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A political thriller, marred by politics

Instep looks back at the genre-defining film, Waqt Ki Pukar

A political thriller, marred by politics
From left to right: Nisar Bazmi, Saeed Fazli, Zeba and Tahir. Picture was taken during the recording of a song from Waqt ki Pukar.

The recent ban placed on Bollywood spy thriller, Naam: Shabana, which is based on the life of a secret Indian agent, shouldn’t raise eyebrows. The oscillating ties between India and Pakistan have affected films for decades. Exactly half a century ago, Pakistan saw one of its most terrific films, a first in political thriller genre, ‘scissored’ by the censors for the same reason. It was Saeed Fazli’s maiden venture, Waqt ki Pukar in which a journalist exposes India’s covert designs to harm, destabilize and divide Pakistan.

It was in mid-1964, when the Fazlis were busy with Aisa Bhi Hota Hai, a family comedy starring Kamal and Zeba, when the idea of producing a thriller occurred to them. Fazli Brothers, a company by Hasnain and Sibtain Fazli, was famous for making hit ‘Muslim’ social films in United India. After partition, both migrated to Pakistan and helped in restructuring the industry here. Sibtain was behind Pakistan’s earliest hit, Dopatta which was released in 1952. The eldest of the brothers, Fazal Ahmed Karim, turned producer/director with Chiragh Jalta Raha in 1962.
But by 1964, competition grew as films like Khalil Qaiser’s Farangi, Waheed Murad’s Heera aur Pathar and S.M. Yousuf’s Ashiyana went on floors. Things were changing politically as well as India got its second Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru.

“The story emerged from the conspiracy theories regarding disruption of peace in the region. My father, Fazal Ahmed Karim Fazli and I were in Karachi, enjoying a small break from Aisa Bhi Hota Hai when we had several meetings with eminent scholar Raees Amrohvi. For the next two weeks, the meetings continued, each lasting five hours. Raees sahab took notes and by December 1964, I had a neat and calligraphic script with me, but without an ending,’’ explained Saeed Fazli, the director of the yesteryear hit while responding to my questions from his home in Los Angeles where he has been living for the last four decades.

Tahir, a good looking man who worked as a professional photographer submitted his photos to Dabistan Mehdood, Fazl Ahmed Karim Fazli’s production house for some acting role. Resembling a young Dilip Kumar, he was (lucky to be) selected as the lead, while Ada, famous actress Zamarud’s niece, was chosen as the ‘other’ new face to play ‘Dilaraam’. Fazli sahab, famous for introducing stars like Zeba, Deeba, Kamal Irani, Muhammad Ali, Talat Hussain ( Chiragh Jalta Raha) and actress Saloni and musician Nisar Bazmi with Aisa Bhi Hota Hai, wanted to give fresh faces to the industry.

“Fazli sahab was very much against plagiarism. He had used his influence to ban Mafroor, a Pakistani film lifted from across the border. When I was launched due to my looks, some newspapers compared me with Dilip Kumar of Aan. To avoid confusion, a pencil mustache was added to my face, which I think tampered the hero look,” recalled 77-year-old Tahir Ali Khan about how he made his ‘difficult’ debut.

Raees Amrohvi, who was associated with Jang Group, based the protagonist on his elder brother, Syed Muhammad Taqi, the then editor of Jang. The protagonist, Amin, begins a series of articles to expose the forces behind ongoing terrorist attacks. His ladylove Anjuman, portrayed by Zeba, ends up working for Seth Ibrahim Hongkongwala, played by the impeccable Kamal Irani. Famous TV actor Mehmood Ali was one hand of Seth sahab, while the ‘other’ hand, Ada shuttled between the camps of good and evil.

Waqt ki Pukar remains a gripping film throughout. The opening credits seem like a montage of James Bond films. One could see a sniper killing from the top floor, a spy taking pictures of secret installations, a revolving door leading to a secret den and above all, the antagonist is seen transmitting messages to the enemy. There were pigeons used in the film for carrying capsule bombs, there were deaths by secret potions. Furthermore, bugging devices and sophisticated system(s) were shown in the film as well. One mustn’t forget the secret mini-transmitter installed in a shoe, provided by the ‘security agencies’.

