RMIM Archive Article "290".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: The Golden Era Of Pakistani Films
# Author: Saeed Malik
# Source: The Nation Midweek (Pakistan)
# Contact: Khawaja Naveed Aslam (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
The chequered history of Pakistan film industry is interspersed
with many vicissitudes. Starting almost from a scratch soon after
the political division of the Sub-continent, it gradually
progressed to achieve self-reliance and prosperity, and a time
came when it could proudly and successfully compete with quality
films made across the border in India, matching them in all
departments of cinematography.
The golden era of Pakistan cinema was the period which spanned
the decades of the 60s and 70s, although a number of good movies
had already been produced in Lahore studios during the second
half of the 50s. A large number of dedicated workers and movie-
makers, who had made names during their stay in Mumbai, like
producer-directors Nazir, Shaukat Hussain Rizvi and W Z Ahmad
(and their actress-wives Swaran Lata, Nur Jehan and Neena);
directors Nazir Ajmeri, Luqman, S Fazli and Masud Parvez; and
play-actors of the calibre of Shah Nawaz, Shakir, Alauddin,
Charlie, Ghauri, Himaliyawala, Sadiq Ali, Shameem, Najma and
Ragni contributed to the evolution of Pakistan film industry
during the formative years of the new state.
The factors which contributed to the decline of Pakistan film
industry were: the loss of East Pakistan territory; the inception
of television; and the infiltration of non-artistic financiers,
who had no or little background, either in the arts, or business.
Consequently, senior film-makers (directors and composers
including) went into voluntary exile and the industry was taken
over by those rich people who invested money for purposes other
than artistic ends.
State's lack of commitment to the objective of film development
and the unfathomable apathy to the potential of this medium as a
means of mass enlightenment, also contributed to the gradual
qualitative decline in film-making. Lack of facilities to train
young people in the art and craft of cinema was yet another
factor which adversely affected the quality of productions at
Since the dawn of independence, films in thousands have been
produced in Pakistan. Although a majority of these movies failed
at the box office (for reasons stated above), there were quite a
few which not only did good business, but were also applauded for
their thematic contents and thrusts, production values,
direction, acting and melodic compositions.
Until about ten years after the advent of television in the
country in November 1964, films produced in Pakistan held almost
complete sway over the world of entertainment. Some astonishingly
high-quality and popular films made during that period won kudos
for the artistes who helped in their production, and laurels for
the country at various international fora. By 1975, the role of
films as a dominant form of entertainment had been challenged by
television, which laid greater emphasis on tele-dramas that
truthfully and vividly reflected both the ugly and pleasant
realities of life, PTV plays often had a judicious sprinklings of
strong social comments and touches of moral proselytisation.
Histrionic talent for Pakistani movies came from varying sources,
mostly from the 'traditional' source (in the case of female
artistes). Others who joined the medium had films as their family
trade; some filtered into films through writing for them; and a
few were picked up from nowhere, in particular. But they all had
one thing in common - they were fresh, spirited and talented.
We need to go back a little in history to have a peep into local
film scene and ascertain the valuable contributions made to the
cinematic arts in Pakistan by senior artists which resulted in
the establishment of a viable film industry, both from the
standpoint of artistic inputs, as well as successful business
Before August 14, 1947, Lahore had four film studios; two owned
by Seth Dilsukh Pancholi (one in Muslim Town along Canal Bank and
the other on Upper Mall) and the other two were the property of R
L Shori, (one on Multan Road and the other behind Regent Cinema
on McLeod Road). Both of them were shrewed business-oriented
film-makers, who produced a large number of successful films
since the advent of the talkies in the Sub-continent in 1931. The
owners of these studios, and a majority of technicians associated
with these, were non-Muslims whose mass exodus to India in the
wake of partition rendered these studios ineffective. One of
these studios was gutted and almost ruined.
After the departure of Seth Pancholi to India in early 1948, his
studios remained closed for quite some time. It was only after a
lapse of several months that Diwan Sardari Lal, the then General
Manager of Pancholi Studios, opened one of these where normal
activities were resumed, albeit with skeleton staff. The first
movie of Pakistan, which had in fact been completed in the year
1947 (before partition) was Teri Yaad, in which Pran and Asha
Posley enacted the leading roles. It was released after Pakistan
came into being as an independent country.
Among the artists and movie-makers who opted for Pakistan and who
arrived in Lahore soon after the political division of the Sub-
continent were: Ismail, Zahur Raja, Afzal Himalyawala, Maya Devi,
Shahnawaz, Majeed, Ghauri, Charlie, Alauddin, Masud, Santosh
Kumar, Suresh, Sadiq Ali and Najma, Shameem, Swaran Lata, Neena,
and Nur Jehan (along with their husbands --actor Nazir, and
producer-directors W Z Ahmed and Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi).
Also included in the first batch of immigrants were playwright
Saadat Hassan Manto, directors Masud Parvez, Munshi Dil, Luqman
and Nazir Ajmeri; and composers Feroze Nizami, G A Chishti and
Rashid Attrey. Music directors Master Ghulam Haider and Khurshid
Anwar came later.
