Monday, November 9, 2009

Remembering Pakistani Actor Kamal 1937-2009

Guest Post by Ras Siddiqui

Syed Kamal’s recent death (October 1, 2009) marks the near-closing of an era during which four male actors ruled Pakistan’s Urdu film industry. Waheed Murad died much too early and Mohammad Ali just a few years ago and now Kamal Sahib is gone too leaving Nadeem as the sole survivor. Kamal Sahib’s family and fans will continue to mourn his loss and news of his death reignited some long dormant brain cells here too from which this writing emerges.

A time of curiosity, hope and pride before the fateful year of 1971 still lives embedded in many memories. One remembers a time when being Pakistani was all about a new nation which started off like a ship in choppy waters that finally found some stability during the 1960’s, even though we learnt later that appearances can be deceiving, Pakistan’s nascent film industry did make its mark during that time and Syed Kamal was an important part of it.

I vaguely remember that the year was either 1964 or 1965. At the young age of 9 or 10, I had the opportunity of seeing my first Pakistani film in Rawalpindi with my family. The film was called “Aisa Bhi Hota Hai” starring Syed Kamal and the stunning Zeba plus not to forget comedian Lehri. Yes, it was a time for optimism in Pakistan, and somehow Syed Kamal in his usually happy go lucky character portrayals reflected just that very optimism. He was unlike Mohammad Ali who chose to play more serious roles. I remember seeing the movie “Kaneez” with Zeba, Waheed Murad and Mohammad Ali the same year, the sadness of which almost made one give up on Pakistani movies altogether. So for us kids at St. Marys School on Murree Road in Rawalpindi, copying Syed Kamal became a hobby. A comic hero was much easier to admire and follow at the time.

They say that Kamal Sahib had an easy entry into Pakistan’s film industry due to his uncanny resemblance to Indian acting hero Raj Kapoor. Since we did not know who Raj Kapoor was (but our parents did) it still does seem interesting today that Meerut (India) born Syed Kamal became an acting legend in Pakistan and Peshawar born Raj Kapoor became a legend in the Indian film industry. It appears that partition had exchanged its legends too.

Syed Kamal made many contributions to the Pakistani film industry, but being its first comic hero has to remain at the forefront. He acted in some very strange movies that made us cry a little but laugh a lot (and some were plain silly but extremely entertaining). Not many of his films were profitable and a few were complete flops. But his experimentation continued. Thandi Sarak (1956) was his first film in Pakistan.

Starting with Tauba and Ashiana in 1964, Joker in 1966, Behan Bhai and Khilona in 1968 and his super hit Nayi Laila Naya Majnoon in 1969, Kamal Sahib’s work carried on. His films Honeymoon and Love in Europe not to forget Road To Swat in 1970 also made quite an impact as did Roop Behroop and Night Club in 1971. That was also the year that devastated Pakistan’s film industry with the creation of Bangladesh. Some will say that Pakistan’s movie industry never really recovered after that year.

Kamal Sahib’s last major Urdu film which he also directed was Insaan Aur Gadha with the legendary Rangeela creating a great deal of controversy including (rumor has it) earning the ire of Z. A. Bhutto. But seriously Nayi Laila Neya Majnoon (1969) was his most successful film in which he teamed up with then East Pakistan’s Naseema Khan, who incidentally also later made Road To Swat more appealing in many ways.

1969 was a very big year for Pakistani Urdu cinema as Shamim Ara & Waheed Murad’s Salgirah; Shabnam in Andaleeb and Neelo’s legendary performance in Riaz Shahid’s Zarqa dominated the viewer ship. But even then the much lighter (in comparison) Nayi Laila Neya Majnoon was able to hold its ground. 1970 was another story. The late Mohammad Ali in Insaan Aur Aadmi along with Rani in Anjuman and the film Baazi (introducing Habib Wali Mohammad’s super hits) ruled the screens along with the Punjabi Super Hit Heer Ranjha. Syed Kamal’s films like Love in Europe just didn’t stand a chance that year with its focus on light entertainment.

