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KARACHI: A book on the history of Sindhi films, Sindh Talkies, by Dr Mehmood Mughal was launched at the Arts Council on Friday evening.

The programme began with a fascinating documentary on Sindhi films produced by Ghulam Mustafa Solangi. Intelligently, before throwing light on the movies, the documentary enlightened the viewers on the genesis of cinema in the Indian subcontinent, giving information on the first silent Indian film Raja Harishchandra (1913) and the first talkie Alam Ara (1924).

The documentary then went on to focus on films made in Sindhi, the first being Ekta (1940) directed by Homi Wadia; and the last Sindhi film was titled Himmat (1997). In between that period, many commercially successful films were made, including Pardesi, Sassi Punho, Umar Marvi, Noorji Jam Tamachi, etc.

Some interesting nuggets of information were also shared in the documentary. For example, Umar Marvi was the first golden jubilee project in the Sindhi language. Shero Feroz (1968) had the likes of Runa Laila and Mohammad Yousuf as its playback singers.

It was also mentioned that the legendary Madam Noor Jehan sang in Sindhi, and that writers like Amar Jaleel and Agha Saleem wrote dialogue for Sindhi movies. Apart from that, the documentary had interviews of famous yesteryear actors Waseem and Saeeda.

Dawn Media Group CEO Hameed Haroon, who was the keynote speaker at the book launch, congratulated Dr Mughal for putting together an important book that he said was not an easy task.

Referring to the documentary that preceded his speech, he said the occasion was both happy and sad because Sindhi cinema would soon fade away from memories, which was why it was important to digitally restore it.

He said Sindhi cinema was stretched over a period of 40 to 45 years in which more than 70 films were made; and till the 1970s and ‘80s it became barely visible to viewers.

On behalf of the trustees of the Endowment Fund Trust (EFT) for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh, which has published the book, he appealed to the government of Sindh and its departments concerned to digitise Sindhi cinema and set aside funds for it. He also stressed the need for an English translation of the book in collaboration with Dr Mughal.

Going down memory lane, Mr Haroon said his first memory of a Sindhi film was of the 1950s. He was four years old when his parents took him to Eastern Film Studio to see Sassi Punho. He recalled Nighat Sultana playing the lead role of Sassi in the film. He put down the fading away of Sindhi cinema to two things: one, the decline of Karachi as a production centre and two, the changing nature and character of the Sindhi films over the years because of which families stopped watching the movies. As a result, the artists and technicians either went into mainstream cinema or joined television. Television killed Sindhi cinema, he remarked and stressed “let us save what we have”.

The keynote address was followed by a soul-stirring rendition of Shah jo vai by Zulfiqar Ali and Mazhar Husain who belong to the Gwalior gharana.

Then Dr Qasim Rajpar read out a paper in which he touched upon the different research works done in India and Pakistan on Sindhi drama and films.

Highlighting Dr Mughal’s achievements, he said it was “data journalism” and the marked feature of it was the sketches (khaakay) of some individuals such as Rashid Ahmed Lashari and Sheikh Ayaz. He termed it a great contribution. He also pointed out one or two mistakes in the book.

Dr Mughal said writing the book was a 15-year journey. He told the audience, which by the time the launch had gone half way through had filled the venue hall, that he was an MBBS and at the same time had a profound interest in arts and literature (ilm o adab). He said both his parents were learned individuals. It was in 1954 that his family bought a radio set, and he would listen to the radio for long hours. There he discovered that music was in his genes. Later, he said, he read a book and found out that the Indian playback singer, Mukesh, had sung 913 songs, 800 of which were ‘hit’ songs. This made him think about the legacy of Sindhi films, he added.

He said while he was researching on the subject, he read each and every page of no fewer than 70 newspapers and collected more than 4,000 photographs. He thanked quite a few people who helped him complete his work.

Mazharul Haq Siddiqui, in his presidential address, showered praise on Dr Mughal saying that of many qualities that he had, it was his humble nature (ijz) that stood out. He said Dr Mughal did his work with responsibility and care. He had a degree in science, but had an interest in arts and had been the director of physical education and sports at the institution where he taught, he said.

Yasir Qazi conducted the programme that was organised by the EFT and the Arts Council.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2015

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