Reviewed by Dr. Masood Haque, New York, USA
enfant terrible of the French New-Wave, Jean-Luc Goddard once explained the difference between film and television as this; "People go to the movies to be alone (in the metaphysical sense) and watch television to be with others..." Had Mr. Goddard attended a film screening in the subcontinent perhaps he might have revised his observation. In the subcontinent people go to the movies to be alone together. At the beginning of his immensely appealing memoir, Ali Sufyan Afaqi provides a perfect illustration of this difference between the East and the West. His vivid recollection of watching his first film, Kangan, with a fully engaged audience is full of wondrous details. The audience incessantly talks back to the screen but when the heroine steps into jaws of death, the pin drop silence is punctured by sighs and murmurs of "ina-lilla". Her rescue by the hero is welcomed with the eruption of enthusiastic applause. Alive with the sensations of time and place, Filmi Aliflaila immediately grabs the reader's attention and never allows it to wander.
inspiration for the structure of Filmi Aliflaila is "Thousand and one Nights". Like Queen Scheherazade, Mr. Afaqi weaves an endless tale but with disparate threads of his memory. Unlike the classic, there is no beginning, middle or end, rather the seamless blending of stories dictated by the free association of memory. This non-linear structure allows Mr. Afaqi, a master screenwriter, to evoke an era instead of a series of events. The dramatic flair of Mr. Afaqi's writing gives his memoir the intimacy of a novel. The dense, textured narrative illuminates not only the individual lives but also the times within which those lives unfolded. Legends, stars, writers, producers, directors, and the hanger-on's are evoked with a precision grounded in detail. Whether it is the rise and spectacular fall of Anwar Kemal Pasha's career or the heartbreak of Allaudin at the death of his young son, Mr. Afaqi captures the essence of a life with remarkable efficiency. Particularly memorable is the arc of veteran actor Himalaya Walla's life, which is traced in a few pages with expert narrative strokes and leaves an indelible impression. The virtuosity with which even the minor characters are rendered makes reading this book a genuine pleasure. How can one forget the taciturn Paanwala Pehalvan across from Shabab Keranvi's office, who insists on placing the paan in his customer's mouth and denies the pleasure to those who refuse to comply?
maintains the same vivid tone through out the book, bringing to life an era fast receding into oblivion. The struggle of industry pioneers who left lucrative careers in Bombay for the destitute studios of Lahore is underscored with awe and respect born of affection. Many of these producers, directors and writer were educated men of middle to upper middle class, driven and confident with promising careers in Bombay. Most of the leading ladies of the era (Noor Jehan, Sawrenlata, Shammi, Najma) also left Bombay at their peak to struggle in an uncharted territory. Mr. Afaqi describes them as beautiful, self-possessed women who shunned glamour for a private life. Reading about the struggle and sacrifices of these pioneers makes the current state of Pakistani cinema all the more poignant. The industry got swallowed en masse by forces against which these courageous artists stood their ground. The studios where intellectuals like Saadat Hussain Munto once made their living are now haunted by hygienically challenged, greasy haired men openly smoking hashish.
stars of this bygone era are recalled with particular fondness. Mr. Afaqi provides palpable glimpses of the real person behind the screen persona. There is the very nervous Santosh Kumar on the set of Chann Way attempting a love scene with Noor Jehan. His timidity prompts
someone on the set to yell "don't take her pulse, romance her!" Few years later it is Santosh Kumar guiding the jittery new comer Musarat Nazir through her first love scene with him. There is the new star Sabhia, offering tea and pastries to Mr. Afaqi in her modest home and insinuating that he intervene on her behalf so she could sit for her matriculation exam. He does but fails to convince the headmistress (who is shocked at the very idea) of a respectable local girl's school to sponsor the actress. There is Aslam Pervaiz, elegantly dressed hovering around Mall Road hoping to be cast in a film but to proud to ask a producer. A small section of the book is devoted to Mr. Pervaiz's career as a leading man, its subsequent unraveling and his comeback as the premier villain of the industry.
this is a firsthand account it never feels like gossip. Mr. Afaqi also seems incapable of pettiness or score settling. It is this evenhandedness which allows him to maintain tact and delicacy even when relating the most scandalous stories, like the one in which the talented cricketer Nazar Muhammad jumps out of Noor Jehan's bedroom window to escape her husband's wrath, in the process breaking his arm and bringing his cricket career to an end. To appreciate Mr. Afaqi discretion, one simply has to compare his telling of this incident with the vitriolic, venom spewing, rant of her ex-husband, Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, in his tell-all book, "Noor Jehan Ki Kahani Meri Zubani", where she is reduced to a sexually insatiable demimonde.
best anecdotes in the book reveal the cultural context within which the industry existed. One of the most remarkable episodes of this kind is about the filming of George Cuckor's Bhawani Junction in Lahore and the three-ring circus that accompanied it. Mr. Afaqi, then a working journalist, found himself at the ringside thanks to his connections with the official assigned by the Pakistani government to assist the Hollywood crew. The film crew was welcomed by Pakistan after the Indian government refused permission due to film's anti-Congress and pro-colonial stance. Mr. Afaqi's frank assessment of his government's actions is refreshingly honest.
