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From here to Bombay

The flow of talent from all over India has been the source of much energy and added verve to the Indian films

From here to Bombay
(Clockwise from top left) Mohammed Rafi, Kamini Kaushal, Balraj Sahni, Anand Bakshi, Noor Jehan, and Rajinder Singh Bedi.

Since the first feature film made in the subcontinent was in Bombay (now Mumbai), the city has been the capital of filmmaking in this region. It may have been rivalled to some extent by Calcutta in the early years of filmmaking but the Japanese attack on Burma during the Second World War caused a huge exodus of filmmakers. As all went to Bombay, it only strengthened the city’s position as the final destination of filmmaking.

Other filmmaking centres — like Lahore and Madras (now Chennai) — were kind of provincial outfits serving as launching pads for the bigger wider glitz of Bombay.

This flow of talent from all over India, as indeed the Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has been the source of much energy and added verve to the Indian films. It has also stopped the Indian films from becoming tied to one regional expression. This diversity has proved to be instrumental in helping the many individual cine types to develop.

The Punjab and the North Western Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) have made sterling contribution to the cause of cinema in the subcontinent. They have supplied talent and expertise both in acting and music.

Abdul Rashed Kardar, one of the pioneers of films in the subcontinent, set up his unit in Lahore and then moved on to Calcutta and finally to Bombay, becoming a movie mogul in the decade of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. His friend and assistant of one time, M. Sadiq too became a hugely successful director in Bombay.

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The first Punjabi composer to make a mark in the evolving film music format was Master Jhande Khan and later Master Ghulam Haider. The latter, after establishing himself in Lahore, went on to initiate new trends of film music in Bombay.

Noor Jehan made her debut in Lahore but then moved to Calcutta and eventually to Bombay to establish herself as the top singer actress in the films at that time. Pran also made his debut in Khandaan, the first film to have cast Noor Jehan as a heroine as she graduated from Baby Noor Jehan before moving on to Bombay.

The first Punjabi composer to make a mark in the evolving film music format was Master Jhande Khan and later Master Ghulam Haider. The latter went on to initiate new trends of film music in Bombay.

Mukhtar Begum, actually a very big name in theatres of Calcutta and Bombay, paved the way for the likes of Noor Jehan to follow in her footsteps.

Many had set their sights on Bombay and went directly there without first ringing Lahore’s doorbell. Prithviraj Kapoor went to Bombay to found a dynasty but Dilip Kumar — also from Peshawar — was already in Bombay as his family was involved in fruit trade.

K.L. Saigal from the Punjab made his debut in Calcutta since he worked for a typewriter company. He sang after work in private mehfils where he was spotted by B.N. Sircar’s New Theatre and given a break. He never looked back, working in the films made in Calcutta and Bombay and died just before partition in his prime.

Kamini Kaushel, a very successful post-partition heroin, too, was from the Punjab. Kidar Sharma, a hugely successful director, who first cast Raj Kapoor as a hero in Neel Kamal was from the Punjab.

Muhammed Rafi, similarly, spent his formative years in Lahore under the tutelage of Ustad Waheed Khan and Ustad Chote Ghulam Ali Khan but then ventured forth and was given a break by Shyam Sunder in Gul Baloch, which did not do much for him till Naushad and eventually Feroz Nizami were able to hone the raw talent in him.

Suraiya, too, went straight to Bombay from the Punjab as did the Lahore-born Shamshad Begum. Roshan worked as an assistant to Khursheed Anwar and was employed at the All India Radio Lahore and moved to Bombay after partition to found a film dynasty.

O.P. Nayyar was also employed at the Lahore Radio Station and worked for an orchestra that was set up by Khursheed Anwar and moved to Bombay to become a hugely successful composer for the films. After Master Ghulam Haider, the real break was given to Lata Mangeshkar by Husnlal Bhagatram who was from the Punjab.

One of the first singing stars to have acted with K.L. Saigal — Khursheed — was also from the Punjab. Khayyam, too, went to Bombay from the Punjab at that time and stayed there emerging as a very successful music composer in the decades to come.

Similarly, Chetan Anand, after his studies in Lahore, went to work for IPTA (Indian Peoples Theatre Association) in Bombay and founded a dynasty that ruled over the industry through Dev Anand and Vijay Anand. Similarly, Balraj Sahni went to Bombay in search of a career in the thespian arts.

D.N. Madhok was from the Punjab. He was one of the most popular lyricists of the 1930s and 40s. So strong was his instinct for a good melodic composition that he often advised the composers rather than them advising him.

Many Punjabis and Pathans went to Bombay because of partition and moved from Lahore to the capital due to the exigencies of the circumstances. B.R Chopra, a film journalist, became a director and later his brother, Yash Chopra, became one of the most successful directors of popular Bombay fare.

Sahir Ludhianvi was based in Lahore but about a year after partition decided to move to Bombay for better prospects. He emerged as a great lyricist, probably the greatest in the Indian cinema without compromising on his talent as a poet. He earned the Lenin Peace Prize for poetry. Madan Mohan, a composer, also went from Lahore to Bombay.

Sialkot-born Rajinder Singh Bedi, too, became a very good script, screenplay and dialogue writer while Gujranwala-born Shailendra became one of the most successful lyricists to migrate from here as his talent was to flower much later.

Similarly, Anand Bukshi, another top lyricist born in Rawalpindi moved to Bombay but that was a little later for he blossomed in independent India. Gulzar, who was born in Jhelum, was to bloom as a lyricist and director in the post-partition decades. Sadhana was born in Karachi and became a successful heroin. Ramesh Sippy, one of the most popular directors, was also born in Karachi as was Govind Nihalani.

Some came back at the time of partition, including Master Ghulam Haider, Noor Jehan, Sadat Hasan Manto and Khursheed Anwar. Shaukat Hussain Rizvi from Uttar Pradesh came to Lahore, being married to Noor Jehan, to set up the Shah Noor Studios from the Shori Studios whose owners had left after partition. This reverse migration was as rare then as it is now.

This traffic has served cinema well and despite many obstacles and hurdles the flow should continue to further strengthen cinema. It will not only strengthen Indian cinema but cinema on the whole. The people will get into the habit of going to the cinema and the filmmakers will re familiarise themselves with the medium, latest technologies and the craft that they have become unused to being too much enamoured of the small screen. The films that they make also appear to be telefilms rather than those made for the bigger larger-than-life viewing.

Sarwat Ali

sarwatali
The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

2 comments

  • Interesting article. However, it gives the impression that Indian cinema is just Bollywood. In each of the major Indian languages, there are lots of films being made; for example, the four southern languages. These industries are all flourishing, although their audiences and budgets are far smaller than those of Mumbai.

    If Pakistan had a thriving Sindhi or Punjabi film industry (for instance) it might not have been dependent on India.

  • The article is heavily derived from my series in The Friday Times in which 12 articles have been published thus far. Should not the author have acknowledged the original author? This is rather unethical and sad but I am glad my research has been useful for him.

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