Fayyaz Ahmad Ashar’s passion for music and films is more than three decades old. He started collecting music cassettes, films, and LP records as far back as in 1972, “at age 20.”
The music programmes that were aired on Ceylon Radio and All India Radio would overwhelm him to the extent that he turned into a “music devotee” (his own words). He remains so, to this day.
A man of humble beginnings, Ashar took up some petty jobs to earn a livelihood in his early life, while studying for his graduation privately. An opportunity to work as a manager at a hotel took him to Abu Dhabi where he was employed for the next almost 12 years. But all along, his commitment to music and films was never compromised. In fact, he was now able to spend more of his earnings on purchasing records, audio cassettes, film posters and booklets of all times. Soon, he had a collection of his own that was worthy of being showcased in gallery space.
In his small, three-marla house in Shalimar Colony, Multan Road, he has devoted two full rooms to his collection. He has also named it Awaz Khazana. You can find some vintage LP records, 78 RPMs, and many rare Hindi/Urdu and Punjabi films from early 1930s to the late eighties.
“I’ve almost 2,000 films, most of them are rare and you can’t find them at any store,” he tells TNS, in an exclusive interview. Miss Frontier Mail, Sahara (which starred Renuka Devi as heroine), Anokhi (Sheela Ramani), Dhoop Chaaon (K. Saigal played the lead), Laal-e-Yaman, Mukti, Chandi Das, Achoot Kanniya are some of the films you can find here.
A Punjabi film, titled Sher Di Bachi, in which Muhammad Ali appeared as the leading man, is also part of his collection.
Ashar reveals that he had these in VHS format originally and then transferred them on CD.
His collection boasts “nearly three thousand LP, EP and 78RPM records.” Shanta Apte, Miss Dulari, Dilip Kumar Roy, Ameer Jan, Gohar Jan, Umrao Zia Begum, Master Madan, Shamshad Bai, Iqbal Begum Lahori, and Angoor Bala are a few top-notch names whose musical works he has treasured over the decades.
Ashar also has a rare voice of Madam Noor Jahan, dating back to 1936. Apparently, it’s a song she rendered for a film, Heer Siyal, at a time when she was only ten years old.
The proud collector of vintage music and film pieces, Ashar’s knowledge of the field cannot be questioned. Just a little prompting, and he is ready to regale you with some fascinating information on the stars of the times gone by. For instance, he reveals that Noor Jahan sang a track for the film Desh Bhagti (1935), which starts off with her chanting, ‘Vanday mataram, mere watan da jhanda piara’; Akhtari Bai Faizabadi cut a single Punjabi record (he shows it lying in the room); and Asha Poslay, the heroine of the first Pakistani film, Teri Yaad, recorded a 78RPM LP at the behest of the British government during the Second World War. “If you listen to it, you will note that it was a scathing attack on the Japanese army who was in the opposition camp.”
He also talks about a “78RPM record of K.L. Saigal which was banned because it was dubbed as obscene by the then British government.” No prizes for guessing the ‘banned’ record sits gracefully in a rack in the room.
When it comes to old film posters and booklets, he does not disappoint a visitor as he has plenty of stuff to present. Where did he get these? And who made these? Ashar has the answers: “Back in the day, a few guys sitting on a tonga would roam the city streets holding a film placard they were promoting. They would distribute thin booklets about the film which contained a brief synopsis as well as some details about the lead cast. I’ve got thousands of such old booklets of films.”
He goes on to show some of films like Heer Sial (Noor Jahan’s debut), Pukar, Khana Badosh, Imperial Mail, and Sheela Urf Pind Dee Kurri. He also shares some rare photographs in the booklets, of actors and actresses such as Jaddan Bai, Zubaida, Master Madan, Kamla Jharia, Tamancha Jan, Khurshid Bai, and Zohra Bai.
A man of meagre resources, Fayyaz Ahmad Ashar says he has spent his hard-earned money on cultivating his hobby, which is more of a passion. He has been to India twice, for the purpose, and procured some music records from there. His friends in the UK, USA, and Canada have also helped him in locating and arranging some gems in films and music.
What’s more, he has authored two books on music, namely ‘Pakistani Urdu Filmi Geeton Ka Safar (1948-70),’ and ‘Ibtidai Punjabi Filmi Geet (1932-47),’ both chronicling the history of film songs in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. No wonder people call him the walking encyclopedia of Urdu and Punjabi films!