The shrine culture

On December 9 and 17 of 1970, Pakistan held its very first elections on the basis of adult franchise.

Participating political parties and independent politicians had been campaigning for the event ever since January 1970, and Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Mujibur Rahman's Awami League (AL) were drawing the largest crowds in West and East Pakistan respectively.

This did not seem to deter the Yahya Khan military regime that did not trust either of the two parties.

The regime had suspiciously read the two as being anti-status quo, but even though Yahya’s intelligence agencies had predicted a victory for Mujib’s AL in East Pakistan, the same agencies had almost entirely rubbished the idea of Bhutto’s PPP sweeping the polls in West Pakistan.

Hopeful of the elections generating a hung verdict that would be in the interest of the military regime, Yahya nevertheless decided to not only support various industrialist and feudal backed Muslim League factions, but also gave a nod of approval and support to the staunch right-wing Islamic parties, especially the Jamat-i-Islami (JI).

General Yahya Khan who took over power in 1969 after Ayub Khan’s dictatorship collapsed due to a widespread student and political movement.

Consequently, all that was brewing on the fringes of Pakistani urban youth cultures between 1966 and 1969, exploded onto the mainstream scheme of things in 1970.

During the PPP campaign, new-found youthful middle-class infatuations, such as radical leftist politics and revolutionary posturing, and its romance with the ways and culture of the working classes met with the street-smart moorings of the pro-Bhutto proletariat and the passionate music and mores of Sindh and Punjab’s rural and semi-urban ‘shrine culture.’

The shrine culture, pertaining to the devotional, recreational, and economic activity around the shrines of ancient Muslim saints, had been around in the subcontinent for almost a thousand years.

The saints’ Islam was more accommodating than dogmatic, and a largely permissive culture of ecstatic devotional music, innovative rituals and indigenous intoxicants started to take shape around the shrines, mostly involving poor farmers, the dispossessed, (and later,) the urban lumpenproletariat.

This culture was largely tolerated and even patronised by various Muslim dynasties that ruled the subcontinent, and by the end of the Mughal Empire in the mid-19th Century, it had become a vital part of the belief and ritual system of a majority of Muslims in the region.

However, from the 1950s, urban middle-class Pakistan had begun to simply dismiss this culture as being the domain of the uneducated and the superstitious.

But just like the hippies of the West (in the 1960s), who had chosen various exotic and esoteric Eastern spiritual beliefs to demonstrate their disapproval of the materialism and “soullessness” of the Western capitalist system, young, middle-class rebels of urban Pakistan increasingly began to look upon Sufism and the shrine culture as a way to make a social, cultural and political connect with the “downtrodden and the dispossessed.”

A ‘malang’ dances outside a Sufi shrine in Punjab.

Such a connect became more interesting when middle-class leftist youth supporting the PPP came into direct contact with the boisterous masses of rural peasants, small shop owners and the urban working classes at PPP’s election rallies.

These elements brought with them the music, the emotionalism, the bohemianism; and the devotional sense of loyalty of the shrine culture that they had been close to for centuries.

The cultural synthesis emerging from such mass-level fusion of ideas was one of the frontal reasons behind Bhutto’s image leaping from being that of a "brave patriot" (who as Ayub’s Foreign Minister had stood up to his boss in 1966), to ultimately being perceived by his supporters as the embodiment of a modern-day Sufi saint!

When PTV began showing clips of various 1970 election rallies, standing out in vibrancy and uniqueness were PPP gatherings.

Though dominated by Bhutto's animated populist (and at times demagogic) oratory, these rallies also became famous for almost always turning into the kind of boisterous and musical fanfare usually witnessed outside the many shrines of Sufi saints across the country.


A charged-up Bhutto speaking at a rally in Lahore (1973).


A PPP rally in the Punjab in the 2000s. Such rallies still contain populist elements and emotionalism of the shrine culture that first became part of Bhutto rallies in the 1970s.

On the other hand, the country’s middle-class popular culture had emerged in the mid-1960s as Pakistan's reflection of the era's youthful romance with leftist ideals and radical student action. Along the way, this culture started to elaborate this idealism with the bohemian and organic antics of the shrine culture.

And even though, the ever-expanding milieu of this new youth culture had also started to adopt contemporary Western fashion, it was yet to be fully impacted by the 'counter-culture' of the hippies making the rounds in the United States and Europe at the time.

That started to change in 1970 – and fast. Though the beginnings of the hippie phenomenon in the West can be placed in San Francisco in 1966, middle-class Pakistan’s knowledge of the phenomenon (till about early 1968) was at best superficial.

But when Pakistan became an intermediate destination of the famous 'Hippie Trail' – an overland route that thousands of travelling hippies (from Europe and the United States) started to take on their journeys towards India and Nepal – cities like Peshawar, Swat, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi in Pakistan became important hippie destinations.

After entering Iran (from Turkey), the Trail curved into Afghanistan, from where the hippies entered Pakistan (through the Khyber Pass in the KPK province). They travelled down to Rawalpindi and then to Lahore from where they entered India (by bus).

Many hippies also travelled all the way to Karachi to visit the city's sprawling beaches.

Hippie tourists enjoying themselves at a hut at one of Karachi’s many beaches in 1973. –Photo courtesy: Pakistan Herald.

Another popular destination for these traveling hippies in Pakistan was the various large Sufi shrines in Lahore and Karachi.

Here they mingled with the shrines’ many malangs and fakirs.

A 1973 travel brochure printed by the Pakistan Ministry of Tourism. The brochure had details of hotels, restaurants, bars and tourist spots that had sprung up on the Hippie Trail.

