Access the Samosa archives
Filmistan: Here and there

By Waseem Altaf
May 28 2013





The period of Zia-ul-Haq with his Saudi backed Islamic ideology had played havoc with the film industry

Pakistan’s film industry shares a common culture with Indian film world. However, as Bollywood (inclusive of regional films) occupies a center stage on the international film scene, Lollywood is history; Bollywood was the largest producer of films in the world by 2011, the total number of censor board certificates issued for celluloid, video and digital films during 2011 was 13526. On the other hand the total number of films released in Pakistan in 2011 was just 7.

Indian films are screened in more than 90 countries of the world whereas Pakistani films have almost no access to international market. While there are dozens of cinema houses in Delhi, Islamabad is the only capital city in the world where there is not even one single cinema hall. At present most of our film studios are in ruins and a sizable number of cinema houses lay demolished. Today Indian films are tough contenders for International film awards and Bollywood stars are known celebrities all over the world, while our film artistes who could not foresee the ultimate demise of Pakistan’s film industry are living a miserable life. There is a Films Division (under Ministry of I & B and a Film & Television Institute in India in the public sector, whereas no such institutions exist in Pakistan.

At times we find Syed Noor and Sangeeta (now Sangeeta Begum) demanding total ban on Indian films in Pakistan. Cut off from ground reality these far cries have almost lost their steam, as what are we left with to offer our entertainment starved audience.

In 2013, the Indian film industry would be celebrating its 100th birth anniversary accompanied by special events and extravaganza (Raja Harishchandra the first Indian movie by Dada Sahib Phalke was released in 1913) while nobody knows what could be the significance of 2028 for Lollywood.

In 1928, fourteen years after Dada Sahib Phalke’s maiden venture, the first silent film titled “Daughters of Today” was made at Lahore by an officer of North Western Railways namely G.K Mehta. Prior to that,in 1925 again in Lahore, the veteran Indian actor Himansu Rai launched a joint film venture with Emelka film Company of Munich Germany. He was financed by Justice (retd) Moti Sagar of the Lahore High Court. Rai played the main role with Sita Devi from Calcutta in the female lead in the film “The Light of Asia”. Franz Osten and Josef Wirsching both Germans did the camera work “The Light of Asia” (Prem Sanyas) was based on the life and times of Buddha. Later, they selected Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj’s famous play Anarkali titled “Loves of a Mughal Prince”in which Imtiaz Ali Taj, Hakim Ahmad Shuja and M.S Dar acted in various roles. It was directed by Charu Roy. Before Partition many artistes at Lahore like Nazir, Heera Lal,Lala Yaqoob,Shayam Sunder, Rafiq Ghazanvi, Om Prakash,Master Ghulam Haider,A.R Kardar, Dalsukh Pancholi and Roop .K Shorey were active in films in their respective fields.

Hence the birth of film industry in its formative years, in the sub continent is owed to Hindus and Muslims, Parses and Sikhs, Christians and Jews, Punjabis and Bengalis, Marathis and Pathans, Gujaratis and Maharashtrans, Indians and Germans; who all carried the common interest in the film art, irrespective of their place of origin, caste, color and creed. That resulted in the creation of great works of art on celluloid.

Just look at Alam Ara the first talkie released on 14th March 1931, made under the banner of Imperial Movietone which was owned by a Parsi namely Ardsher Irani and his partner Abdul Ali Yusuf Bhai, a Muslim. Again the hero was Master Vithal,a Hindu while Zubaida, a Muslim was the heroine. Prithvi Raj,Jillo Bai,Yaqub,Jagdish Sethi and Wazir Mohammad Khan were in the cast. The director was Ardsher Irani and the music directors were Ferozeshah M.Mistri & B.Irani. Ezra Myers, a Jew from Calcutta was the editor of the film. It is known to very few that the mother of actress Zubaida, Fatima Begum was the first women director of Indian cinema with the silent film “Bulbul-e-Paristan”.

While Alam Ara’s hero Master Vithal a Hindu was sued by another film company for violating terms of the contract, an eminent Bombay lawyer defended him and won. That finally made the venture possible. The lawyer was a Muslim and his name was Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

It is also interesting to note that the first Punjabi language film Sheila (Pind di Kuri) was produced not in Lahore but in Calcutta by K.D.Mehra. It is also noteworthy that Lata Mangashkar a Hindu singer was introduced in the film industry by a Muslim music director namely Ghulam Haider whereas Muhammad Rafi a Muslim singer got his first break by virtue of a Hindu music director by the name of Shayam Sundar.

