The year was 1962. Pakistan was in its ‘mid-teens’ and the country was well past the troublesome infancy period. Films were no different. The productions and the people involved with them worked with relentless drive to establish an industry out of nothing. The need of the hour was a big film and with Shaheed’s release on 5th January 1962, that miracle was achieved.
In December 1958, legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz was arrested for reciting his famous poem, ‘Nisar Main Teri Galiyon Ke…’ at a private gathering. Faiz sahib fell on the wrong side of the imposed martial law for having the courage to utter the words: “Chali hai rasm ke koi naa sar utha ke chale.”
He was released from prison four months later but those associated with him also suffered. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was the first editor of Pakistan Times, one of the newspapers run by Progressive Papers Limited and big names like Sibte Hasan and I.A. Rehman were also associated with PPL. These left-leaning intellectuals criticized Pakistan’s decision to join U.S. sponsored military alliances and had to face the music. Daily Imroze and Weekly Lail-o-Nahar, along with Pakistan Times were taken over by the Ayub regime in April 1959.
Shaheed was the product of those days. It was written by Riaz Shahid, who had worked at Lail-o-Nahar for some time while its director Khalil Kaiser had assisted the legendary Anwar Kamal Pasha during the 1950s. Kaiser bagged the best director’s Nigar Award in 1959 for Nagin and was flying high. Ejaz Durrani, a rising star of those days, was selected as the lead. I got hold of Ejaz’s phone number through a friend who has been associated with the film industry long before I was born.
“Being the same age, Khalil and I became friends when he was an apprentice to Anwar Kamal Pasha. We would sit and learn basics of film-making from Pasha sahab. Khalil understood his work well and because of assisting a veteran, he turned out to be a great director,” an 86-year old Ejaz recollects the golden days of the industry from his home in Lahore.
The story of Shaheed begins when a foreigner aka ‘Ajnabi’ comes to a peaceful Arab land to extract oil. The Emir, played by Allauddin, is against foreign intrusion but is removed with the help of Laila, a dancing girl who usually steals for a living. Laila was superbly acted by Musarrat Nazir and accompanied by the music of the great Rasheed Attre, it quickly gained the status of eternal music.
Songs like ‘Habibi Hayya Hayya’, ‘Meri Nazrain Hain Talwar’ and ‘Uss Bewafa Ka Sheher Hai’, sung by Naseem Begum became all the rage in those days. Many decades later, Munir Niaz’s lyrics from Shaheed still strike a chord.
Laila loves Haris (a role that was essayed by Ejaz) while he loves Aaliya, a daughter of a Jew. She joins forces with the ‘Ajnabi’ and plots the ‘overthrow’ of the Emir. And soon enough a man of their liking is made the Vice Emir. When Laila realizes her mistake, she ruins the plans by setting herself on fire and jumping into an oil well.
On one hand, Shaheed projected what ‘foreigners’ have done to regions as big as Middle East, China and India while on the other, it made these subjects relevant with powerful dialogues. Allaudin’s monologue “Ajnabi haathon ko jub bhi kisi doosray mulk ki zameen khodnay ka mauqa mila, unho nay wahan nafrat ka beej bo dia” was delivered in the days when Pakistan ‘gave’ the Badaber Camp near Peshawar to U.S. for 10 years and the CIA used it for spying on USSR during the Cold War.
“We tried to show what was happening in the country. It was a national film made to awaken the people of the land and to prepare them for a long battle,” the protagonist of the movie Ejaz recounts the motive behind the movie.
The direction, music, screenplay and editing were brilliant, and Shaheed was a complete entertainer. Released at a time when films like Guns of Navarone, Raj Kapoor’s Sunehrey Din, Dilip Kumar’s Aarzoo, Guru Dutt’s Aar Paar and Dev Anand’s Baazi were being screened in Pakistan cinemas, Shaheed not only survived but managed to complete its golden jubilee.
“It was a time when film makers had no interference as to what to produce, jo sochtay thay, who bana letay thay,” recalls Javed Attre, son of the legendary musician Rasheed Attre who provided the music of this film.
“Shaheed was not the only film to have addressed international issues. The same production team gave another classic, a film called Farangi that released in 1964 and contained Faiz’s immortal ghazals ‘Hum jo tareek raho me maaray gaye’ and ‘Gulon Mein Rang’. Khalil Kaiser’s assistant in Shaheed, Jamil Akhtar also turned director with a film called Khamosh Raho in 1964, which was scripted by Riaz Shahid and starred Meena Shorey, Deeba, Muhammad Ali and Yousuf Khan. The film became famous for Habib Jalib’s poem, Main Nahin Manta.
Riaz Shahid’s writing style and later direction enthralled the audience for over a decade. Ejaz went on to produce movies and has several hits to his credit. Musarrat Nazir got married before filming of Shaheed in 1961 and left for Canada. Khalil Kaiser was mysteriously killed one night in 1966 while returning from a shoot. Rasheed Attre died when composing for Shahid’s Zerqa in 1967 while Riaz too left at a young age of 45 in 1972 after giving films like Yeh Aman and Gharnata.
The Pakistan film industry is desperate for a big film much like the needs of the sixties. The only way film-makers can counter the influx of Bollywood is by taking up subjects as big as the ones seen in films like Shaheed. Such themes can draw the audience towards Pakistani movies.
In the end, Shaheed is just one of the many films from the golden days of cinema and definitely requires a revisit from fans, both old and new.