The unforgiven

‘A real genius,’ is how famous author and playwright, Ashfaq Ahmed, once described Pakistan’s TV and film actress, Roohi Bano.

Bano was the most sought-after TV actress in Pakistan in the 1970s and early 1980s. Along with Uzma Gillani and late Khalida Riasat, Bano defined the art of serious acting for a host of Pakistani TV actresses to come.

But Bano remained to be the finest in the league because even though she also acted as a heroine in a few films and took some light roles as well, producers and writers struggling to bring to the mini-screen plays by intellectual heavyweights such as Ashfaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia and Munnu Bhai, always chose her as their leading lady.

The reason was simple: She could seamlessly immerse herself in roles that were constructed to express complex psychological and emotional dispositions.

That’s why her most compelling moments can be found in TV plays scripted by Ashfaq Ahmad in the 1970s and early 1980s – a time when the author himself was struggling to come to terms with his own intellectual and existential crises.

At the time, very few of Bano’s fans knew that the psychologically scarred roles that she was playing so convincingly were also starkly reflecting what was going on in her own life. Broken relationships, increasing bouts of paranoia and sudden fits of depression. She felt betrayed and manipulated and then in a rush of blood, she got married.

Not much is known about her marriage except that it produced a son.

By the late 1980s, Bano, who had been such a popular and respected mainstay on TV, was only rarely seen on the mini-screen.

It transpired that she had been facing serious psychological and emotional issues throughout the 1970s; and in the early 1980s, she even had to be committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.

The irony was that Bano herself held a Master’s degree in Psychology.

A psychedelic rendition of Roohi Bano in the 1970s (designed by a student of Karachi University).
A psychedelic rendition of Roohi Bano in the 1970s (designed by a student of Karachi University).

She was still only in her late twenties when she began suffering psychiatric problems. These hastened her disappearance from the screen.

Her condition only worsened when TV plays began facing heavy censorship during the Ziaul Haq dictatorship and she kept turning down ‘sanitised roles’ (even though she continued to do plays authored by Ashfaq Ahmed).

And when she did return to the screen (in 1988 after a five-year absence), her fans could hardly recognise her. She seemed to have aged rapidly and looked exhausted.

An early 1990s article on Bano.
An early 1990s article on Bano.

Her great comeback never materialised. After just a few plays, she went back on heavy medication and suffered another series of breakdowns. Then in 2005, her son was shot dead (apparently by muggers).

Today, she leads a reclusive life in Lahore. She insists that she has no relatives or friends left (worth talking about). She does not mention her husband at all but still seems to have fond memories of her days as a leading TV actress.

Over the years, various TV producers have tried to bring her back to acting, but eventually let go of the idea after claiming that ‘she was not functional …’

In 2006, she was reported to have set a room in her home on fire because (according to her) ‘it (the room) was full of painful memories.’

In an interview she gave to Newsline magazine in January 2015, she told the interviewer:

‘ … At times I feel that I am one of my own impostors. It seems that I am impersonating a stranger, someone I no longer am.’

Bano continues to hang in an uncertain state of purgatory and limbo, while her fans still long for that great comeback that she was expected to make many years ago but never happened.

Bano today: Still lost.
Bano today: Still lost.

The swan song

Ibne Insha was a versatile man – poet, author, diplomat and a Marxist. He was well known for his Urdu poems that were regularly published in compilations and literary magazines.

But there is one poem that he penned in the early 1970s that greatly enhanced his fame and reputation. It was called Insha ji Utho (Get up and go, Insha).

The poem is about a broken man who, after spending the night at a gathering (at a bar or a brothel), suddenly decides to get up and leave – not just the place but the city itself.

He walks all the way back to his house and reaches it in the wee hours of the morning. He wonders what excuse he will give to his beloved.

He’s a misunderstood man looking for meaning in (what he believes) is a meaningless existence.

Ibne Insha.
Ibne Insha.

The poem soon caught the attention and interest of famous Eastern classical and ghazal singer, Amanat Ali Khan.

Amanat was looking for words that would depict the pathos of urban life (in Karachi and Lahore).

