It was 46 years ago that Mirza Nazeer Baig became Nadeem in Chakori and won the hearts of cinema-goers as a Dilip Kumar lookalike. For an actor who wanted to be a singer and who hasn't ever aspired to act, he has come a long way, donning different get-ups, portraying countless characters and carving a separate identity for himself.
Born on July 19, 1941, at Vijay Wara, near Madras (now Chennai, India), Nadeem migrated to Pakistan with his father and younger brother after independence. “I lost my mother when I was four. I studied at the Nazimabad High School and later at Sindh Madrasa-tul-Islam where I completed my matriculation. Then I attended Islamia College, Karachi which was considered to be one of the best in those days. After completing my education, I left for Dhaka to try my hand in the entertainment industry.”
“I was quite fond of singing and with encouragement from my friends, managed to meet TV producer Zaman Ali Khan who gave me the chance I was looking for.” The actor continues to tell about his trip to Dhaka. “In those days, the country had two wings, hence Zaman Sahib asked me to perform in a weekly programme that was based on national integration. I was made to sing in both Urdu and Bengali and although I didn’t know Bengali, my colleagues helped me with the pronunciations and I managed to do well.”
The programme was well-received after which Radio Pakistan picked me and I rendered a few songs for them as well.” He was doing well as a singer, so how did he become an actor? “It was during that time that renowned director Ehtisham approached me to act in his upcoming movie Chakori in a negative role. I rejected the offer as I had never acted before and offered my services as a playback singer. That’s how I sang Kahan Ho Tum Ko Dhoondh Rahi Hain alongside Firdousi Begum for musician Robin Ghosh.”
“At the time I sang the song, I was working as a sales representative in an advertising company in Dhaka, where I had settled.” Nadeem continues, “One night, Ehtisham Sahib approached me with the lead role of the same movie for which I had recorded the song, as his leading man Azeem backed out. I consulted my boss — renowned film director Zaheer Rehan — who encouraged me to take up acting, promising to take me back if it didn’t work out. “As a novice, I did whatever the director asked me to with the support of the whole crew. When Chakori was released, surprisingly it became a hit and kick-started my career, which has been on the road since.”
Nadeem credits his success to the amazing set of directors he worked with. He, however, blames the producers for the industry’s decline. “When a handful of Punjabi films did blockbuster business, producers decided to try their hand at Punjabi instead of Urdu films. This change was not accepted by the cinema-goers who stopped visiting cinemas. I am sure that, had the filmmakers resisted more, the scenario would have been different.”
When asked as to how different the scenario is today, the actor opines, “In those days the film industry had educated hardworking people, the environment was professional and everyone was committed. Sadly, the industry is now in the hands of people who don’t deserve to be here.”
The master thespian believes the people of the film industry are responsible for its downfall. “When I joined the film industry, we had three centres — Lahore, Karachi and Dhaka — and we used to produce as many as 200 films a year, now we produce only 20 and those too with strange titles and outrageous storylines, so the revival of the cinema remains an elusive dream. Though filmmakers cite small budgets as a cause of this decline, Iran serves as the biggest example to debunk this belief; they make films on excellent subjects and market them internationally. We can follow that example and bring about a positive change.”
He feels that television can also bring about resurrection of Lollywood with the new breed of filmmakers that have proved their mettle here. “I have a feeling that in the future, Karachi will be the base of the film industry as it’s climatically and financially more sound than Lahore. Karachi has talent and people are enthusiastic in the city for filmmaking.”
Nadeem got the opportunity to pair up with veterans across the border. In Door Desh he managed to stand out as an angry young man, Tony, alongside Shashi Kapoor, David Abraham, Raj Babbar and Parveen Babi. “I choose the role of Tony in Door Desh as it provided me with a chance to show my talent, and although the film didn’t do well, the role was appreciated. But nowadays, the Indian films too have changed.”
It is a known fact that most of the films Bollywood has copied from Pakistan featured Nadeem in the lead. The thespian, however, doesn’t take the credit. “It’s a coincidence that most of my films were copied in India but the filmmakers had more to do with the success than I did.”
Nadeem married his first director, Ehtisham’s daughter Farzana and is proud that both of his sons are part of the entertainment industry. “My elder son, Farhan, is a director and besides doing countless TV commercials, he is now directing a TV series as well. The younger, Faisal, got his degree from Boston University in sound engineering and is working on a couple of projects from Lahore.”
When asked about his own directorial ambitions, Nadeem declares calling the shots as the most difficult of tasks. “Directing is more difficult than writing or acting. It is the director’s job to anchor the film. Sadly in our country, direction is considered to be the easiest of jobs, and anyone can stand up and direct. I announced a film Salam that was supposed to be my debut as a director, however, it couldn’t materialise. Afterwards, I shifted to Karachi and have been busy on TV, and didn’t get the time.”
Though he did turn into a producer in the early part of his career, when asked why he didn’t continue with those endeavours, Nadeem retorts, “Mitti Kay Putlay and Mukhra were the two films I produced. While the former was an issue-based film that went wrong because the director Ehtisham Sahib fell ill during the making, Mukhra had a different theme. It was supposed to launch my career in Punjabi films which it did, and managed to do well in the process. I decided not to produce anymore because the industry was on a decline, and I didn’t want to risk my income which comes from acting.”
The actor also has great respect for the artists in Hollywood, and believes that their brilliance is aided by many external factors. “Hollywood directors have a vision and they are helped by a technically sound staff. Then there are the great actors like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro etc., who give mind-blowing performances every time since they take up a single project which adds credibility to their character. I am a very big fan of Meryl Streep as I haven’t seen any other actress perform like her. She isn’t very beautiful but the way she performs is amazing.”
The singer in 'Nadeem' has also been kept alive by the actor’s decision to carry on. He sang in both of his produced films, just as he did in a dozen others. Be it the song Zinda Hoon from Mr Buddhoo where he rendered the number for fellow actor Qavi Khan, or Kahan Ho Tum Ko for Chakori, Nadaan Thay Hum for Mitti Kay Putlay or Mundiya for Mukhra, nearly all of his songs did well. In fact he recently sang golden oldies for TV in a show he hosted Teri Yaad Aagayi which was liked by the viewers as well.
Be it the leading man, the villain, the father of the leading character or a supporting character, Nadeem has been there, done that. Yet he considers himself a humble student of acting.
Undoubtedly, Nadeem is the most familiar face in Pakistan. Doesn’t that create problems for him, especially when he goes out with his family? “Whatever I am, it’s because of the love of the people and when they meet me outside, I feel happy and elated. I don’t shy away from them since they are a part of me. Their love and affection means so much to me. That is my treasure and my biggest award.”