So we find that during the silent era and thereafter Gulab, Gohar and Zubaida worked side by side with Salochna, Rampyari and Lalita Pawar while Vithal, Billimoria Brothers, Eddie & Dinshaw worked alongside Khalil and Mubarak, and the film world was a true picture of a cosmopolitan culture where differences of ethnicity and religion did not matter. The cine world remained a platform of integration of all cultures where religion was simply a matter of personal belief and nothing more.

After partition, this mindset remained intact across the Eastern borders and the rise of Indian film industry largely owes its phenomenal rise to this attitude; Pakistan’s film world was about to face the daunting challenge of finding a niche in an “ideological state”.

Many of the giants of Lahore’s film industry like Roshan Lal Shorey and son Roop K Shorey, Dalsukh Pancholi and Pran had to flee from Lahore along with so many others soon after partition as they were Hindus. The story continued when Shahnaz Begum and several others had to leave Pakistan due to a slightly darker complexion and a different mother tongue called Bengali.

O.P Nayyar the music maestro extraordinaire was in Lahore when communal riots broke out. One Qazi Sanaullah of Model Town Lahore saved his life by hiding him in his house. The scintillating melodies of CID, Kashmir Ki Kali, Meray Sanam and numerous others had remained unheard, had he been slaughtered by an insane mob in the name of religion.

As the era of tolerance, harmony and pluralism was gone by mid August 1947, our film makers impressed upon the government to impose a ban on Indian films. The distributors dissented. So Sadar Abdul Rab Nistar, the Minister of Industries issued the following notification: “In principle Muslims should not get involved in film making; being the work of lust and lure, it should be left to the infidels”. The distributors lobby was relived as only the “infidel” was making film for “believers”.

In 1954 W.Z Ahmed’s Roohi was banned for containing socialist ideology. For decades the censor board would ban any themes that projected poverty related issues. In the same year a large number of press and film people were mobilized and blocked the release of Indian film “Jaal”, leading to restrictions on Bombay films which resulted in undeterred plagiarization of films from across the border.

In 1955 two Indian actresses Shila Ramani and Meena Shorey came to Pakistan. Shila soon got disillusioned and went back to Bombay. Meena stayed on and when she died in 1989 there was no money for her burial expenses, which were then met through charity.

The martial law of Zia-ul-Haq and the culture of Kalashnikov, heroin and violent religiosity struck a crushing blow to the film industry and a new genre of cinema grew where glamorization of violence and brutality in extracting vengeance were common subjects of film making. “Wahshee Gujjar”, “Maula Jat” and “Jat da kharaak” are some of the films from that period which effectively captured the subject.

In 1979 General Zia-ul-Haq banned all Pakistani films produced in the preceding 3 years which caused a huge void badly affecting the progress of film making and encouraged small time film makers to invest in cheap film.

A new film policy was formulated and the motion picture ordinance 1979 was promulgated. The ordinance which dealt with religion to national sentiments to dances to law and order was so restrictive that it became virtually impossible to express new ideas through form, content or artistry in a film. Cinema as a consequence then became loud and localized with little aesthetic value.

It is interesting to note that while Zia was publicly flogging people, Maula Jut was banned by him for being too violent. The producer however got a stay from the High Court. Similarly while Zia-ul-Haq ordained the toughest moral codes for local cinema, his own family remained an ardent viewer of pirated Indian films. Shatrughan Sinha was the only guest from the filmdom on the marriage ceremony of Zia’s daughter.

While Zufilqar Ali Bhutto’s government had not allowed the demolition of cinema houses, Zia facilitated it by relaxing the rules; hence hundreds of cinema houses were converted into shopping malls and other areas of business. This was in line with the Saudi Arabian moral codes where not even a single cinema theater exists in the whole Kingdom.

It is also intriguing that to win support for the controversial constitution of 1962, Ayub Khan organized the first State Film Awards in 1961, whereas Zia-ul-Haq, in order to appease those associated with film making, before his referendum of 1984, arranged the first National Film Awards in December 1983.

The period of Zia-ul-Haq with his Saudi backed Islamic ideology had played havoc with the film industry. It was never to revive again. The infinite void so created was to be filled by movies from across the border.

Free of any ideology and undue restrictions with absolutely no consideration to others’ caste and creed Shahrukh, Salman and Amir work side by side with Akshay, Hritik, and Sunil while Rani, Sunakshi and Kareena act alongside Katrina, Shabana and Naghma.

As I write this, I hear a song from the film “My Name is Khan” starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. The song is “Sajda” penned by Niranjan Iyengar, sung by Rahat Fatheh Ali Khan, Richa Sharma and Shankar Mahadevan while Shankar Ehsan Loy have brilliantly composed the melody.

Originally published by Viewpoint

The author is a social activist and can be contacted on:
Leave a Comment

Comments are closed.