When Pakistan Film Industry Produced 3 Movies Every Week
The film industry was doing roaring business giving entertainment to the public, providing creative avenues to many different artists and employment to the citizens. Unfortunately, the 1977 martial law stabbed in the back of the film of industry, which just couldn’t revive from that debacle till now, writes Dr Nadir
Growing up in Karachi in the 70s was fun! No video games, no internet, not even a VCR yet, but it was full of excitement.
I was going to a full-day school, returning home late in the afternoon after taking a long hike from the school bus, segueing to the newspaper hawker’s booth to pick up my favorite Nigar film newspaper or Roman film magazine and taking quick strides back home while ensuring daddy didn’t know that I read film material with questionable pictures of actors on the title page.
One day my uncle caught me on Friday, public holiday then, immersed in the Jang film advertisement page. “You should focus on your studies only,” he had said sternly.
My grandmother lived in a flat on the second floor in Regal Chowk, Karachi, only a few hundred meters from the Regal Cinema. The gatekeeper of the cinema used to help us with the daily chores and invited me to come with him to the cinema. The cinema was showing Waheed Murad’s first Punjabi production Mastana Mahi. I spent a few minutes, barely inside the hall entrance, but was mesmerized.
It was very exciting at age six! Pakistani movies used to be shown on the black and white television once a week or so. These were older movies, but the public used to watch them with a lot of interest. The new movies were advertised on the radio with 2-3 minute programs and also on the television over a few seconds and the public used to anxiously wait to listen or watch these ads!
There were at least 700 cinema houses in Pakistan, of which 100 or more were in Karachi. At least two or three new movies were released every Friday. Typically an Urdu movie will be shown in 22 cinemas in the first week and would make a silver jubilee in the second week of shows.
Cinemas were scattered throughout Karachi. I lived in North Nazimabad and twin cinemas Opera and Arshi were only 5 kilometers away. MA Jinnah Road, besides Marstan Road AKA Waheed Murad road, parallel to the MA Jinnah used to have a bunch of cinemas. Families will plan and go to their favorite movies on Thursday night, enjoying samosas, chai or a cold drink (no popcorn) in the interval, when they will also venture out of the hall and watch the film stills posted in flat cupboards in anticipation of the evolution of the plot in the second half of the movie.
And the movies were ok, obviously, some were better than others, but their standard was reasonably good. Mohammad Ali, Waheed Murad, and Nadeem were superstars and Shahid had broken into the club.
Among actresses, Shabnam, Rani, Zeba, and Shamim Ara were ruling the roost. I saw Daulat aur Dunya (Wealth and World), a Waheed Murad movie, in Rawalpindi in 1972. My older cousin took permission from my mom and off we went to the Gulistan cinema on his motorbike.
The film director Khalifa Saeed Ahmad was not a professional and the direction was weak. Waheed Murad played the double role and despite incoherent production, the movie was a success, owing to the music number, the Voluptuous Aliya’s dances particularly on the tune of “mei bijli hou mei shola hou (I am electric and I am the flame”; and the presence of the indelible superstar Waheed Murad.
One of the highlights of the movie was when Waheed Murad shot back at Munawwar Saeed near the movie culmination, uttering while hurt in his trademark melancholic tone, “You are my fifty-fifty partner in everything.” Even Waheed Murad was surprised that the movie was a success and stated somewhat arrogantly, “I made even Khalifa Saeed’s movie a success.”
Next year, yet again in Rawalpindi on a family trip, I saw Nadeem and Shabnam’s, Dillagi, directed by the smart and sensitive director Aslam Dar. The movie was a blockbuster owing to a fast-paced storyline, beautiful songs and the chemistry between Nadeem and Shabnam had taken the public by storm. Lehri as the side-kick of Nadeem was, as usual, brilliant and contributed enormously to the movie’s success.
From 1973 onwards, instead of single star movies, multi-star movies were produced, perhaps inspired with what was going on the other side of the border in India. Indian movies were allowed to be shown in Pakistan until 1965, after which they were banned due to the Kashmir war. However, in the 60s, Pakistani movies did well, even when Indian movies were simultaneously shown in Pakistan.
Nonetheless, with the ban of Indian movies in Pakistan, fans used to go to Kabul with the intent of watching as many Indian movies as possible. Even some of the less creative Pakistani producers will go to Kabul and copy Indian movies frame by frame and show in Pakistan. A few months before his death in 1983, Waheed Murad was invited by his childhood friend Anwar Maqsood to his TV show Silver Jubilee, Waheed was bitter and said in response to whether he utilized his Master’s in English literature while working in films, “You would be more successful if you had not even read one class!”
In response to copying of Indian movies in Pakistan, he had said, “Two Indian movies of similar names Raja Jani and Raja Rani were created; Raja Rani was a good movie but Raja Rani was a flop and a producer by mistake copied Raja Rani in Pakistan, which couldn’t even run for two days in the theaters.”
After the creation of Pakistan, it took a few years before the Pakistani film industry could stand on its own feet. The decade of fifties was ruled by Santosh Kumar, Sabiha Khanum, Noor Jehan, Allauddin, Sudhir, Shamim Ara and Darpan. A few good movies were created by very capable men noted among them were Anwar Kamal Pasha, Agha G A Gul, Bari Malik, J C Anand, Ashfaq Malik and SM Yousuf.
During that era films were shot in Karachi’s Eastern film studio; however, in the 60s the movie industry was moved to Lahore where they were shot in Bari, Shabab, Evernew and Shanoor studios. While about 40 movies were made in the late 50s, numbers progressively increased and peaked in 1975 when 115 movies were shown to the audience.
The film industry was doing roaring business giving entertainment to the public, providing creative avenues to many different artists and employment to the citizens. Unfortunately, the 1977 martial law stabbed in the back of the film of industry, which just couldn’t revive from that debacle till now.
To be continued
Dr. Abdul Nadir M.D. is an Assistant Professor at University of Arizona, U.S. He is the head of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Maroof International Hospital, Islamabad.