Someone handed him Ibne Insha’s Insha ji Utho and Amanat immediately expressed his desire to sing it.

He met Ibne Insha in Lahore and demonstrated how he planned to sing the ghazal. Insha was impressed and believed that Amanat actually transformed himself into becoming just like the protagonist of the poem.

When Amanat Ali Khan first performed the ghazal on the state-owned Pakistan Television (PTV) in January 1974, the channel was bombarded by letters and phone calls demanding that it be played over and over again. It became the singer’s biggest hit.

But after just a few months of enjoying this burst of success, Amanat Ali Khan suddenly passed away. He was just 52.

Amanat Ali Khan.
Amanat Ali Khan.

Then in January 1978, exactly four years after Amanat Ali Khan’s rendition of Insha ji Utho was first telecast on PTV in 1974, the poem’s author, Ibne Insha died.

He had begun to suffer from cancer in 1977 and had to travel to London to get treatment. He wrote a number of letters (to close friends) from his hospital bed. In the last such letter that he wrote, he mediated about the success of Insha ji Utho and Amanat Ali Khan’s death.

Then after lamenting his own deteriorating condition, he wrote:

‘Yeh manhoos ghazal kitno ki jaan ley gi …?’ (How many more lives will this cursed poem take?)

The very next day, he was gone. He was just 50.

Amanat Ali’s son, Asad Amanat Ali, too was a gifted Eastern classical and ghazal singer. He began to perform regularly on TV after his father’s death in 1974.

Asad also began to sing semi-pop songs for films and gained ample recognition and fame in the 1980s.

He was always a popular draw at ghazal concerts that he mostly headed, singing his own famous ghazals, film songs and those of his father’s.

In 2006 he performed a concert for PTV that he rounded off by singing Insha ji Utho. Incidentally, this would be his last concert and Insha ji Utho the last song that he would ever perform.

A few months later, he passed away as suddenly as his father had 33 years ago. Asad too was 52, just as his father had been at the time of his death.

Asad Amanat Ali performing on PTV in 1980.
Asad Amanat Ali performing on PTV in 1980.

Asad’s brother, Shafqat Amanat Ali, had already risen in the early 2000s as a gifted semi-classical and pop singer.

But after his father died in 2007, his family begged Shafqat never to sing Insha ji Utho – the poem and song that the family now believed had taken the lives of three men (Amanat Ali Khan, Ibne Insha and Asad Amanat Ali).

Shafqat today refuses perform it.


The art of madness

Ahmed Parvez is perhaps one of the most fascinating (and tragic) figures in the history of fine arts in Pakistan.

Born in Rawalpindi, Parvez started his career as an artist at Punjab University. A restless soul, he moved to London in 1955.

Parvez was highly motivated to increase awareness of the new developments in painting that he he witnessed in London and consequently attempted to integrate Abstract and Modernism styles into the Pakistani art scene.

In the late 1960s, Ahmed returned to Pakistan and moved to Karachi. He had already been hailed as a painter of great talent and distinction in the West.

Across the 1970s, he rose to become one of Pakistan’s premier artists and a huge influence in the then thriving art scene of Karachi.

In spite of being surrounded by young admirers, Parvez remained restless and impatient, never satisfied.

His lifestyle became increasingly erratic. Nonchalant about being hailed as a genius by art critics in the UK, US and Pakistan, a contemporary noted that Ahmed treated money ‘as if he hated it.’ He was also given to sudden bursts of anger and violent mood swings.

Most of the money that he made was spent on alcohol and this attracted ‘free loaders’. However, sick of the company he was attracting, Ahmed began frequenting various shrines of Sufi saints in Karachi.

Though he had already experimented with drugs such as LSD and hashish, he became a habitual hashish user at Karachi’s famous Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine in the Clifton area.

In fact, by the mid-1970s Ahmed could be seen exchanging hashish pipes with fakirs (homeless vagabonds) at the shrine. But he continued to paint prolifically.

