tricksters were not criminals really. In fact, they too had come this way in search of stardom but not having found it, they had decided to try to make a living by exploiting the naiveté of starry-eyed young men. They would establish their credentials with their victims by showing them photographs in which they were seen standing next to some famous figure. They would tell the young hopefuls, “Look at this. He is the top director and he wouldn’t even dream of shooting a scene unless I am around. I will get you a role in his next production”.

If young men still come to Lahore in search of fame and fortune, I am sure they are more wily and worldly-wise than the young men of my generation were.

A Hamid, distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer, will be contributing a column based on his memories every week. Translated from Urdu by Khalid Hasan


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