Rehan Ansari reviews Pakistan Cinema 1947-1997 by Mushtaq Gazdar
There are no history books worth the name in Pakistan. Kids encounter Pakistan Studies as a compulsory subject and the text they are given in class to cover the last 50 years makes no mention of facts, unpleasant and pleasant, such as Ayub Khan, the MRD movement, and the MQM. As for the presentation of the pre-47 facts, imagine PTV covering Muhammad Bin Qasim (It is M B Q as a member of the current prime minister's cabinet). Once again, there is not a single book on the history of Pakistani existence for the use of the general reader and school going kids. In this history forsaken land Mushtaq Gazdar's book has arrived.
In writing about Pakistan cinema Mushtaq Gazdar has written a history of the land's culture and the times. Reading this book one cannot seperate Pakistani cinema history from, well, history. In reading history thus the subject is no longer the monopoly of regimes. Gazdar shows the cultural processes behind the major events. And he tracks these processes through the work, the voice and career of the individual.
An example of the breath-giving freshness of this approach: mention Maula Jat, the biggest block buster of Punjabi cinema (the film established a strangle-hold on the industry for over a decade with its too-successful formula) and all polite conversation ends. But Gazdar gives a first rate literary analysis of Maula Jat against the backdrop of Zia's Martial Law and Bhutto's trial and hanging. The film came out on the eve of the final act of the Zia-Bhutto drama. It's villain, Nuri (played by Mustufa Qureishi) is soft-spoken, polite and wants total power (anyone remember Zia on PTV promising elections, accountability, summary military justice?). The film was a great hit in Punjab and rural Sindh, the Bhutto constituencies.
In five chapters (there are six altogether), one for each decade of Pakistani film making, everything post-'47 is here. Explaining films and following the careers of film makers Gazdar hits all our historical potholes, from partition through Ayub Khan and his Ministry of Information's Goebbel-like cultural policies (Gazdar's term), 1971 and the rise and fall of Bhutto, and Zia's long martial law, islamisation, and Motion Picture Ordinance. But Gazdar's eyes are firmly on the lives and careers of the directors, the music directors, the lyricists, the actors and producers, and the challenges facing the industry in Lahore, Karachi and Dacca. We do not get a litany of "great" leaders and events, but in reading the changes in cinema and culture we get a first class perspective of the mill stones.
Considering the careers of film people of the generation of Shaukat Hussain Rizvi (director of Jugnu, theDilip Kumar/Noor Jehan starrer, Ghulam Haider (music director who gave Madam Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum, Lata Mangeshkat and Mohammed Rafi (!) their first major breaks), W.Z Ahmed (producer who owned Shalimar studios at Pune), and Noor Jehan Gazdar cannot but help look at their individual relationship with partition. For most of these people their careers were cut in half.
Liberal people like W.Z, whose film Roohi was the first film to be banned by the censor board for left-leaning sympathies, lead the movement to ban Indian films here. It is an evergreen perspective on crossborder trade: Indian films were coming into their own, Dilip, Raj, Madhubala, Nargis et al were all stars on the rise whereas the Pakistani film makers had literally left their careers behind. The latter wanted to close the doors to Indian films so that they would not have to compete. The result: a lot of imitation and declining standards. Rizvi and Ahmed's output soon came to a standstill. For Madam Noor Jehan, of course, nothing, not even partition, stood in the way.
The book says little about how those, who had to leave Lahore after partition, fared in the Indian cinema business. There is one complete story. Quetta-born Roop K Shorey inherited Kamla Movietone in Lahore He produced the Punjabi block-buster of 1943, Mangti (with an all Lahori cast), and left for Bombay in 1947 when his studio was burnt down by a Lahori mob. In 1951 he produced a block-buster with his film-star wife Meena (the lara lappa girl) Ek Thi Larki. In 1955 the couple came to Lahore to make the film Miss 56. Meera, overcome by the attention given to her by Lahoris, as opposed to Bombaywallahs, decided to stay back. Writes Gazdar, "heart-broken Roop had to take another trip from Lahore, empty-handed... (in the) first losing his livelihood, and then his sweetheart. (He) was never the same man again... and she died a pauper in 1989."
Everything pre-national is here too and that is the first chapter. Here Pakistani readers are finally allowed knowledge of the many lands and many centuries that have led to our present culture. So how does Gazdar write a pre-national history of Pakistani cinema when the crippling problem that writers writing Pakistani history face is the problem of beginnings? How do you start talking about things Pakistani if you don't want to admit that once we were Indian?
The question about beginnings make us anxious because it involves complex questions of identity. if we were Indian why (and when) are we not? Whereas the state monumentally organizes itself around the we-are-anything-but-Indian mantra through its media, foreign policy, military budget the Pakistani public has welcomed the air surperiority of Channel V and Zee T.V. Recently overheard: a media seth in Lahore told a representative of a multinational advertising agency that Pakistani viewers hooked to satellite are 15% going on 100%.
Gazdar's finesse: the history of cinema in Pakistan is really the history of cinema of Lahore. And Lahore, well everybody understands, has always been around. This allows him to embrace the history of cinema in the sub-continent in writing about Pakistan cinema. The link between the Mumbai and Lahore industries was intimate from the earliest years on cinema in the region (now it is unrequited-- our media seth goes to Dubai to watch Indian films on a cinema screen).
"Artists and technicians who made it good in Lahore were invariably attracted to Bombay," says Gazdar. A.R Kardar for example, belonged to a landed Punjabi family, lead the Bhatti Gate Group of intellectuals, made silent films in Lahore but eventually settled in Bombay. There he made Sharda, Dulari, Dillagi, Shahjehan and Jadoo (all famous for Naushad's music as well).
Though In 1935 the first Punjabi film, Pind di Kuri, was produced, not in Lahore, but in Calcutta the relationship between Lahore and the other film centres was not one way. "Bombay had technical superiority but when sound came to film the technical dominance of Bombay had to contend with the cultural dominance of Lahore. For now a well-written story, dialogues and lyrics became indispensable."
In this same first chapter Gazdar smoothly moves beyond the national histories, and goes back pre-nation state, to resurrect the literary theory of Kautilya Chanikya (the writer of Artha Shastra from the Mauryan era), the aristocratic attitudes towards art of Akbar, the Mughals, the courtiers, tradespeople and the peasants. He does this to explain, among other things, why music is so central to film, the infallibility of our filmi heroes (the Krishna legacy) and how Muslim rulers, including the Khiljis, Tughlaqs and Sayyids, and