About the same time, middle-class Pakistani youth had also started to frequent shrines more often than before, especially on Thursday nights where (till even today) a number of shrines hold nights dedicated to the traditional sub-continental Sufi devotional music, called the ‘Qawwali.’

It was at the shrines of Lahore, the beaches of Karachi, and at the bus stands of Peshawar and Rawalpindi, where most Pakistanis came into direct contact with the passing hippies.

And as portrayed by the flamboyant (and flowery) chic attire of TV personality, Zia Mohyeddin, on 1970’s famous PTV show, The Zia Mohyeddin Show, the ‘radical chic’ and ‘hippie attire’ developing in the West started to also catch the fancy of young urban middle-class Pakistanis.

By the early 1970s, young men’s hair that had remained somewhat short till even the late 1960s, started to grow longer (along with thick sideburns); and women’s kameez’ (shirts), grew shorter in length – all inspired by famous Hollywood films of the time, and Pakistani film artistes such as Waheed Murad and Shabnam; and also by some famous Indian film stars (particularly Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz) whose films young Pakistanis watched by driving into Kabul (from North Pakistan).

A trendy group of friends pose outside their class at the Karachi University in 1973. –Photo courtesy: Pakistan Herald.

Elation and Agony

Sure of triggering a political and cultural revolution in Pakistan, young West and East Pakistanis joined a large number of their countrymen as they turned out to vote in the country’s first ‘real elections’ in 1970.

These elections, though held under a military dictatorship, are still hailed by a majority of Pakistani political commentators to be the most free and fair held in the country.

The results were stunning. Bhutto’s PPP (in West Pakistan) and Mujib’s Awami League (in East Pakistan), almost completely eclipsed the conservative old guard of Pakistani politics.

The results of the election were certainly a shock to the military regime of Yahya Khan and the Islamic parties.

With around 162 seats in the National Assembly (out of a total 300), Mujib’s Awami League should have been invited to form Pakistan’s first ever popularly elected government. But since Mujib and his party were squarely made up of Bengali nationalists, Yayah (in unison with Bhutto) hesitated.

Next in line to form the government was Bhutto’s PPP that had won 81 seats. What happened next is a thorny and controversial issue in the country’s political history.

Some commentators have blamed Yahya for pitching Bhutto’s ego against that of Mujaib’s, while others accuse Bhutto of manipulating Yahya into keeping Mujib out in the cold.

Pakistanis have yet to decide upon a convincing closure on the issue.

A clear fissure appeared on the issue between youth in West and East Pakistan even though they had been on the same page during the protest movement against the Ayub dictatorship in 1968-69.

Charged by the election results and frustrated by West Pakistan’s apparent reluctance to hand over power to the Bengali dominated majority in the Parliament, Bengali nationalist groups started to violently agitate against the military regime of Yahya Khan.

They had also accused the military of using intimidating tactics that, by 1971, were said to have become specifically brutal involving rape, torture and murder.


Yahya Khan answering a BBC journalist’s questions about violence in East Pakistan (1971).

Even though the leftist sections of the West Pakistani youth had exhibited varying degrees of support for Bhutto’s stand on East Pakistan, the right-wing youth that had been largely associated with Jamat-i-Islami’s student-wing, the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT), started taking a more aggressive, pro-Army stance on the issue.

Young IJT and Jamat members were willingly recruited by the Pakistan Army for the formation of two militant right-wing groups, Al-Badar and Al-Shams, that are said to have assisted the military-backed death squads in East Pakistan in taking extreme repressive measures against Bengali nationalists and sympathisers.

The turmoil soon mutated into yet another India-Pakistan war (in December 1971). But unlike the 1965 war that had resulted in a stalemate, this time the Pakistani troops were decimated by their Indian counterparts, supported by militant Bengali nationalist groups.

As Mujib was released from a West Pakistan jail to travel back to East Pakistan (via London), and take charge of the newly created Bangladesh, Bhutto was invited by groups of disgruntled anti-Yahya officers to take over the reins of what was left of Pakistan.


Bhutto in London talking to a BBC anchor shortly before returning to Pakistan and taking over power from Yahya Khan (1971-72).

Two displaced children stand in an open field surrounded by artillery shells in a village in former war-torn East Pakistan (1971).

The revolutionary environment created by the charged youth and the students movement in the late 1960s did manage to trigger a drastic change, but this change (i.e. the break-up of the country), was certainly not the one hoped by the revolutionaries.

Bhutto reiterated his party’s commitment to introduce sweeping socialist reforms and give the country an elaborate democratic constitution.

If one reads through the economic numbers and stats of Pakistan between 1972 and 1974, the Bhutto regime (till then) did a rather remarkable job, considering the fact that it had inherited a country and an economy ravaged by a resource-depleting war.

It is also true that during the first few years of Bhutto, the nation’s mood had successfully been transformed, as the country looked forward to a new Pakistan.

Of course, political conflicts between Bhutto and opposition parties continued making the news, but by and large, Pakistanis had decided to settle down and do whatever they could do to restore their pride after the East Pakistan debacle.

For example, on the youth front, university and college students, most of whom had been in the agitation mode on the streets ever since 1968, returned to the campuses, willing and ready to do their politics through annual student union elections.


A short film on student uprisings across the world in the late 1960s. Students had also risen in Pakistan.

Even though leftists were still a force on campuses, they lost the sense of unity that they had exhibited in the late 1960s. The country’s leading left-wing student organisation, the National Students Federation (NSF), broke into various factions.

