Fifty years ago, Pakistan’s first film to be shot abroad, Rishta Hai Pyar Ka, was released. Today it appears to be a regular practice as a lot of movies are filmed in Thailand or Turkey. But back in 1967 it was a big achievement.
Bollywood at the time had already been to Europe with Raj Kapoor’s Sangam (1964). Things began to change with the end of the 17-day war between India and Pakistan in 1965. After a permanent ban on Indian films was placed in Pakistan, a gap in cinema was created that compelled Pakistani filmmakers to ‘boldly go where no Pakistani filmmaker had gone before.’
Armaan, released in March 1966, became Pakistan’s first film to celebrate its Platinum Jubilee. The success of the Waheed Murad-Zeba pair might have prompted the producer to cast them as male and female leads in Rishta Hai Pyar Ka. Nashad, who had just migrated from India to Pakistan, was signed as the music composer for the film, and the paperwork began.
In a telephonic interview with Icon, Zeba Begum, the leading lady in RHPK, recalled the film as if it were released yesterday. “Our neighbours had already ventured into making films abroad, an idea was pitched, and Waheed Sahib and I were signed for a film which was to be shot in Beirut, London and Paris.”
Remembering the first Pakistani film that was shot away from home soil, 50 years ago
One can’t really say that the film had a very original script. Here’s the storyline: in order to give an honourable upbringing to his son, the naukar [servant] swaps his own son with his maalik’s [owner of house] at the time of their birth. As a grown-up, Waheed’s character, who is the naukar’s son, gets into advertising and travels abroad for work, and ends up meeting Zeba. Director/producer Iqbal Yusuf, fresh from his acting debut in his father’s film Eid Mubarak, played Waheed’s friend, while Tarannum, Santosh Russell, Adeeb and Kamal Irani were also members of the cast.
RHPK was a Karachi production. Filming was done at the Jahangir Kothari Parade at Clifton, the newly established Intercontinental Hotel and at the airport.
There is confusion about Zeba Begum playing a female steward in it. “I had to play an airhostess but for some reason ended up posing as one. This happened when Waheed Sahib casually placed the cap on my head, during the flight,” recalled the winner of five Nigar Awards. It was reported that a certain association objected to the way an airhostess was being portrayed in the film, which resulted in the change. PIA had already given two free return tickets on the condition that Zeba would don an airhostess’s uniform.
The film has many firsts to its credit. Iqbal Butt, an expat who mostly lived in Europe, was the producer. He selected Qamar Zaidi as director, whose first film as director had remained unreleased for some reasons. The legendary singing duo of Ahmed Rushdi and Runa Lalia, teamed up for a duet for the first time. Waheed Murad and Zeba went abroad for a shoot for the first time and were filmed in colour for the only time in their career as the lead pair.
Zeba also reminisced about an interesting mix-up that happened when the crew arrived in London. “My suitcase got mixed up with someone else’s on arrival on Heathrow Airport. Upon reaching the hotel, we found it containing someone’s jahaiz [dowry]. Such were the simple days back then, it was legal to carry gold. I was worried about my stuff as I had all my belongings in that suitcase. After borrowing a night-dress from the producer’s wife, we rummaged through the suitcase the next day for some link. Luckily, a letter connected us to the family that was residing in Birmingham. They were quite happy to collect their stuff.”
The soundtrack for RHPK had memorable songs and Masoom sa chehra hai, filmed at the Holiday Inn Beirut, is still a popular song. People still remember the film with this song which begins with Runa Laila singing Ya Aziza Ya Rafiqa in an Arabic style, and Ahmed Rushdi joins in later. The hotel was ransacked during the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. Zeba Begum still has vague memories of that place, “What an incredible view one could get … the seaside which had all the top hotels in Beirut, it was all amazing. Whenever I went there with Muhammad Ali Sahib, we used to stay there, but now it’s all gone.”
Other songs filmed abroad included Hojayain agar piyar ki baatain by Naseem Begum, wonderfully shot in Paris. Masood Rana’s Barri meherbani bairi hi inayat, a club song was filmed with Waheed playing a trumpet. It is believed that Waheed Murad wore the same jacket for the song that was used in Koko koreena for Armaan.
Camerawork was done under the supervision of professionals. Shafan Mirza and Robert Saad did outdoor work in Beirut, Martin Gray was with the crew in London while Hapbern Paul accompanied the team in Paris. Jan Muhammad, who went on to become a celebrated producer/director and gave us hits like Dekha Jayega and Parakh, was an assistant cameraman on this project. His fascination with the RHPK trip is obvious in his later films Manila Ke Jasoos, Hong Kong Ke Sholay and Bangkok Ke Chor which were shot in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Sadly, for a film that had so many strengths, its Achilles’ heel was its screenplay, with quite a few glitches in the storyline. It also turned out to be the last time Waheed Murad and Zeba played the lead together, ending a five-year association that produced 10 films. Zeba married Muhammad Ali in September 1966 after returning from Europe, and then she mostly stuck to roles offered against Ali Sahib. RHPK’s release on October 6, 1967, also coincided with the beginning of the Nadeem era in the industry. Chotay Sahib, Nadeem’s second film after Chakori, was released a week after RHPK and, despite no real outdoor work, enjoyed a blockbuster status.
Waheed Murad went on to work abroad a couple more times in his career. He starred in Jamil Akhtar’s Khamosh Nigahein filmed in Japan in 1970, while Yahan Se Wahan Tak (Europe and USA) and Kaala Dhanda Goray Log (UK) were shot in the ’80s with Syed Kamal and Asif Khan as producers.
RHPK set a pattern soon followed by more seasoned film stars. Syed Kamal went to Europe and South East Asia with Love in Europe and Honeymoon; both films were released in 1970. Comedian Rangeela’s film with the same name contained a dream sequence shot in London (1970). The Ejaz-Rehman-Shabnam starrer Dosti (1971) and Habib’s Pardes (1972) had big portions shot abroad while Pervaiz Malik’s Mere Hamsafar (1972), in which Muhammad Ali played a private detective, was shot mostly in Europe.
The print of RHPK is lost, but it has been learnt that Pakistan Television aired the film some 30 years back. It would be a good gesture from the state-run TV either to upload it on YouTube or share it on its website so that the current generation can also see one of Pakistani cinema’s trendsetting films.
Published in Dawn, ICON, January 7th, 2018