100 years of cinema and a series of ‘firsts’
KARACHI: An exhibition of posters followed by a symposium to celebrated music through 100 years of cinema, organised by Amateurs’ Melodies Group and the Progressive Writers Association, was held at the Manzar Akbar Hall of Arts Council Karachi on Wednesday evening.
The posters, culled from different sources, were put in a manner that they highlighted milestones in the history of the subcontinent’s cinema. It began with a big image of the first silent feature film ‘Raja Harishchandra’ (1913) followed by the poster for the first Indian actress Kamalbai Gokhale who worked in a film titled ‘Mohini Bhasmasur’ in 1914. The first talkie, ‘Alam Ara’, was also there, as was the first Pakistani film ‘Teri Yaad’.
There were interesting entries as well. For example, a set of posters were dedicated to the first stuntwoman of Indian cinema, Nadia, along with the films that she was an integral part of, such as ‘Hunter Wali’. It was nice to see that the first Indian film that won an award at the Cannes Film Festival, ‘Neecha Nagar’, directed by Chetan Anand and written by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, was not missed either. The film blazed a trail for socially realistic movies.
A black and white poster for the Mehboob Khan-directed ‘Aan’ was important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it showed a sea of film lovers outside a Karachi cinema house in the early ‘50s sleeping the night over on footpath to get tickets for the movie. Secondly, it signified how much importance was given to such cultural activities in the past.
It goes without saying that iconic films like Sholay, Devdas and Armaan (Pakistani) also made their presence felt. Then there were images of the illustrious Mangeshkar family and famous singers and composers of the subcontinent who made a huge contribution to the region’s music.
Later in the evening quite a few speakers at the symposium expressed their views on different aspects of Indian cinema. One of them was Ghulam Haider Siddiqi who read out an enlightening piece on Karachi’s cinema industry. He first introduced himself especially to younger members of the audience telling them that he had directed five Sindhi films and eight documentaries and had also worked for the PTV. He said there was a time when there were three film studios in Karachi — Eastern, Modern and International — 235 cinemas in Sindh, 50 film producing companies and 50 distributors. In 1947 there were 26 cinemas in Karachi and until a few years ago their number was between 85 and 90. Sadly, today shopping centres had hogged that space.
Mr Siddiqi said films in eight languages were made in Karachi. The first Urdu picture that saw the light of day in the city was titled ‘Hamari Zaban’ (June 10, 1955) produced by a Sindhi woman who used to work in the Bombay film industry before partition. Pakistan’s first Sindhi film was ‘Umar Marvi’ released on March 13, 1956, first Pushto film ‘Yousuf Khan Sher Bano’ (1970, starring Badar Munir), first Gujarati film ‘Maa Te Maa’ (1970), first English film ‘Beyond the Last Mountain’ (1974), and the first Punjabi film made in Karachi was ‘Heer’ (1955).
Mr Siddiqi said from 1956 to 1977, a little less than 80 Sindhi films were made; the last one was called ‘Umeed’. He lamented that these days prospects of a Sindhi movie were bleak but commented that Sindhi’s contribution to Pakistani cinema could not be ignored.
Journalist Asif Noorani spoke on the role of the progressive writers in the subcontinent’s cinema. He pointed out that the progressive lent meaningfulness to Indian films and mentioned that eminent writer Munshi Premchand was once worked at Bombay Talkies but detached himself from it after developing differences with the company.