Producer-Director Nazir was perhaps the first to start the
business of film-making in right earnest, but his first attempt
was aborted by the burning of the negatives of the movie Heer-
Ranjha, which was completed in two months. He produced another
film named Sachayee, which did not hit the bulls' eyes in terms
of popularity. His Punjabi film Phairey, and later Laarey, were
great successes which earned him much fame and money. In those
days, films could be completed with 30-40 thousands rupees, and
Phairey was completed within a record period of 20 days. It was
released in Pakistan at a time when R K Shorey's Chaman was being
shown in Pakistani cinemas but also grossed larger amounts at the
Up to the middle of the decade of the 50s, a number of films were
produced in Lahore which did good business at box office. These
included Luqman's Shahida; G A Gul's Mundri, Imtiaz Ali Taj's
Gulnaar, Daud Chand's Hichkoley, Anwar Kamal's Do Ansoo, Ghulam,
Gumnam and Qatil, Sibtain Fazli's Dopatta and Shaukat Rizvi's
Chan Way. During this period, Shaukat Rizvi had restored Shori
Studios to normal working conditions after more than one year's
hectic efforts. However, the real boost to Pakistan film industry
came after banning by the government of the import of Indian
movies as a consequence of a successful agitation launched by
Pakistani film artists, directors, producers and all those (with
only a few exceptions of distributors) associated with film
production in 1954, which is now known as the Jaal agitation.
This provided an incentive to local film industry resulting into
its prosperity thereafter.
Cinema, which is invented by science, and is a powerful artistic
medium, a meaningful educational force and important source of
entertainment (despite the advent of television), has in Pakistan
suffered a qualitative decline since mid-70s. The reason for this
decline has already been enumerated earlier in this write-up.
The socially-influencing and artistic potentialities of cinema
cannot be denied. Senior denizens still remember how in their
youth, many among them, used to spend weekly (and other) holidays
watching movies in cinema houses. Little did they fathom the
quantum of influence the movies were to have on their
personalities, behaviour and life-styles, even clothes and hair-
styles. The exciting film medium unfolded for them new vistas of
fantasy, glamour, romance and a source of vicarious pleasure.
Films made by Muslim producers-directors of the pre-partition era
created new record of popularity because of their artistic and
entertainment qualities. A majority of films made in the bygone
years were intelligent pieces of art: low-pitched, gentle and
were not encumbered with cheap tricks to entice the film-goers.
In comparison, the movies now in circulation have now gotten
sillier, shriller and more gimmicked-up with no end of the trend
in sight. The recent fad of producing films in foreign countries
proves the point.
The emergence of this new wave the world over has failed to
temper the excessive proclivity of our film-makers to use
violence, terror and brutality, and to take libidinous allowances
which has resulted not only in corrupting the tastes of film
buffs, but also has created a backlash of socially-harmful
fallouts. When one thinks nostalgically of old movies, a rich
tapestry of swirling images from many masterpieces of yore float
into one's memory lanes, recreating very satisfying feelings.
Before partition, Lahore was one of the three centres of northern
Indian film circuit. The concept of formula film had not yet
caught the fancies of the producers, although they were not
oblivious of the commercial dimensions of film industry. Films
made in those days were, by and large, aesthetically-pleasing and
also provided ample entertainment to cinema-goers. Cinema also
had psychological advantage over other media of entertainment as
anything new is inherently strong enough to become more popular
than the old varieties.
The numbers of artistes during the golden era of Pakistan film
industry were large but were absorbed, though a bit reluctantly.
The ludicrous star system - three pairs carrying the load of
about 300 films launched and 150 completed during 1976, for
example - created a situation wherein the very survival of a
large number of producers was threatened. Subsequent crisis
forced many to say goodbye to the industry.
It was during this period that only a handful of stars of the
silver screen succeeded in monopolising the productions and
dictating their terms to the producers. With Muhammad Ali
reaching an age where to show him chasing heroines was to test
the patience of even chronic cinema buffs severely; Waheed
Murad's popularity plummeting fast; and Shahid remaining as
unpredictable as ever, the only real hero types left were Nadeem
in Urdu, and Yousaf Khan in Punjabi films. Among the heroines,
Zeba, Rani and Nisho were still there, but by far the strongest
was Shabnam, usually paired with Nadeem. To expect the producers
to keep investing countless millions on these older stars, most
of whom had lost their magic at the box office, was to expect the
Earlier, in the heydays of Pakistani cinema, silver screen was
dominated by the duos of Santosh Kumar-Sabiha, Musarrat Nazir-
Sudhir and Shameem Area-Waheed Murad, who ruled the roost when
the going was good in the film industry.
With a constantly shrinking market, the average producer
continued losing money in backing old faces, because one out of
ten films failed in getting his investment back. The
cartelisation imposed by the stars and superstars of Pakistani
cinema prevented new talent to join the industry thus causing a
stagnation in its qualitative and quantitative growth.