Ahmed Parvez (1972)
Ahmed Parvez (1972)

Art critic, Zubaida Agha, in an essay on Ahmed Parvez writes that the more fame Parvez gathered, the more erratic and ‘unhealthy’ his lifestyle became.

By the late 1970s, he was almost permanently staying on the grounds of the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine.

A Lahore-based artist, Maqbool Ahmed, who was a student at the Lahore College of Arts in the late 1970s, once told me how he came to Karachi to meet his idol, Ahmed Parvez, but was shocked at what he saw: ‘This was 1978. Parvez was a mess. He didn’t even acknowledge my praise and presence …’

A 1970 abstract painting by Ahmed Parvez
A 1970 abstract painting by Ahmed Parvez

Even when in 1978, the government bestowed upon him the prestigious Pride of Performance Award, Parvez continued with his bizarre lifestyle.

And then it happened. And no one was surprised. In early 1979, Ahmed was found dead in a room of a rundown hotel in Karachi.

Lamenting Parvez’s self-imposed isolation and destructive lifestyle, an art critic writing for DAWN in 1979 lamented that ‘Ahmed Parvez still had another 20 years of genius left in him.’

But perhaps, it was this genius that so tragically sealed his fate?


Almost famous

Over the decades, Pakistan has produced some exceptional talent in cricket, hockey and squash. And though (ever since the 1990s) the quality of talent in squash and hockey has appreciably declined, Pakistan has continued to throw up some of the most exciting cricketers, especially in the fields of fast and spin bowling.

Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan (both from Pakistan’s rugged Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) are widely recognised to be perhaps the two greatest squash players of the 20th century.

Both ruled the international squash scene across the 1980s and early 1990s and yet, Jansher Khan – the younger of the two – could have been planning the ouster of Jahangir Khan’s brother, Torsam Khan, as the World No. 1 (instead of Jahangir).

Jahangir had sustained his World No. 1 position throughout the 1980s and it was only a fellow Pakistani, Jansher Khan, who was able to topple Jahangir from that position.

But Jahangir may not have been there at all; and maybe would have never even played squash had it not been due to a tragedy in the family.

Jahangir’s father, Roshan Khan, had briefly climbed to become squash’s leading player in the 1950s. After retirement he had begun to groom his eldest son, Torsam Khan, to become a top-ranking player.

Roshan saw in Torsam the talent and the hunger that can elevate sportsmen to scale exceptional heights.

Torsam began well, steadily climbing the ladder of world rankings in his bid to match his father’s feats and put Pakistan squash back on top again.

He pushed himself hard to meet his father’s expectations and was hailed in the squash world as being a highly innovative player. But he could not go beyond 13 in the world rankings. This often left him feeling frustrated.

He had the talent, the power and the technique, but his father’s legacy weighed just too heavily on him.

In 1979 when he climbed to No. 13 in the rankings, he told his father that Jahangir (who was then just 14), should be the one who should be prepared to fulfill the dream of becoming the World No. 1.

Torsam wanted to quit and start training Jahangir for this purpose. But he gave himself one more shot at making the top 10. He travelled to Melbourne to take part in the 1979 Australian Open. He hoped to reach the finals and defeat the then World No. 1 Geoff Hunt (of Australia).

But during a qualifying match, Torsam suddenly collapsed on the court and became unconscious. He was immediately driven to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was just 27.

His family was devastated, especially his father. Torsam was his favourite son.

But interestingly, the 14-year-old Jahangir, who had grown close to his elder brother and had only played squash casually, became obsessed with going out there and completing the achievement that his brother had striven so hard for.

Within a matter of few years, he did just that, becoming the longest-reigning World No. 1 in Squash!

Torsam Khan (right).
Torsam Khan (right).

Ever since Imran Khan rose to become a genuine fast bowler (in 1976); and ever since (after 1982), Abdul Qadir began being hailed to be one of the wiliest leg-spinners in the game, Pakistan has been generating a line of world-class fast bowlers and spinners.

But before Qadir became a spinning sensation and (later), Saeed Ajmal moulded himself into becoming an equally innovative off-spinner, there was Amin Lakhani.