Women activists of the NSF at the Karachi University, 1973.

This fragmentation of the left on campuses was reflective of the (albeit quiet) sense of uncertainty that the urban middle-class Pakistan found itself contemplating.

The feeling seemed like a numbing hangover from years of playing a driven and confrontational political and cultural role in the late 1960s that had quite literally changed the map of the country.

Large sections of this class became apolitical, deciding to simply call themselves ‘liberal’ while the other half tried to find a place for itself in the changing political and cultural milieu by tentatively extending their support to politico-religious parties that had been swept aside by progressive and leftist forces during the 1970 elections.

The later tendency was also reflected in the time’s student politics. As progressive votes (during student union elections) started to split between various NSF factions and the liberals, the biggest beneficiary of the split was Jamat-i-Islami’s student-wing, the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT).

Remaining well organised and united, the IJT became an electoral force on campuses in the 1970s. Especially after 1973, when some of Bhutto’s reformist economic policies and his confrontational attitude towards the provincial governments in Balochistan and the NWFP started to alienate the country’s leftists who had initially hailed his emergence.

In fact, as the opposition got bogged down by PPP’s majority in the Parliament and by its burgeoning street power, the only worthwhile middle-class opposition faced by the Bhutto government came from IJT.

Bhutto faced even more desertions from what was once his natural constituency (the progressive students), when between 1973 and 1974, he launched a purge in the PPP, expelling a number of the party’s leading leftist ideologues.

The rising anti-Bhutto sentiment and a pragmatic drift towards Islamic student groups on campuses during the Bhutto era was a way to register one’s protest against the powerful Bhutto regime in the absence of a more united opposition in the Parliament.

In fact some observers have now even accused Bhutto of following Egyptian President, Anwar Saddat’s example of encouraging the mushrooming of right-wing Islamic student groups on campuses to neutralise the hold of various left-wing student parties that had turned against him.

However, the shift in the ideological mood of student politics of the time did not in any way reflect the populist cultural activity for which the Bhutto regime is fondly remembered.

The society maintained a liberal aura, as nightclubs, bars, horse racing, and cinemas continued to thrive and mushroom, and religiosity largely remained a private matter – even though the government and state of Pakistan had started to use religious symbolism more often than before, especially as a way to drown out the emerging post-1971 notion that Jinnah’s ‘Two Nation Theory’ that had given birth to Pakistan had collapsed after the separation of East Pakistan.

Pakistan’s tourism industry also witnessed an unprecedented boom during the Bhutto era, and the country’s film industry reached a commercial peak, a feat it would never be able to repeat in the future.

By now flamboyant fashions in attire and personal grooming that had been rapidly taking shape in the West – ‘bellbottoms,’ colourful shirts, long hair, chunky necklaces, platform shoes, etc. – arrived in full force and were enthusiastically embraced by the urban youth. And so did shalwar-kameez among men.

Considered to be the dress of the working-classes till the 1960s, Bhutto began to wear it regularly during his rallies, turning it into a populist fashion statement.

Cover of the famous Pakistani Urdu weekly, ‘Dhanak’ (Beat) that covered politics, art and fashion.

Folk music, art and fashion aesthetics of Pakistan’s various ethnicities were aggressively promoted by the government in the 1970s.

Even though Western fashion and countercultural antics became all the rage among the urban youth, the youth’s desire to have a spiritual and cultural connect with the masses (discovered in the late 1960s) via the shrine culture too remained afoot.

Along with beer-serving roadside cafes in Karachi, shrines too, became a favourite haunt for students, theatre artistes and painters.

A German tourist outside a ‘hashish shop’ in Dir in the KPK in 1976. Such shops selling hashish sprang up when young western tourists began to pour into Pakistan from Afghanistan from the late 1960s onwards.

A vintage 1970s table coaster of Pakistani beer brand, Murree. This particular coaster is from the bar at Karachi’s Excelsior nightclub that was situated in the Saddar area and catered specifically to middle-class clients.

For the Pakistan film industry, the culturally radiant times of the Bhutto regime produced a commercial bonanza as the industry managed to generate dozens of super hits between 1970 and 1977.

To accommodate the large number of films being produced (mainly in Lahore), the number of cinemas also increased across the country, with the largest one appearing in 1976 and appropriately named, Prince Cinema.

By the mid-1970s, the industry was producing an average of 25 to 30 (Urdu) films a year.

Moving pictures

The study of Pakistani cinema of the 1970s in comparison to Indian cinema of the period makes for an interesting case of contextual contrasts.

Both the industries of the time were generating films of similar production quality but (after 1973), when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s ‘heavy handed’ policies and the rising incidents of corruption in her government triggered a full-fledged protest movement (the ‘JP Movement’), Indian films became more socio-political in context, throwing up its version of the ‘angry young man,’ epitomised by actor Amitabh Bachan’s brooding roles in various Salim-Javed scripted films – especially Zanjeer (1973); Sholay (1975); Deewar (1977); Trishul- (1978); and Kala Pathar (1979).

Nothing of the sort happened in Pakistani films of the time. In comparison to India that eventually went into a convulsive political and economic turmoil when Indira declared a state of emergency in 1975, Pakistan’s economy remained comparatively stable and its politics were firmly in the hands of a popular Prime Minister who was hardly ever challenged by a disunited and fragmented opposition.

Even an anti-government insurgency by various Marxist-nationalist Baloch groups in the mountains of the arid province of Balochistan, (1973-77) remained somewhat in the background in the major cities of Pakistan (except in Quetta).