“The idea belonged to my late uncle, Syed Wadood Fazli. He helped me in building a proper climax. Over two days and hours of discussions he gave me three astonishing and entirely original ideas and I rewrote them into the script. Both my father and Raees sahib liked and approved of them,” remembers the 82-year-old Saeed Fazli.

The music of the film is still remembered. Mehdi Hasan’s ‘Jaaneman Aaj Tu Jo Paas Nahi’ was the first song recorded in March 1965, which later fetched Nisar Bazmi, a one-film wonder in Pakistan, several other films including Laakhon Mein Aik and Aag. The song was also rendered by Mala. Nearly all songs were penned by Fazal K. Fazli and were widely appreciated.

Whether it was ‘Millat Ke Jawano Ko Yeh Paigham Suna Do’ by Noor Jehan or Naseem Begum’s ‘Mere Dil Ko Bhaaya Ek Akhbar Wala’, and ‘Panchi Naach Naach’ or Naheed Niazi’s ‘Jaam Hai Mere Haath Mein’ – all the songs were received well by the audience.

Known for singing fast numbers, the services of Ahmed Rushdi were utilized for two romantic numbers. The movement of the camera  and relevant inserts during songs were meant to keep the audience glued to the screen.

It was during the making of this film that Zeba and Muhammad Ali planned to marry. It did not delay the film but the 17-day September War did. The Fazlis relocated to a considerably safer Karachi from Lahore until the war ended. Tashkent Accord was signed in January 1966 that compelled India and Pakistan to give away the conquered regions of the war and return to the 1949 ceasefire line in Kashmir. There was also a clause which stated that both countries would discourage the use of any propaganda against each other. A film that could have done wonders to Pakistan cinema globally got entangled in world politics.

“The censor date came when Tashkent was a hot issue. Secretary for Information and Broadcasting Altaf Gauhar begged my father to remove all references to India, which made our story completely pointless. I was vehemently opposed to the cuts and was supported by my uncle, Sibtain Fazli. My father, a retired ICS officer, gave in too easily and the distributors, who had already missed Eidul Fitr, chose Eidul Adha for the release.”

Saeed Fazli recounts the events that led to his film’s debacle. “Seth Ibrahim was muted and it just became Hongkongwala. Whenever the name is heard, it clearly looks as if I am stuttering.”

The movie earned a good response from media upon release in March 1967. I.A.Rehman praised the film for The Pakistan Times and even liked the Akhbarwala song, complimenting the makers for choosing a newspaper editor as the hero. Nigar weekly, the most popular Urdu paper in the industry at that time, also carried a positive review.

What people ultimately saw in theatres was an edited version that was chopped by the CBFC. It was one of the main reasons why the movie did not click upon release, at least not in the way it could have. The response for the first 22 shows was good but after Muharram and the release of Raza Mir’s magnum opus, Lakhon Me Eik, WKP died an unwanted death.

Another reason that contributed to its failure was the miscasting of the lead pair. Zeba was too big a star to be pitted against an unknown Tahir. Had the movie released in early ‘66, things would have been different. In 1965 and 1966 alone, Zeba had Kaneez, Eid Mubarak, Lori, Jaag Utha Insaan and above all Armaan, Pakistan’s first Platinum Jubilee film, to her credit. Tahir was not a bad actor but he seemed a misfit against Zeba.

The rulers of Pakistan were warned of the imminent danger by a movie made well ahead of its time. It was clearly shown in Waqt Ki Pukar that the enemy wanted to exploit the situation.

With a ban on Indian films after the ’65 war, filmmakers committed blatant plagiarism and fresh graduates preferred other professions. Fall of Dhaka weakened the industry which was on its knees by late ‘80s. Despite a push in the ‘90s, film industry was dead by 2010.

But there is hope now. The new generation is motivated, talented and willing to compete with the rest of the world. From the likes of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Mahira Khan to Fawad Khan and Ali Zafar, the future of cinema seems to be in capable hands. The new generation of Fazlis are not lagging behind either as Umair S Fazli, Sibtain Fazli’s grandson, made his debut with Saaya-e Khuda-E-Zuljalal and showed promise and potential.

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