A shy 18-year-old left-arm spinner from Karachi’s low-income area, Lakhani just had a few first-class and club cricket games under his belt when he was picked to play against the visiting Indian Test team in a side game in 1978.

The selectors had decided to give him a game because they wanted to rest the time’s more experienced spinners. But the young bowler spun himself into the headlines on the sports pages across the cricketing world when he took a double hat trick in that match.

His two six-wicket hauls in the 3-day game included a hat trick each. Or hat tricks in two consecutive innings. A world record that still stands today.

Indian captain and the era’s leading left-arm spinner, Bishen Singh Bedi, was pleasantly surprised and described Lakhani as one of the finest young spinners he has ever seen.

At once, this unassuming and obscure teenager was thrown into the limelight.

Not only was he selected in the 14-member squad announced for the third Test match of the series, he was offered lucrative advertising contracts by multinationals, invited for interviews on radio and TV, and showered with gifts from the cricket board and fans.

It was a startling turnaround for a kid whose father had struggled to keep him at school, and who was simply lingering on the fringes of Karachi’s cricket.

The performance also bagged him a playing contract and a regular salary from Habib Bank.

Enjoying his sudden fame and surrounded by new-found fans and gifts, Lakhani joined the big boys in the Pakistan team for the Karachi Test of the 3-match series.

Sure to be selected in the final XI, Lakhani was training hard in the nets with the team when disaster struck: He fractured a finger.

Nevertheless, since he had already become a sensation, Lakhani was greeted with a loud roar from the 40,000-strong crowd at Karachi’s National Stadium when he entered the playing area (as a reserve) during the game’s first drink break.

After polishing off the visiting Indians 2-0 in the series, the Pakistan team was scheduled to tour New Zealand and Australia next.

It was almost certain that the young, sensational 18-year-old world-record-holder would be part of the touring squad, but he wasn’t.

The press was up in arms. But the selectors insisted that Lakhani’s injured finger hadn’t healed and that he needed a bit more experience.

However, it is also believed that Lakhani had ‘lost focus’ after being thrown so suddenly into the limelight. A teammate of Lakhani’s in the latter’s club side in Karachi, Haroon Nazim, told this writer that Lakhani, who had been painfully shy around girls at school, was overwhelmed when he began receiving ‘romantic’ fan mail from young women.

‘He was shown all kinds of dreams by those who wanted him to feature in ads and on magazine covers,’ Nazim said. ‘He began to think that he was well on his way to becoming a rich and famous cricket star.’

But as the team left for the New Zealand and Australia tour, within a matter of months, the advertising contracts offered to Lakhani were withdrawn; the sudden fan mail stopped; the press lost interest and it seemed Lakhani had vanished from the scene as quickly as he had appeared.

Angry, confused and bitter, the young boy fell into depression. Though he continued to play some first-class cricket till about the mid-1980s, people had all but forgotten about him.

He was only in his mid-twenties when he simply dropped out and ‘retired’ from the game.

His name continues to shine brightly in the record books, but his dream of becoming a cricketing star and of turning around the fate and fortune of his struggling family simply withered away.

Lakhani after creating the world record in 1978.
Lakhani after creating the world record in 1978.

A few years after Imran Khan was officially recorded as being the third-fastest bowler in the world (1979); before Pakistan cricket began firing in a spat of genuine pace men in the shape of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Muhammad Zahid, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami and Wahab Riaz, there was one Atiqur Rehman.

Even the most passionate of Pakistani cricket fans know very little about a bowler who could have become the Waqar Younis or a Shoaib Akhtar of the 1980s.

Those who are old enough to recall the 1983 Sri Lanka Under-19 team’s tour of Pakistan may remember the sight of a young 17-year-old fast bowler from Karachi who was terrorising batsmen with sharp, fast and awkwardly rising deliveries even on the most placid of wickets.

Yet, he failed to play even a single Test or an ODI game. Arriving on the scene in 1982, by 1986 the tearaway Rehman was history (rather, a footnote).

Born in 1965 in Karachi, Rehman grew up playing cricket on the streets and then on the cemented pitches of the city.