Now as the years take their toll on the memory banks, let us get some much needed help here from Mazhar Iqbal in Denmark and Anis Shakur in New York who have both been carrying the torch of Pakistani film history on the internet for many years. Thanks to their efforts many people including this writer have been able to revive their own memories of the Pakistani entertainment industry. I want to acknowledge here that I am using their archives in this writing.

Most south-Asian films became memorable because of their songs which their viewers continue to remember for the longest time. Credit here must go back to the singers of those hits and in the case of Syed Kamal, singer S.B. John’s “Tu Jo Nahin Hai to Kuch Bhi Nahin Hai” from the film Savera in 1959 launched his career in every viewing household along with Mehdi Hasan’s “Hamain Koi Gham Nahin Tha Gham-e-Ashiqui Sey Pehlay” from the movie Shab Bakhair (1967). And not to forget the late Ahmad Rushdi whose songs launched just about every Pakistani hero in the 1960’s including Syed Kamal with catchy songs like “Hello Hello Mr. Abdul Ghani” (Behan Bhai 1968).

Part comic, part Charlie Chaplin, part romantic hero and part serious actor made up the whole of Syed Kamal that we as fans came to know and will not forget easily. We gloss over many things in Pakistan but there are some reminders that we have even come to regret lately. As I write this tribute to a memorable entertainer, Kamal Sahib’s film Road To Swat’s (1970) song “Chalain Hain Dil Wale Road To Swat, Piyaar Kay Bahaney Liye Apnay Saath..” (Masood Rana & Mala) resonates in the background. Some may consider it a mediocre film, but looking at the Swat valley of today and then back in time, even a “silly” film somehow becomes precious (as lives change to Aisa Bhi Hota Tha). Our cultural Kashkol today appears emptier than it once was due to the loss of Syed Kamal Sahib and one cannot leave this writing without appreciating those days of tears, smiles and many laughs for which we remain indebted to him.

Ras Siddiqui is a popular Pakistani-American writer from Sacramento, CA. He contributes to Pakistan Link, Dawn, and a variety of other publications.

Here is TV coverage in memory of Actor Kamal:

Here are two video clips of Kamal's films:

Related Links:

Syed Kamal's Biographical Information

Kamal's Films

Mazhar Iqbal on Pakistani Films

Anis Shakur on Pakistani Movies


Riaz Haq said...

Here's Aaakar Patel on Punjabis and Urdu-speakers of Bollywood:

The dominant communities of Bollywood are two: the Urdu-speakers of North India and, above all, the Punjabis from in and around Lahore. They rule Bollywood and always have. To see why this is unusual, imagine a Pakistan film industry set in Karachi but with no Pashtuns or Mohajirs or Sindhis. Instead the actors are all Tamilian and the directors all Bengalis. Imagine also that all Pakistan responds to their Tamil superstars as the nation's biggest heroes. That is how unusual the composition of Bollywood is.

A quick demonstration. Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan are the three current superstars. All three are Urdu-speakers. In the second rung we have Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shahid Kapoor and Ajay Devgan. Of these, Hrithik, Ajay and Akshay are Punjabi while Saif is Urdu-speaking. Shahid Kapoor, as his name suggests, is half-Punjabi and half-Urdu-speaking.

Behind the camera, the big names are Punjabi: Karan Johar, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Yash Chopra of Lahore.

The Kapoor clan of Lyallpur is the greatest family in acting, not just in Bollywood but anywhere in the world. It has produced four generations of superstars: Prithviraj Kapoor, his sons Raj, Shammi and Shashi, their children Rishi and Randhir, and the current generation of Ranbir, Kareena and Karisma.

Bollywood is a Punjabi industry. We have Dev Anand of Lahore, Balraj Sahni of Rawalpindi, Rajendra Kumar of Sialkot, IS Johar of Chakwal, Jeetendra, Premnath, Prem Chopra, Anil Kapoor and Dharmendra who are all Punjabis. Sunil Dutt of Jhelum, Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Vinod Mehra, Suresh Oberoi of Quetta, and all their star kids are Punjabis. Composer Roshan (father of Rakesh and grandfather of Hrithik) was from Gujranwala.