Asad Rashid in the Balochistan mountains. He was one of the many young Pakistanis who were radicalised in the late 1960s and decided to solidify their leftist radicalism by joining the Baloch in the mountains as guerrilla fighters. Some middle-class Pakistani youth had also joined the Maoist insurgency in rural KPK in the early 1970s.

So what were Pakistani films about during the 1970s – a time when the local film industry had hit a commercial and creative peak?

Though a bulk of them remained to be modern re-workings of the conventional sub-continental romantic farce, the subtext of the films, however, became a lot more social.

One of the themes in Pakistani cinema of the time that managed to attract large audiences was a look at class conflict and consciousness through romantic affairs between a man and a woman.

Thus, the Pakistani film heroines started appearing in roles reflecting a more independent and outspoken streak to the point of rebelling against their conservative parents by getting involved (and then marrying) ‘lower middle-class’ men.

1973’s ‘Samaj’ (society) and 1977’s ‘Aina’ (Mirror) are concentrated examples in this respect.

Actress Nisho takes matters into her own hands in 1973’s ‘Samaj.’

‘Samaj’ squarely blames the inflexibility of the conservative society at large for the romantic rebellion of young couples going astray; and ‘Aina’ offers a similar statement in which a trendy and rich young woman (played by Shabnam), falls in love with a struggling lower-middle-class man (played by Nadeem), and after defying her disapproving father, marries the man.

The father (played by Talish), eventually comes around to finally approving the union, but keeps offering gifts to her daughter (furniture, TV, air-conditioner, etc.).

This leaves the not-so-rich hero feeling as if his young wife’s father is mocking his lowly financial status. In between, the couple have a child (a son), but soon he is without a mother when the woman walks out, accusing the husband of being close-minded (if not downright paranoid).

The film remains sympathetic to the whole idea of a modern young Pakistani woman using her own mind in social and domestic affairs. But the sympathy turns into a concerned question when we see her walking out on her man and that too without the son.

The question now was, whether such a display of independence (especially by a woman), may also end up making them behave selfishly and rashly?

After a lot of associated histrionics in which we see the husband trying to raise the stranded child without a mother, and the mother gradually coming down from her modern pedestal of independence (thanks to maternal instincts now kicking in more often than before), the couple are finally reunited.

DVD cover of Aina. Based on the film’s original 1977 poster.

However, the film maintains its attack on social conservatism when it is revealed that the woman’s father had been trying to sabotage the marriage right from the beginning.

The revelation inspired the exhibition of an unprecedented scene never before dared in a Pakistani (or for that matter, an Indian), film. When the heroine realises how her father had destroyed her marriage and kept her away from her son, she lands a tight slap on the father’s chubby cheeks!

It was a bold move by the director (Nazrul Islam). No South Asian film had dared to incapacitate the high-strung and sacred notion of traditional parenthood to such an extent.

The slap also expressed the modern, young youth’s more aggressive retaliation against manipulative social conservatism.

‘Aina’ was a massive hit. In fact it remains to be Pakistan’s most successful film to date. Opening in various cinemas in March 1977, the film ran for a staggering 400 weeks!

Shabnam and Nadeem in a scene from Aina. The film tackles the issue of class conflict in the context of a romantic/marital relationship. The scene also depicts the social space that opened up for courting couples in the 1970s before being encroached by conservative restrictions and authoritarian conservatism from the mid-1980s onwards.

Another reason behind Aina's impressive performance at the box-office was its soundtrack. It was studded with catchy 'filmi-noir' songs – a more brooding and melodic take on the ‘filmi-pop’ genre – and mastered by such modern quasi-classical singers as Mehdi Hassan and Nayara Noor, and composers like Robin Ghosh.

'Filmi-pop' had rapidly developed into a lucrative Pakistani pop genre, and Ahmad Rushdi was its leading man. By the early 1970s, the genre had also started to bring more contemporary western music genres such as funk and ‘Motown soul’ into its sonic repertoire.


Shabnam (with Shahid) lip-synching Nayara Noor’s ‘Teyra Saya’ (1974).

Runa Laila became the genre's female diva, later matched in this respect by Naheed Akhtar. Daughter of a working-class father (a tailor), Akhtar shot to fame with a series of filmi-pop hits between 1974 and 1977.

Runa Laila performing on PTV in 1973.


Actress Nilo (with actor Muhammad Ali) lips-synching a Naheed Akhtar ‘filmi-pop’ hit in a 1975 film.

Ahmad Rushdi, who peaked with his last major filmi-pop hit, 'Dil Ko Jalana Hum Nein Chor Deeya' (from 1975's blockbuster, 'Mohabbat Zindagi Hai'), was now up against an energetic young pop talent by the name of Alamgir.

Alamgir, who scored his first hit with 'Hum Chalay' (Away We Went) for 1974's pot-boiler, Dhamaka,' began his career as a roving teenaged hippie in the early 1970s who (with an old acoustic guitar), roamed Karachi's sprawling Hill Park and Tariq Road areas, playing and crooning Tom Jones songs for money and food.

By the late 1970s Alamgir had become Pakistan's frontline pop act, especially after he scored big with 1977's 'Dekha Na Tha'(Never Saw it Before) for the otherwise flop romantic farce, 'Bobby & Julie.'


Alamgir’s 1974 ‘Ham Chalay’ - a composition inspired by Ennio Morricone’s music for Sergio Leone’s ‘Spaghetti Western’ classics of the 1960s.