Australia’s Jeff Thomson (who, in 1975, had been recorded to have bowled deliveries that clocked up to 99 mph), became Rehman’s ideal.

At just 17, Rehman was knocking out some of Karachi’s finest club cricketers, but his rebellious and hot-headed temperament meant his advent into first-class cricket was halted by those who could have put his name up for Pakistan’s first-class teams to consider.

Nevertheless, in 1983, the then Pakistan cricket team manager, Intikhab Alam, while looking for bowlers who were good enough to bowl at the team’s front line batsmen in the nets, spotted Rehman playing a club game at Karachi’s Bakhtiari Youth Centre.

Impressed by Rehman’s pace, Intikhab asked him to report the next day at the National Stadium where the Pakistan team was practicing just before a Test series.

Rehman was one of the many young bowlers who were called up for the nets. However, when it came the turn for Pakistan’s two premier batsmen, Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad, to get some batting practice, Intikhab tossed the ball over to Rehman.

He bowled straight and fast to Miandad, who hopped around a bit, but negotiated Rehman’s pace well. However, he did ask Intikhab the name of the bowler and made a mental note of his raw pace. He then moved away to make room for Zaheer.

Zaheer too hopped around, but played Rehman’s straight and fast ones well until the young 17-year-old changed tact.

He delivered a vicious bouncer that rose sharply and headed straight between Zaheer’s eyes. Zaheer jumped and just managed to block the ball from hitting his face with his left glove.

Shaken, Zaheer received another fast bouncer that almost knocked him off his feet. Bruised and angry, Zaheer threw away his bat and began to hurl abuses at the young man. ‘Are you trying to kill me?’ he shouted.

But Rehman had had his moment. Right away he was picked to lead the pace attack for Pakistan U-19 team’s series against the Sri Lankan U-19.

In that series he sent at least three young Lankan batsmen to the hospital, and it was also during this series that he caught the eye of Imran Khan who went on record to suggest: ‘This kid is bowling as fast as I do and can …’

Rehman bowling against the visiting Sri Lankan U-19 side at Karachi’s National Stadium in 1983.
Rehman bowling against the visiting Sri Lankan U-19 side at Karachi’s National Stadium in 1983.

Khan was out of the team at the time, suffering from a serious shin injury. Zaheer had taken over the captaincy from him for Pakistan’s 1983 tour of India. Right away, he insisted Rehman’s inclusion in the touring squad.

But Rehman could only get one game on the tour – a well-attended and televised day-night charity ODI against the Indian team.

After making a few Indian batmen hop and jump, Rehman got carried away and began bowling bouncers, most of them flying over the wicketkeeper’s head. One of his deliveries was clocked at 96 mph (154 kph).

Warned by the umpires, he was taken off by the captain. Then, he got embroiled in some disciplinary issues with the team management and was sent back home.

In Pakistan, he managed to get a contract from Habib Bank’s cricket team on the behest of the team’s captain, Javed Miandad.

When Imran returned as captain in late 1983 (though he was still struggling to bowl), he picked Rehman for Pakistan’s 1983-84 tour of Australia. Rehman bowled quick in some side games but broke down before the first Test.

He regained his fitness but his hot-headedness got the better of him. While visiting a club with some players in Melbourne, he got into a fight with some locals. He was immediately sent back home.

Imran suggested that Rehman start playing English County cricket to refine his talent, but the Pakistan cricket board decided to coach him at home.

The board’s top coach at the time, former fast bowler, Khan Muhammad, was given the task of training and ‘disciplining’ Rehman. The first thing he did was to ask the young bowler to change his action. Bad idea. Immediately, Rehman lost much of his pace and bite. But the coach and Habib Bank insisted that he bowl with his new action.

By 1985, the now 20-year-old had fallen into a state of depression. Clearly losing pace and the fear factor with his new (forced action) he tried to defy the coach by reverting back to his old action. But the sudden reversion wrecked his back and he could hardly walk.

In early 1986, after the end of the last day of a first-class game in Karachi, he picked up his kit and left the ground never to come back.

