In this fourth installment of our ‘Crazy Diamonds’ series, we continue our tributary look at those promising Pakistanis who experienced the flip side of genius – an awkward and often torturous state of being that some describe as being a kind of madness. Previous Parts:
As if overnight, the industry started seeming like a pale reflection of its glamorous and lucrative past.
The VCR had arrived and with it Indian films (on video tapes). This machine boded well with what was happening to the film industry’s main audiences: i.e. the urban lower and middle classes.
Ziaul Haq’s reactionary military coup against the Z A. Bhutto regime in 1977 and then the military dictatorship’s strict censor policies, along with its concentrated crackdown on social activities that it deemed ‘un-Islamic’ and ‘immoral,’ began to push the urban middle-classes indoors.
The VCR fitted perfectly in this new, introverted setting. By 1984, Urdu films in Pakistan had already lost almost 50 per cent of its audiences. This was also the period when many cinemas began to close down or be converted into gaudy shopping plazas and wedding halls.
A number of once famous and rich film stars found themselves out of work. Some took to drinking and slipped into obscurity; some compromised their egos (and fee) and began doing teleplays; while others ventured into taking roles in loud, violent Punjabi films whose stock and popularity rose rather bizarrely with the strengthening of the Zia dictatorship.
This tragedy of the once untouchable and idealised film stars suddenly losing all their shine in Pakistan is most strikingly exemplified by the fate of a man who for more than a decade was perhaps the country’s leading film icon: Waheed Murad.
From the early 1960s till about 1977, it seemed that anything that Murad touched turned into gold.
His hairstyle after 1967 was repeatedly copied by young men and his lively romantic roles turned him into a heartthrob among millions of college girls and housewives.
Being highly educated also helped as he only accepted roles of ‘refined’ and gentle romantic men, who wore their hearts on their sleeves and demonstrated their optimistic disposition with an unabashed rejection of both irony and cynicism.
But when things in the industry began to experience multiple jolts after the 1977 military coup, Murad became the calamity’s first casualty.
He tried to reinvent himself as a character actor but the image of a jolly romantic attached to him was just too fresh and overwhelming for anyone to take his more grounded roles seriously.
Even though another contemporary of his, Nadeem, was still dishing out hits till 1979 (mainly due to his penchant of playing more realistic romantic roles), Murad began being ignored by the filmmakers.
The fall from where he was till 1977 was just too sudden and rapid.
Disoriented, baffled and bitter, the man whose car was once mobbed by dozens of collage girls and literally painted red with lipstick (in 1971), began to drink heavily and pop sedatives like they were candy.
When he appeared on a TV show in 1982 (Anwar Maqsood’s ‘Silver Jubilee’), Murad, by now skinny and with deep, dark circles underneath her eyes, sounded like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
His wife of many years had temporarily left him when some film producers offered him to return as a hero but only if he would clean up his act. Murad agreed.
In 1982’s minor hit, ‘Aahat,’ he seemed to be playing himself. A broken man surrounded by empty whiskey bottles, medicines and the shattered pieces of what was once such a radiant life.
But destiny had marked him to fall even further. In early 1983, while driving under the influence of alcohol and sedatives, he smashed his car into a tree, giving his face a terrible scar.
After the accident, he tried to find solace in his two children and yet more (empty) promises by film producers.
They had to keep saying ‘yes’ to a man who had helped them make millions of rupees in the past. But, of course, they were in no mood to hire him again. Theirs was just a polite pitying gesture.