'Dekha Na Tha' added a whole new dimension to the 'filmi-pop' genre by re-figuring it with bouncy disco music dynamics. The song became a huge hit with the youth of the era and set the scene for Alamgir to rule the genre well into the next decade.

Alamgir performing ‘Dekha Na Tha’ with a visiting Iranian pop star on PTV (1977).

Loose ends

The rapidly changing and flamboyant dynamics of 1970s’ romance with various social aspects of liberalism (in Pakistan) generated a rather crackling cultural aura when it came together with Bhutto’s sprawling populism.

But the phenomenon also set into motion a concerned discourse (especially among the urban petty-bourgeoisie) questioning the limits of the emerging trends within the country’s middle-class youth.

This discourse is clearly present in many of the time’s Pakistani films, most of which were scripted and directed by people with strong petty-bourgeois backgrounds.

In this case, Pakistani cinema was closer to its Indian counterpart (Bollywood) at the time.

The first shot in this respect in Pakistani cinema was fired by 1974’s ‘Miss Hippie.’ The “social revolution” that the hippie counterculture eventually achieved in the West was usually seen as a cultural threat (by some filmmakers) in both India and Pakistan.

The overall message of ‘Miss Hippie’ suggests that a patriarchal society is superior, and thus, when a patriarch fails, especially due to his liking for “decadent” western abominations, the whole family/nation collapses.

That’s what happens to veteran actor Santosh in ‘Miss Hippie.’ He is a rich man with a taste for whisky and partying at nightclubs.

He is thus a bad example for his impressionable young daughter (played by Shabnam), who too becomes a drunkard and a frequent “keelub” visitor. Yes, such are the disastrous fall-outs of letting women make up their own minds and decisions.

Scolded by her helpless mother (played by Sabiha Khanam), Shabnam runs away from home, only to be picked up by a friendly “love guru.” The guru is leading a group of hash-smoking and disco-dancing hippies.

Of course, this means an attack on the pure traditions of ‘mashriqi mu’ashira’ (eastern culture) and a threat that gets worse when we find out that the guru also runs a drug smuggling ring that is smuggling in hashish from the West.

The film conveniently forgets the fact that much of the hashish was being smuggled out of Pakistan by Pakistanis and not the other way round.

Enter Nadeem, playing an undercover cop who infiltrates the junkie-hippie group to report on how hippies plan to “contaminate innocent young Pakistanis” with hashish and … free sex.

A video grab from 1974’s ‘Miss Hippie’: Shabnam plays a ‘stoned tune’ to a fellow Pakistani hippie whose hair (inexplicably) turns blonde.

Of course, true to form, the film passionately puts forth the breakthrough idea that it is the adoption of alien culture that is harming Pakistan, whereas ‘local culture’ (as interpreted by the urban petty-bourgeois), is its saviour.

In the end, Nadeem destroys the sinister hippie group and rescues Shabnam from the clutches of drugs, decadence and obscenity.

‘Miss Hippie’ came with a funky filmi-pop soundtrack, liberally laced with sonic allusions to the early 1970s’ ‘glam-rock’ (Garry Glitter, Marc Bolan).

The film also flaunted some of the most outrageous moments of the time’s ‘chic attire’ and overblown sense of fashion with Shabnam exhibiting a chunky metallic ‘Peace’ sign and bellbottoms with flares almost as wide as a camping tent!

The soundtrack LP of ‘Miss Hippie.’

Taking the ‘alien (culture) in the midst’ warning and anti-hippie fanfare a step further was 1975’s, ‘Mohabbat Zindagi Hai’ (Love is Life).

The film follows a modern young woman (actress Mumtaz) frequenting nightclubs and other such places of unparalleled wickedness, and having no respect for her own sacrosanct culture.

In comes actor Waheed Murad, playing an England-returned Pakistani who is also the fiancé of the independent-minded (and thus sleazy?) Mumtaz.

Waheed, however, is the epitome of eastern virtue and is shocked to see what has become of his old sweetheart.

He decides to enter the club life to have a shot at slowly making Mumtaz realise the follies of western culture. (Wonder what on earth was he doing in England?)

However, when he finally succeeds in making Mumtaz see the light, he himself falls prey to the dizzing ways of the club, as if it wasn’t a nightclub but a manipulative night cult of brainwashed zombie alcoholics!

The reformed Mumtaz at once switches from wearing jeans to adorning shalwar-kameez, and from spouting free-for-all-English (“Eeeevverrrybaady, let’s enjeeaye!”), she suddenly starts speaking in top-notch rhetorical Urdu.

The message of the film reeks of the convoluted formula upon which most of Pakistan’s “social films” were made in the 1970s; smugly suggesting that western culture is like quicksand, sucking you in towards addictive immoralities such as booze, drugs, dance and rape! Of course, booze, drugs, dance and rape are all what westerners did all day long in the 1970s.


A scene from 1976’s ‘Mohabat Zindagi Hai.’ The scene show’s Waheed Murad lip-synching Ahmed Rushdi’s last major hit, ‘Dil Ko Jilana.’ Parts of the scene were shot on location at the famous Karachi nightclub, The Oasis.

However, such films did not advocate a clamp down on ‘immorality,’ as such. After all, the growth of the Pakistan film industry and cinemas almost squarely depended on the cultural zeitgeist of the period.

Instead, such films were more about the (mis)understanding of the Marxian concept of ‘class war’ among the country’s urban petty-bourgeoisie and reasons that I have discussed in detail below.