He was just 21 when he decided to ‘retire’ and slip into oblivion.


Left out

To the leftists of Pakistan, he was their first ‘martyr.’ To his family, this ‘martyrdom’ was something they could never entirely recover from.

Hassan Nasir was an exceptionally bright and charismatic young man born in an aristocratic Muslim family in Hyderabad Deccan in India. He got admitted to UK’s prestigious Cambridge University where he came into contact with various young British and Indian Marxists.

He was soon converted. On his return to India (and against his family’s wishes), he took an active part in an armed peasants’ uprising in the Telangana region.

In 1950, he migrated to Pakistan and joined the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) in Karachi.

Though just 22 years old, he greatly impressed the party leadership with his profound knowledge of Marxism and his activism.

Nasir's militant outlook and popularity among students, peasants and industrial workers got him arrested by the Pakistani government in 1954. He was severely tortured and then forcibly flown into exile for a year.

In 1955 he was back. Since the CPP had been banned in 1951, Punjabi and Urdu-speaking leftists joined up with progressive Sindhi, Baloch, Bengali and Pushtun nationalists to form the National Awami Party (NAP). Nasir was made the party’s Secretary General in Karachi.

He soon turned his office into a busy working and planning area for leftist students and trade unionists. Though his aristocratic background could have easily guaranteed him a rich and comfortable living, he chose to live among poor labourers in make-shift shanty towns of Karachi.

Hassan Nasir in 1956.
Hassan Nasir in 1956.

In 1959, when Field Marshal Ayub Khan launched a military coup, he ordered a heavy crackdown against leftists. Nasir went underground to organise an urban workers’ uprising against Ayub.

In 1960, Ayub, while being briefed about the action against opposition parties, lost his cool when Nasir’s name came up. He is reported to have lashed out and shouted, ‘That bloody communist …!’

The Ayub regime was equally harsh against the rightists as well, especially those belonging to the religious parties. But Nasir’s activities had begun to greatly perturb the regime.

Nasir was finally located and picked up by the police and taken in chains to a special cell set-up by the police in Lahore’s historical Lahore Fort.

Here, he was continuously tortured, beaten up and refused food and water for days. Then finally, he was slayed there. He was 32.

The aristocrat’s son who had become a communist rebel was never seen or heard from again.

The news of his death made his father suffer a mental breakdown, while his mother refused to agree with the police that the mutilated body they had shown was her son’s. They told her that he had died in an accident.

‘This is not my son’s body,’ the ailing old woman shouted. After falling to the ground, she was escorted out by the police and put in a waiting rickshaw.

Nasir’s parents had stayed behind in India while Nasir had migrated to Pakistan. With the father’s mental health collapsing, only his mother arrived to claim the body.

She returned home empty-handed. Till this day, nobody is quite sure what happened to the young communist’s body and where is it buried.


The poet and his dog

Saghar Siddqiue migrated to Pakistan in 1947 (without his parents) and settled in Lahore.

The sensitive 19-year-old was excited by the prospect of becoming a citizen of a newly created country and at once got down to writing a national anthem for it.

Though he failed to get his version of the anthem accepted by the government, he moved on to publish a well-received literary magazine.

The magazine was a critical success but a commercial flop. Disappointed, Saghar shut down the magazine.

An early portrait of a rosier Saghar.
An early portrait of a rosier Saghar.

Unlike most Indian Muslims who had migrated to Pakistan, Saghar did not ask the government to settle him on the properties left behind by the Hindus and the Sikhs.

Instead, he preferred to stay in cheap hotels. He paid his rent from the meagre amounts of money that he received from magazines (for the poems he wrote for them).

Within a decade, his early, youthful enthusiasm for Pakistan eroded away as he saw corruption, nepotism and mediocrity being rewarded at the expense of genuine talent and honesty.

Broke in more ways than one and at a stage where even the fast-acting cheap whisky of Lahore failed to keep him numb, Saghar discovered morphine. He bought his daily dose from the corrupt janitors of Lahore’s hospitals.