What explains this dominance of Punjabis in Bollywood? The answer is their culture. Much of India's television content showcases the culture of conservative Gujarati business families. Similarly, Bollywood is put together around the extroverted culture and rituals of Punjabis.

The sangeet and mehndi of Punjabi weddings are as alien to the Gujarati in Surat as they are to the Mohajir in Karachi. And yet Bollywood's Punjabi culture has successfully penetrated both. Bhangra has become the standard Indian wedding dance. Writer Santosh Desai explained the popularity of bhangra by observing that it was the only form of Indian dance where the armpit was exposed. Indians are naturally modest, and the Punjabi's culture best represents our expressions of fun and wantonness.

Even artsy Indian cinema is made by the people we call Punjus - Gurinder Chadha, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.

Another stream of Bollywood is also connected to Lahore, in this case intellectually, and that is the progressives. Sajjad Zaheer (father of Nadira Babbar), Jan Nisar Akhtar (father of lyricist Javed and grandfather of actor/director Farhan and director Zoya), Kaifi Azmi (father of Shabana), Majrooh Sultanpuri and so many others have a deep link to that city.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Wall Street Journal story on multi-screen theaters construction boom in Pakistan:

KARACHI, Pakistan—At the brand-new Nue Multiplex here, chauffeured cars drop families at the door. Excited squeals of children reverberate from the games arcade. Hollywood and Bollywood movies play on five screens.

"We wanted to have something of international standard," said Tariq Baig, executive director of the $100 million multiplex that opened in August, replete with a Canadian sound system, Danish carpeting, and chairs and screens imported from the U.K. "We didn't go for anything local."

Nue is part of a wave of Western-style cinemas that are opening across Pakistan, aiming to serve the entertainment-starved middle classes in a country where movie houses were traditionally dilapidated, seedy, and shunned by families.

The blossoming of Western cinema in Pakistan is something of a phenomenon, taking place even as Islamist militants—who view all cinema as sinful— increasingly target the country's moviegoers.

There are just 104 movie screens in all of Pakistan, a country of 180 million people. Still, that is a jump from 20 screens in 2005, according to various distributors and cinema owners. There are another 100 screens under construction, they say.

Pakistan's cinema renaissance began in 2006, when the then military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, loosened a law dating back to the 1965 war between India and Pakistan that banned the import of Bollywood films. Though imports of Indian movies are still restricted, Mr. Musharraf's ruling allowed them to be granted a "No Objection Certificate" by the government in special cases. The ordinance also created a loophole in the law that allowed Indian films to be imported via another country.

"Everyone wants to go to the cinema," says Nadia Jamil, a popular TV and film actress based in Lahore. "It's the Indian films that have created the market that everyone wants to rush to."
Cinema construction has been on a tear over the past few years in a number of developing countries where growing middle classes are flocking to theaters. China last year added 5,077 new film screens, boosting its total to 18,200, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Peshawar's cinemas are a far cry from the multiplexes of Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. The only defense against the intense summer heat are ancient fans. In the winter patrons come with their own blankets. The audiences are exclusively male, and many of the theaters show porn, crudely dubbed into Pashto, the local language. Audiences are small and profits are slim. Tickets cost around 50 rupees (50 cents), depending on how popular the film is.

Habib ur Rehman, the manager of the Picture House cinema, the first theater to be attacked by the Taliban, said in conservative Peshawar being in the cinema business isn't something you boast about. He said the modern multiplexes springing up in other parts of the country would never come to the city. "They will not succeed here. The people don't like Hindi and English films. They want Musarrat Shaheen, " he said, referring to a famous Pashto actress.

Despite the Taliban threats, Rehan Shah, who works at the Shama Cinema, the second Peshawar theater attacked, said people are eager for these cinemas to reopen.