Though populist-liberalism was at its crest in the Pakistani society of the 1970s, defensive films like ‘Ms. Hippie’ and ‘Mohabbat Zindagi Hai’ were portraying an undercurrent of fear boiling beneath the many liberal pretensions of urban society.

This fear reflected a concern that saw society getting carried away by the liberal tides of the time and in the process eroding the comforting economics and sociology of the ‘joint family system’ which, many feared were gradually being replaced by ‘Western’ notions of social and domestic independence.

Z A. Bhutto with his children in 1975. (From Left): Murtaza (killed in a controversial police encounter in 1996); Shahnawaz (Allegedly poisoned by Pakistan intelligence agencies on the orders of Zia in 1985); Sanam (living in the UK); and Benazir (Was elected as PM twice in the 1990s before being assassinated in 2007). Bhutto was hanged through a sham trial by the Zia dictatorship in 1979.

The liberal zeitgeist was also blamed (mainly by the more conservative sections of the urban middle-classes), for encouraging the youth to undermine the ‘importance of Islam’ in the Pakistani society. This section’s leading political mouthpieces were the Jamat-i-Islami and its student-wing, the IJT.

A 1978 study stated that more Pakistanis visited Sufi shrines than the mosque in the 1970s – a trend that, however, would squarely change in the next decade (1980s) and beyond.

But then it is true that crime, corruption and heroin addiction grew three-fold from the 1980s onwards as well.

Concerns and fears of the erosion of the country’s traditional family and moral structures remained largely hidden underneath the bombastic antics of the populist-liberalism of much of Bhutto’s regime and era, and only surfaced onto the mainstream either through certain ‘social films’ – that nonetheless remained highly flamboyant in look – or through the concerned Islamist rhetoric of the religious parties.

The dichotomy

Interestingly though, the Bhutto regime’s message in this respect was rather ambiguous.

In spite of the fact that the cultural policies of the government clearly encouraged and fattened the liberal aura of the period, some of the regime’s political manoeuvres actually ended up strengthening the conservative middle-class sections’ anti-liberal narrative.

For example, after the 1971 break-up of Pakistan and the war with India, educational discourse on nation-building in Pakistan became much more introverted.

As author and academic, Rubina Saigol, rightly observed, the shock and horror of the defeat in East Pakistan led to the reconstruction of ideological boundaries in a much more narrow form.

A militaristic and negative nationalism, which saw enemies on every border, was constituted.

This nationalism was not so much for progress or development as much as it was against Pakistan's myriad enemies, now supposedly lurking behind every door.

Such distorted narratives would eventually become integrated state policy under Ziaul-Haq in the 1980s.

The ambiguity of the Bhutto regime in this context was also apparent on the state owned PTV.

Though the 1970s are remembered as being the ‘Golden Age of Television’ in Pakistan, many of the popular TV serials also addressed the same fears highlighted by certain ‘social films’ of the era.

Though a number of these TV serials either insinuated the government’s populist/socialist overtones (1974’s ‘Khuda Ki Basti’), or were an apolitical celebration of various liberal notions of the time (1974’s ‘Kiran Kahani’, ‘Uncle Urfi), there were also plays that addressed the perceived dichotomy that emerged when the government-sponsored populist-liberalism clashed head-on with the new reactive historical narratives being built by the state after 1971.

Qazi Wajid and Behroz Sabzwari in 1974’s PTV serial ‘Khuda Ki Basti.’ Based on a novel by progressive writer Shaukat Siqqiqui, the play explored capitalist exploitation and the desperate antics of those on the receiving end of the system in a congested shanty area of Karachi.

The frontline player in this respect was intellectual and popular playwright, Ashfaq Ahmed.

A serial based on his teleplays called “Aik Mohabbat, Soh Afsanay” (1975) – One Truth, Many Stories – celebrated the liberal signs of the times and the sense of freedom being exhibited by the middle-class youth.

But the bottom-line of almost each and every play of his was always a plea to balance modern notions of liberalism with the country’s traditional religious lineage.

Though on the surface the above may reflect a plea for moderation, the problem was, nobody was quite sure exactly what this traditional religious lineage constituted.

Ashfaq’s pleas emerged from his Sufist bent, and since for a while he was a supporter of Bhutto’s socialist initiatives, Ashfaq had to rip into the ‘hypocrisies of the modern bourgeoisie’ before advising a balance between modern materialism and traditional spiritualism.

A scene from one of the tele-plays written by Ashfaq Ahmed for PTV’s ‘Aik Mohabbat, Soh Afsanay.’ On the right is actress Naveen Tajik. A Pakistani Christian, she became hugely popular with TV audiences in the 1970s before she quit acting and moved to the US in 1980.

The above example is clearly visible in one of his most popular TV plays, ‘Dada Dil dada’ (1975).

It’s a story of a loving and liberal grandfather and his favourite young grandson who (with his long hair, charming personality and liberal ideas), is the stereotypical 1970s middle-class Pakistani youth.

The grandfather (Dada), also loves to drink (mostly whisky), and the family is happy radiating within the comfort of their liberal bourgeoisie setting, until the grandson falls seriously ill.

The helplessness of the liberal belief system is then supposedly ‘exposed’ when the doctors fail to cure the grandson and the family (especially the dotting grandfather) starts to crumble.

Ashfaq alludes that the glue that was keeping the family happy and together (liberalism, materialism), was of superficial quality because it had detached the family from its traditional spiritual moorings.

In a scene inspired by Mughal Emperor Babar’s sacrificial undertaking – in which to save his son Humayyun’s life, Babar is said to have given up alcohol – the grandfather tells God that his life be given to the grandson and for this he is ready to give up drinking.