The quality of an art depends on the calibre of the people
creating it, and our society has been less than magnanimous in
lending its best people to creative professions, especially to
film art. As a consequence, the studios are today flooded with
the type of individuals (especially the financiers) a majority of
whom do not enjoy good reputation, to say the least. This
inadequacy of the film industry provided a handle to the orthodox
elements in our society to browbeat all those who were, in one
way or the other, associated with cinematic arts.
Content-wise, a large majority of Pakistani films do not
represent our social and cultural ethos. Stuffed with highly
implausible situations, and interspersed with totally frivolous
sequences of fighting among different characters (euphemistically
called action), our movies have created a credibility problem,
thereby losing their legitimacy. On the other hand, any art, if
it is the standard-bearer of truth, and if it talks of the good
rather than the evil is perfectly legitimate. In the words of
late film-maker/composer Khurshid Anwar, "All great poets and
artists - Iqbal, Ghalib, Shakespeare and Beethoven - dealt with,
or described universal truth". "That is exactly the reason", he
went to say, "they are great artists. Truth, in fact, is what is
aimed at by the three great systems or methods of coming to terms
with the reality by synthesising the confusing contradictions of
existence and the universe: namely, arts, religion and science".
Unless Pakistani films are brought closer to life by mirroring
its harsh vicissitudes, they will never qualify as true art, as a
piece of art that deals with simple truth is immortal, because
truth is eternal. In a majority of films produced in Pakistan
these days, the setting seems false, the story not reflective of
true realities of life, and music lousy. Discriminating and
enlightened cinema-goers have, on umpteen past occasions,
protested against deliberate distortion of life in our films,
especially those which are made in Punjabi language. An example:
An overly-dressed and heavily made-up village girl starts singing
in a film sequence and the cinema hall is filled with all sorts
of sounds produced by electric organs, guitars and jazz drums to
which she makes a few amorous body movements. Does this scene
truly reflect the prevailing conditions in contemporary Punjabi
Undoubtedly, an element of fantasy is inherent in the very nature
of cinema which should not be suppressed and realism should not
be taken to mean literalism. History of cinema is replete with
instances showing both fantasy and realism working hand in glove
with each other. Films made with genuine and logical motivations
(in the human sense) are realistic, if the motivations, actions
and reactions of the characters are sensible, and the situations
plausible. Unfortunately, most of our films lack these qualities
and that is why, Pakistan film industry has been brought to such
Under the influence of Western pop music, not-too-allusive sex
and violence have become the central themes of the movies. Our
film-makers readily emulate alien examples, no matter how harmful
these may be for our society, and forget the fact that not only
these are totally irrelevant to our socio-political cultural and
economic milieu, but are a passing fad having no permanent
Cinema is a medium of expression and communication. Besides
providing entertainment, a film-maker must have something to
convey to his audience. Is he discharging his duty? Is he
adequately educated and properly trained to communicate an idea,
or a concept, in an easily-discernible artistic manner? The
answer to these questions, in a majority of cases, is in the
Despite many shortcomings, accruing from the incompetence of a
number of film-makers, Pakistani movies, especially those made
during its golden era (from 1955 to 1975), created several
landmarks. Some important 'first' of Pakistan cinema are listed
Do Ansoo in Urdu was the first Pakistani film which celebrated
its silver jubilee in 1950.
Umer Marvi was the first Gujrati film which was produced in a
Karachi studio, and released on September 1, 1970.
The first Balochi film, Hamalo Mah Gunj, was made in 1976, but
could not be released due to strong protest by the people of
The first English film produced in Pakistan (Karachi) was Beyond
the Last Mountain.
Q Zaman was the first film-maker who experimented with taking
colour shots of a film song recorded for Gul Bakauli, released in
1970. Jago Hooa Swera was the first film produced and directed by
A J Kardar in 1953 which won numerous kudos at several
The first female director of a film produced in Pakistan was Nur
Jehan who directed Punjabi Chan Way in 1951. Many insiders
contested this claim, but her name appeared on the credits of
that film as its director). She also enacted the role of the
heroine in the same movie. Feroze Nizami's compositions for the
film won uproarious acclaim throughout the length and breath of
Pakistan as well as in Indian Punjab.
Baghi (Urdu) was the first Pakistani film produced in 1956, which
was released in the People's Republic of China.
Sassi (Urdu) was the first Pakistani film which successfully
competed with Indian movies. Earlier, Hichkoley and Phairey had
also offered stiff competition to Indian movies exhibited in
Arman (Urdu) celebrated its platinum jubilee.
Dosti (Urdu) celebrated its diamond jubilee with a run of 50
The first film song which became a super-hit in Pakistan was Mein
Pyar Ka Diya Jalata Hoon, sung by Ali Bakhsh Zahoor. Master
Inayat Hussain provided melodic raiments to that song for the
film Hichkoley, which was written by Saifuddin Saif.
All songs of film Baiqarar (Urdu) sung by Munawwar Sultana and
Ali Bakhsh Zahur, composed by Master Ghulam Haider after his
arrival from Bombay, won wide popularity.
Composer G A Chishti wrote and composed six songs for Nazir's
Punjabi film Phairey (1950) in one day and recorded them at one
go the same day. This record has not yet been broken by any other
composer in Pakistan.