Hollywood royalty amongst them, the city erupts in a pandemonium. Even the cr�me de la cr�me of Lahore, like star struck teenagers, trample over each other for an introduction to the Hollywood Goddess Ava Gardner. The Hollywood crew has to fight off a series of unsolicited invitations from the city elite, including those from the provincial governor and ministers. Mr. Afaqi observes dryly that the same officials would not give the time of day to even the top local stars.
is impressed with the professionalism of the Hollywood crew, their discipline and their devotion to their work. When Ava Gardner shows up late on the set (through no fault of her own) she is publicly upbraided by the legendary director. To Mr. Afaqi's amusement, it is the director who throws a temper tantrum and walks off the set not the star. The best part of this section is Mr. Afaqi's description of Ava Gardner. Finding himself next to her luminous beauty, Mr. Afaqi is bewitched;
Noor Jehan inspired similar adulation but without the lusty overtones. Mr. Afaqi first met her while working for the daily, Afaq. His interview with the starlet Nighat Sultana had created a sensation when it was published soon after she registered a case against Noor Jehan and her husband. Noor Jehan had publicly humiliated and battered the starlet on the set of Chann way, for flirting with her husband (Mr. Rizvi). As an aside, Mr. Afaqi sets the record straight by pointing out that the film was directed not by Noor Jehan but by her husband, Mr. Rizvi, he simply did not want the credit for directing a Punjabi film. Soon after the starlet interview was published, Mr. Afaqi was summoned to Noor Jehan's residence (although a car was sent for him) where he was gently chided for his one sided telling of the conflict. Here is Mr. Afaqi's account of this first encounter with the legend;
diva turned on the charm as she made the budding journalist a cup of tea with her own hands. An enamored Mr. Afaqi did a rebuttal interview with her, but it failed to generate any stir. Yet his bond with Noor Jehan was formed. Years later he marvels over a smitten Noor Jehan, running bare feet to the gate of her bungalow to greet her new (second) husband Ejaz Durrani. Mr. Afaqi colorfully details their love affair and the subsequent marriage. Particularly interesting that Mr. Durrani took to parking his car in front of Mussarat Nazir's home for his rendezvous with Noor Jehan (Innocent decoy or orchestrated slander?) Noor Jehan glowed with marital bliss and became utterly devoted to Mr. Durrani (she seriously considered giving up singing for him). She was lovesick at his very public affair with the voluptuous bombshell Firdous which caused the couple their marriage. One can only imagine Noor Jehan's grief to have the most beautiful love songs of her career (for Heer Ranjha) filmed on her husband's mistress at the peak of their affair.
is a personal history of the Pakistani film industry by a gifted storyteller. Mr. Afaqi has performed a real service by writing an entertaining and insightful, albeit brief, account of his time in the industry. The length of the book is my only quibble. Mr. Afaqi has hinted that this was the first of many books on the subject but it has been several years since the publication of this one and there is no sign of another. My suggestion is that Mr. Afaqi should be declared a national treasure, his every need should be taken care of by the government (in the form of a genius grant) and he should be freed to document the history of Pakistani cinema to his heart's content. Unfortunately for this to happen, Mr. Afaqi would be at the mercy of the offspring of the same culture vultures who stood in line to get one glimpse of a Hollywood deity but were utterly contemptuous of their home grown talent. The more things change the more they remain the same.
book was initially serialized in Surguzasht Digest, It was first published in the book form in 2001 by Haq Publications.
First worked for Urdu newspaper Afaq daily and through this association came to be known as "Afaqi". Currently Mr. Afaqi works for Nawa-i-waqt's weekly magazine Family.
In the Pakistan film industry, the screenplay credits are often splint into story and dialogue credits
Thandi Sarak (1956)
Mera Ghar Mere Janant (1968)
Aar Paar (1972)
Daman aur Chingari** (1973)
Aaj aur Kal (1976)
Miss Columbo (1984)
Hum aur Tum (1985)
Kabhi Alvida na Kehana** (1987)
** Dialogue Credit
Namak Haram (1975)
Aag aur Ansoo (1976)