The grandfather then smashes all of his whisky bottles and enters the grandson’s bedroom where the young man lies dying. There the old man starts to walk in circles around the young man’s bed until he stops and sits on the edge of the bed.

Actor Zafar Masood played the grandson in ‘Dada Dil dada.’ He played a number of roles as a jovial and carefree youth on TV in the 1970s. He quit acting and moved to Cairo in 1979 where he was killed in a tragic car accident in 1980.

The next thing we see is the young man opening his eyes. He is cured. But in a tragic twist, the old man dies.

Though Ahmed would go on to become a lot more conservative in the 1980s, in the 1970s, even before he began to pen ‘Aikh Hakeekat …’, he had already penned a TV play called ‘Dheshat’ (Terror).

Telecasted in 1974 it explores the sexual frustrations of a young molvie (cleric) in a small Punjab village and how he reacts to urges his elders had told him were evil.

In another play, Ashfaq takes on a well-to-do family of industrialists who keep admonishing a young son of theirs (played by Abid Ali) for drinking and not saying his prayers and refusing to fast.

Ali finally agrees to let go of his agnosticism and study Islam to the delight of his family. However, after about a year, he begins to confront his father and uncles (the industrialists who had admonished him for being an agnostic).

He accuses them of going against what they preached by exploiting their factory workers, evading tax, lying, hoarding, etc. With the Qu’ran in his hand, he turns the table on those who had accused him of being a non-believer.

Abid Ali often appeared as an angry young man in many PTV plays of the 1970s. In one such play, he plays the role of an agnostic who then uses the Qu’ran to expose the hypocrisies of his detractors and those who claim to be faithful Muslims.

Ashfaq Ahmed’s TV plays of the era were a lot more ‘sober,’ literary and intellectual compared to the hyperbolic antics of the time’s ‘social films;’ but the question is, was Ahmad also critiquing Bhutto’s populism, blaming it for encouraging the disengagement between Pakistani youth and religion?

Indigenous Pakistani folk culture and music were aggressively patronised by the populist government of Z A. Bhutto. Some analysts suggest that this was at least one part of his regime’s strategy to co-opt nationalist sentiments simmering among Sindhi, Baloch and Pushtun nationalists. This is a 1975 poster of the country’s leading folk musicians of the 1970s.

Swinging no more: The fall

Confident of being re-elected as Prime Minister, Bhutto announced new parliamentary elections in early 1977.

Though by now aware of the urban middle-classes’ growing disenchantment with his regime, Bhutto was sure of his popularity among the urban working classes and the peasants and small farmers of rural Pakistan.

Whereas the once pro-Bhutto left (in urban Pakistan and on campuses) had started to raise the tone of their grumblings against Bhutto’s ‘betrayal of PPP’s original socialist agenda,’ the conservative sections of the same class that had remained subdued during much of Bhutto’s regime, suddenly found itself galvanised on a single political platform.

This platform came in the shape of a 9-party political alliance between the country’s various politico-religious parties and some small anti-Bhutto secular groups. The alliance was given a simple name: The Pakistan National Alliance (PNA).

Subsequently, the PPP’s manifesto for the 1977 elections was a far cry from its manifesto for the 1970 elections. To begin with, the word ‘Socialism’ now played only a minor, obligatory role in the document. Though still calling itself an ‘egalitarian’ and ‘poor-friendly’ party, the terms ‘Islam’ and ‘God’ now took up more space in the party’s manifesto and rhetoric than before.

PNA’s manifesto however, not only attacked the ‘economic and political fall-outs of the regime’s socialist policies,’ its leaders also denounced the Bhutto regime’s ‘liberalism’ as well, which they blamed for ‘spreading obscenity,’ ‘crime’ and ‘drunkenness’ among the youth of the country.

The August 1975 issue of Pakistan Herald with a cover story on the then famous night life of Karachi.

PNA aggressively stated its goal to replace Bhutto’s ‘unIslamic policies’ with those based on what it called, ‘Nizam-e-Mustapha’, (or laws and policies ‘based on the Qu’ran and Sunnah’).

The bottom line however was, that the PNA was first and foremost a desperate alliance of various anti-Bhutto/anti-PPP parties and politicians who managed to capture the paradigm shift taking place in the ideological make-up of the urban middle-classes and the petty-bourgeoisie of the country.

1974: Islamic scholar and founder of the Jamat-i-Islami, Abul Aala Maudidi, holding a press conference during which he demanded that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims.The government capitulated to his demands and deemed Ahmadis as a non-Muslim minority.

A paradigm shift in urban middle-class Pakistan’s ideological and political make-up was certainly afoot and economics had a lot to do with this shift.

Soon after 1974, the Bhutto era was replete with difficulties and challenges, particularly in terms of economy. Economic trends at the international level were hardly conducive for any third world economy to grow and prosper.

Devastating floods in 1976 and world recession between 1975-977 due to OPEC's unprecedented hikes in oil prices severely depressed the demand for Pakistani exports, affecting industrial output.

Unlike the Ayub regime, the Bhutto government (and the state), did not play the role of sugar daddy to the industrialists, and consequently, the gap between Bhutto's economics of socialist reformism and the interests of the industrialists grew even wider.

So it was not surprising to see large and medium level traders, businessmen and industrialists putting all their weight behind the PNA.

The Bhutto government's own ambiguity regarding its stand on secularism/socialism and its understanding of Political Islam too contributed to the rhetorical attacks that he received from PNA's leadership.