"People are already asking, 'Why are you not open? We want entertainment,' " he said.

Riaz Haq said...

April 11 marked the death anniversary of the Legendary singer Ahmed Rushdi.
(Ahmed Rushdi with Nighat Seema)
Syed Ahmed Rushdi (April 24, 1934 – April 11, 1983) born at Hyderabad Deccan was a versatile Pakistani playback singer. He was most popular among the young music fans and a proudly answer to the Indian singer Kishore Kumar.
He started his show biz career as a stage actor in Indian city Hyderabad in 1952 where he sang his first song in film Ibrat. He migrated to Pakistan in 1954 and joined Radio Pakistan Karachi. He was honored to sing The National Anthem of Pakistan with ten other singers in 1955. His first super hit song on Radio was written and composed by Mehdi Zaheer:
Bandar Road se Kemari, meri chali re Ghorha Garhi, Babu, ho jana footpath par..
Ahmad Rushdi is remembered as a folk singer in the Urdu-speaking area's in Pakistan. He was born on April 4, 1934 at Hyderabad Deccan (India) and died on April 11, 1983 at Karachi.
Here are some figures & facts about Ahmad Rushdi's singing career:
Ahmad Rushdi's first film as playback singer was Karnama but Karachi made Urdu film Anokhi was his first released film in 1956. The first film song was Mari Laila ne aisi katar, Mian Majnu ko aaya bukhar.. was filmed on Lehri.
His first hit song was from Lahore made film Saperan in 1961 with the lyrics Chand sa Mukhra, gora badan.. which was filmed on Habib and music composer was Manzoor Ashraf (first film).
He got breakthrough from film Mehtab's (1962) mega hit street song Gol Gappe wala aya, gol gappe laya.. in 1962 which was filmed on Allauddin.
His first Punjabi film was Chodhary in 1962 and the first Punjabi song was filmed on Asif Jah, which was Pyar tera main jholi paya te taaney marey Sharikan.. (duet with Nazir Begum)
He became 1960's "Abrar-ul-Haq" after his western style song Koko-koreena.. in film Armaan (1966)
Ahmad Rushdi's peak period was from 1963-77. His last film as playback singer was Mashiq-o-Maghrib in 1985.
According to his fans Ahmad Rushdi sang 812 Urdu, 132 Punjabi (?), 3 Sindhi, 3 Gujarati and a single English song - a total number of 951 film songs. These figures are without songs from unreleased films and none-film songs.
Ahmad Rushdi's 951 songs in 508 released films could be a record for any male singer in Pakistani films but according to the incomplete songography of Masood Rana, his songs are 887 in 574 released films. Followed by Mehdi Hassan's 631 songs in 445 films (complete figures)
Ahmad Rushdi sang the highest number of 812 Urdu songs in the highest number of 421 Urdu films. Followed by Mehdi Hassan's 542 songs in 368 films (complete figures) and Masood Rana's 357 Urdu songs in 213 films (incomplete figures).
Ahmad Rushdi sang 132 Punjabi songs in 75 Punjabi films, (which is unconfirmed!). He was not successful in Punjabi films and sang mostly B- or C-class songs. But his Punjabi songs tally is the third highest by any male singer in Pakistan after Masood Rana's 526 songs in 360 Punjabi films (incomplete figures) and Inayat Hussain Bhatti's 222 songs in 114 films (complete figures)
Ahmad Rushdi sang the highest number of songs for Waheed Murad and set a record for the first ever "century partnership" by any male singer and actor. The only other example is by Mehdi Hassan-Mohammad Ali pair.
Ahmad Rushdi sang more than 100 songs with Mala, which is all time Pakistani record.
Ahmad Rushdi sang more than 100 songs with music director M. Ashraf.
Ahmad Rushdi set the record for maximum numbers of male songs as playback singer in a calender year in 1969.
In 2003, 20 years after his death, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf awarded him the Sitara-e-Imtiaz. A street in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, also named Ahmed Rushdi Road