The recent Hania Amir-Asim Azhar feud or the periodic tiffs between others that spark gossip headlines for a day or two make it seem like today’s celebrities are a breed apart from their older, more mature predecessors. Since the inception of the entertainment industry in Pakistan, however, there have been fallouts and showdowns between celebrities. But they have largely refrained from washing their dirty linen in public…that is until now, thanks to social media.
The private lives of actors have always remained a part of public discussions, but since there was no social media in earlier times, there used to be lesser news of break-ups, divorces and secret weddings among the artist community leaking out to the public. In addition, when our industry was still in its teens, when fights erupted, there was usually someone around to act as a referee or mediator.
Let me illustrate this point with one story.
Muslim Town used to be one of the posh areas of Lahore, where a large number of film stars, directors and producers lived. A street in Muslim Town housed the leading superstars of the day. The first house on this street belonged to Santosh Kumar, the famous leading star of the ’50s. A little down the road to the right were three bungalows: the first and closest to Santosh’s house belonged to the actor Alauddin. The one next to it belonged to film director Luqman who had signed Dilip Kumar for Shoukat Hussain Rizvi’s Jugnu (1947), and the last one was the residence of poet Tanvir Naqvi (married to Noor Jehan’s elder sister at the time).
Surrounded by the continuous blur of spotlights and flash strobes going off, we tend to forget that even celebrities are human beings and, like us, can have their tense and weak moments too
All these celebrities shared a close bond with each other. It is said that, one day, Alauddin got to know about actor Sudhir speaking ill of Santosh Kumar. Alauddin was about to take up the matter with Sudhir in his own way when Santosh dismissed the matter quite abruptly.
Those were the days when Alauddin, with the release of Kartar Singh (1959) and Salma (1960), had started to appear in lead roles. People had started comparing him to Santosh Kumar, who had become a producer as well. Then one winter’s night, in 1960, things almost took a turn for the worst: new year was just round the corner and parties were being held everywhere, including at the houses of these celebrities.
One such party had just ended at Alauddin’s house, where some guest used derogatory remarks for Santosh Kumar. Later, journalists I.A. Rehman and Ali Sufyan Afaqi accompanied Alauddin to drop off some of the guests in the latter’s car. The up-and-coming writer Riaz Shahid, also Alauddin’s friend, was resting alone in the drawing room when suddenly all hell broke loose. No sooner did the news of Santosh being verbally abused at Alauddin’s party reach the ears of Darpan (Santosh’s younger brother), than Darpan reached Alauddin’s house with his accomplices and entered the drawing room where Riaz Shahid was resting.
In a fit of rage and not finding anyone else there, Darpan — who had recently sampled success with the release of Saathi (1959) — threatened Riaz Shahid, and warned him that if anyone ever made any comments against “Bhaijan” again, he would break his legs. Darpan’s friends also mildly roughed up Riaz Shahid. Needless to say, Riaz Shahid was left speechless. The news reached Alauddin’s ears on his return. It was after midnight and Alauddin, then in his late 30s, decided to take matters into his hands. Along with his much younger brother, Riaz Ahmed Raju, he went to Santosh’s house and called him out.
Alauddin was standing there when Santosh came out. Riaz Ahmed Raju shouted at the 35-year-old Santosh, “Tumharay bhai ne hamaray ghar me ghuss ke hamaray mehman ko maara peeta hai [Your brother has barged into our house and beaten up our guest].”
Until then, Alauddin was fully prepared to take Santosh head-on. Instead, he turned to his brother and told him to shut up. “Tum ko barron ke beech mein bolnay ko kis ne kaha? Koi tameez hai tumko? [Who told you to interrupt your elders when they are talking. Don’t you have any respect?].”
Darpan, then in his early 30s, who had seen Riaz Raju scream at his elder brother, came out to take both Alauddin and Raju to task. However, Alauddin interrupted, “Ishrat [Darpan’s real name], hosh mein ho? Mere saamnay mere hi bhai ko dhamki de rahay ho? [Are you in your senses? Threatening my brother in front of me?].”
Alauddin asked Darpan why he insulted his guest Riaz Shahid, and the latter’s reply was simple: his elder brother was ridiculed at his party and he wanted the matter to be settled. But Santosh got angry at the reply. “Ishrat, tameez se baat karo! Tumko pata hai tumharay saamnay kaun kharra hai? [Ishrat, talk respectfully! Don’t you know who you’re talking to?].”
The situation had changed drastically and now the heroes were angry at their brothers, instead of each other. It was then that the well-respected Daud sahib, Santosh’s father came to know of the situation, and adjusting his shawl, he came out and played the mediator to sheer perfection. Daud sahib had been associated with theatre before Partition, and had the experience of managing bigger actors than the ones who were before him that night.
The blazing guns suddenly went quiet as Daud sahib approached the scene of the squabble, and Santosh and Darpan were sent back inside the house to begin with. Daud sahib then turned towards Alauddin and asked him about the cause of the hullabaloo.
Alauddin narrated the whole incident, and said that he wanted Darpan to apologise for trespassing and insulting his guests, but was left stunned by what Daud sahib said next: “Your guests? My son, is there any difference between our guests and your guests? Aren’t they supposed to be the same? If you had an issue to settle, you could have waited till the morning and complained to me. I’m still here and as head of the family, would definitely have punished them.” It was a logical reply from a man who had seen the highs and lows of life.
Alauddin and Riaz Raju returned home with their heads hanging low as they had both come to the realisation that there was no logic behind calling out a fellow actor, friend and neighbour in the middle of the night for an issue which could have waited a few hours to be settled.
Alauddin did an even more sensible thing when he got up in the morning. He went to Santosh’s house and rang the bell this time. Daud sahib was reading the newspaper when Alauddin and Riaz Raju fell to their knees and asked for his forgiveness, which was granted. Daud sahib called Santosh and Darpan, who were asked to apologise to their neighbours for their behaviour. Later, Alauddin and his brother joined the Santosh family for breakfast and all was forgotten.
Santosh Kumar, at the peak of his career, used to urge filmmakers to cast Alauddin or Darpan in their movies, for roles better suited for himself. When the filmmaker complained that, without Santosh, no one would buy the film, he would appear as a guest artist. That way, new actors got a break, and the industry got better films. This happened till the late ’70s, when Sultan Rahi arrived on the scene.
A few days after the showdown at Model Town, the director of Neend, Hassan Tariq, decided to make a film called Shikwa. It was one of the few films co-written by Riaz Shahid and Ali Sufyan Afaqi. Tariq signed on Darpan as the hero, while Santosh was cast in a supporting role as Darpan’s character’s father. Alauddin was the judge who provided shelter to Sabiha Khanum and her son, when Santosh was sent to jail. Sabiha, Santosh Kumar’s wife in real life, played the role of her life in Shikwa which got her several Nigar awards that year.
The Hania Amir-Asim Azhar feud on social media may be attributed to immaturity, but a very senior actor Firdaus Jamal also had to face the wrath of social media users when he called actress Mahira Khan old. He was cancelled by a public that combined could never match the talent of Firdaus sahib.
The legendary actor had once even criticised the role of Bhola, portrayed brilliantly by Imran Ashraf Awan in Hum TV’s Ranjha Ranjha Kardi, and pointed out such roles had been attempted in the past as well. Sanity prevailed, however, and Imran Ashraf simply replied, ‘Had Firdous sahib done that role, he would have surely done it better than me’.
Needless to say, grace goes a long way in defusing storms in a teacup.
Published in Dawn, ICON, August 8th, 2021