For example, when in 1967, PPP ideologues, inspired by Nasser's 'Arab Socialism,' devised 'Islamic Socialism' as a 'third way' between Western capitalism and Soviet communism, Bhutto decided to demonstrate this on an international level.

Bhutto held an impressive International Islamic Conference in Lahore in 1974, where a number of heads of states of various Muslim countries were invited.

Though the speeches made at the high profile conference described modern Muslim regimes and societies as being progressive, the tone of these speeches gradually became jingoistic.

The conference also captured the imagination of the common Pakistanis who saw the proceedings on PTV.

The razzmatazz of the conference also saw PTV commemorate the event by producing several songs dedicated to the theme of 'Muslim unity.' One of the most popular songs in this respect was Mehdi Zaheer's impassionate 'Hum Mustaphavi.’

Though many of the 'national songs' aired by PTV and Radio Pakistan during the Bhutto era had socialist overtones and sang passionate praises of the country's working classes, 'Mustaphavi' became the first Pakistani national song that used Islam and Muslims as central catch phrases.

Classic 'Socialist art' and imagery was often used in government ads by the Bhutto regime.


One of the most melodic and hearty-felt national songs was sung by Amanat Ali Khan in 1974 (‘Aye Merey Pyarey Watan’). Khan was a classically trained singer who unfortunately died young in 1975.

In March 1977, the people of Pakistan once again went to the polls (the first time after the historic 1970 elections).

Initial results showed the PPP sweeping the National Assembly elections. However, the PNA leadership accused the regime of mass rigging. It boycotted the Provincial Elections and announced a series of protests.

Just as left-wing student organisations had triggered the anti-Ayub movement in the late 1960s, the movement against Bhutto was set off by the right-wing Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT), the student-wing of the Jamat-i-Islami.

Most of the country’s politicised campuses that had been bastions of leftist politics till about 1973, now erupted to the call of the IJT.

PNA protests were mostly driven by students, small traders and shopkeepers and backed by industrialists.

The late Pir Pagara talking to journalists at the Karachi Press Club in April 1977. Pagara was a leading member of the PNA. Here he is seen talking to the press (surrounded by some members of the Jamat-i-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan).

The protesters, upset by a recession and accompanying inflation, attacked bars, nightclubs, wine shops, cinemas and billboards exhibiting Pakistani liquor brands, denouncing them as symbols of the ‘unIslamic Bhutto regime’.

The PNA leadership maintained that not only had the Bhutto regime’s socialism undermined Islamic culture and law, it had also failed to offer equality and relief to the poor.

Fearing a military coup by the Army, Bhutto decided to hold talks with PNA leaders and if need be, hold fresh elections.

For this, he also agreed to close down nightclubs, bars, outlaw gambling at horse racing, clamp down on ‘obscenity’ and make the Muslim holy day of Friday as a weekly holiday instead of Sunday.

But just as a compromise between Bhutto and PNA was in sight, Bhutto’s own hand-picked General, Muhammad Ziaul Haq, toppled the regime in a military coup and imposed Martial Law on 5th July, 1977.

Pakistan’s urban middle-classes had once again triggered a drastic change that was not necessarily constructive.

Even though this time the country would not break-up, the society as Pakistanis had known it for many years would, however, begin to change in a most unprecedented manner – even to the extent of its socio-political and cultural evolution facing a form of retardation.


Zia talking to BBC journalist in 1979. He tells him ‘We are committed to holding fresh elections.’ A promise he will continue to break till his death in August 1988.

Next week: An urban history of the ‘Gimme Eighties’ in Pakistan.

Refrences & Sources:

Syed, Anwar: The discourse & politics of Z A. Bhutto: Macmillan Books (1992)

Khan, Muhammad Asghar: Islam, Politics & the State-The Pakistan Experience: Zed Books (1985)

Ahsan, Atizaz: The Indus Saga: Oxford University Press (1997)

Miller, Timothy: The Hippies & American Values: University of Tennessee Press ( 1991)

Paracha, Nadeem F.: Before the lights went out: Feature in DAWN Newspaper (July 10, 2008).

Qureshi, Regula B.: Sufi Music of India and Pakistan: Sound, Context and Meaning in Qawwali: Cambridge University Press (1987)

Khan, Lal: Pakistan’s Other Story - The 1968-69 Revolution: Struggle Publications (2008)

Baxter, Craig: Pakistan Votes: University of California Press/JSTOR (1971)

Burki, SJ.: Pakistan Under Bhutto: McMillan Press (1980)

Bangladesh Documents Vol: 2: Ministry of External Affairs, India (1971)

Kaiser Bengali interview by I H. Butt (2008).

Gazdar, Mushtaq: Pakistan Cinema-1947-97: Oxford University Press (1997)

Kazmi, Nikhat: Ire in the Soul: HarperCollins Publishers (1996)

Khan, Adeel: Politics of Identity-Ethnic Nationalism and the State of Pakistan: Stage Publications (2005)

Clarke, Robert Connell: Hashish!: Red Eye Press (1998)

Saigol, Dr. Rubina: Curriculum in India & Pakistan: South Asian Journal (October 2004)

History of PTV: []

Easterly, W.: The Political Economy of Growth Without Development: NYU (2001)

Walpert, Stanley: Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: Oxford University Press (1993)

Ahmed, Nesar & Sultan, Fareena: Popular Uprising in Pakistan: Middle East Reaserch & Information Project (1977)

Richter, William L.: The Political Dynamics of Islamic Resurgence in Pakistan: University of California Press (1979)



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