What’s more, when some poets used to find this thin, trembling addict outside their homes asking for money, they would give him a few rupees but only after he had written a poem or two for them.

These poets would then sell the poems to magazines for a lot more money and some even went to the extent of getting them published in their own names!

With both friends and strangers exploiting his genius of penning the most evocatively expressed Urdu ghazals to meet their own greedy needs; Saghar plunged even deeper into a state of despair.

Soon he was turned out by the cheap hotels he was living in and ended up walking the streets of Lahore. A fan of his once wrote how (in 1966) while he was driving down Lahore’s Circuit Road, the radio in his car began to play a ghazal written by Saghar.

As the fan was quietly revelling in the power of Saghar’s words, his eyes caught a fleeting glimpse of a thin man with unkempt long hair and in tattered clothes walking aimlessly on the side of the road. It was Saghar. As the world abandoned this genius, Saghar abandoned the world.

For years, he could be seen walking and sleeping on the streets of Lahore, living on the food and money given to him by those who took him to be a beggar or a fakir.

Amazingly, he continued to write powerful poetry in spite of the fact that he could hardly utter a single coherent sentence.

At times he would write brilliant poems, read them out loudly with a void look in his eyes, then tear the papers he’d scribbled these poems on, make a heap and set the heap on fire!

He would hardly talk to any man. Instead, he could often be seen with a stray dog that had befriended Saghar in 1968 and stayed, ate and slept with him on the streets of Lahore.

A rare photograph of Saghar squatting at a street corner of Lahore and about to set fire to a bunch of his poems.
A rare photograph of Saghar squatting at a street corner of Lahore and about to set fire to a bunch of his poems.

In early 1974, after 15 years of morphine addiction, depression and living on the streets, Saghar was found dead in one such street corner of Lahore. He passed away in his sleep. He was just 46.

The dog that was with him for more than six years never left the spot where Saghar died. Finally, one year after Saghar’s death, the dog too died — almost exactly at the same spot.


Remains of the day

When in the early 1980s, Pakistan’s film industry began its long and painful decent into near-oblivion, a number of actors and filmmakers who had been joyfully reaping fame and fortune from the creative and commercial harvests the industry was sprouting, suddenly found themselves stranded and abandoned.

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 middle classes.

Ziaul Haq’s reactionary military coup against the Bhutto regime in 1977 and then the military dictatorship’s strict censor policies, along with its concentrated crackdown on social activities that it deemed ‘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 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 the country’s leading film icon: Waheed Murad.

From the early 1960s till about 1977, it seemed like anything 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 for 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.

Murad signing autographs in Karachi in 1972.
Murad signing autographs in Karachi in 1972.

Murad at a party in Karachi in 1975. On the right is famous TV actress of the 1970s, Saira Kazmi.
Murad at a party in Karachi in 1975. On the right is famous TV actress of the 1970s, Saira Kazmi.

But when things in the industry began to experience multiple jolts after the 1977 military coup, Murad became the calamity’s first casualty.

As Murad’s contemporaries, like Mohammad Ali, actually turned rightwards to start making films that accorded with the ‘correct moral lines’ laid down by the reactionary dictatorship, Murad’s romantic heroes who would dance, sing and shed tears at the drop of a hat suddenly went out of vogue.

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 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 college 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 (in Anwar Maqsood’s show Silver Jubilee), Murad, by now skinny and with deep, dark circles underneath his eyes, sounded like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

A battered, bitter and bruised Waheed Murad on Anwar Maqsood’s stage show, 'Silver Jubilee', 1982.
A battered, bitter and bruised Waheed Murad on Anwar Maqsood’s stage show, 'Silver Jubilee', 1982.

His wife of many years had temporarily left him by the time some film producers offered Murad a return as a hero (on condition that 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 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, who 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 gesture of pity.

Frustrated and refusing to resign to his fate, in early 1984, the now 46-year-old former star, heartthrob and cinematic Midas, died of an overdose of sedatives.

A film writer lamented that it wasn’t the pills and alcohol that killed Murad, it was a broken heart.


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