Just along the canal before Lalyani in the rustic environs of Kasur district, Punjabi historian and scholar Iqbal Qaiser has set up a museum to celebrate the history of Punjabi cinema of Lahore and its contribution, once the centre of undivided Punjab, to film making.

The museum established in Punjabi Khoj Garh, a library and research centre, showcases posters, pictures and books on Punjabi films, especially the earliest ones and those having deep connections with Lahore. They are not just posters but pictorial history of films and actors, enticing the viewers to explore stories behind the images. It has been named Punjabi Film Pictorial Museum.

“Ishq-e-Punjab aka Mirza Sahiban, was the first Punjabi talkie. It was released in 1935 at Niranjan Talkies in the Bhati Gate but it did not run more than a couple of days because of poor sound quality and bad sound recording. It was filmed in Bombay (now Mumbai) and launched Khursheed Bano, who was born in Chunian, district Kasur,” says Iqbal Qaiser.

Khursheed acted in about 40 films, both silent and talkies, in the 1930s and the 1940s mostly in Bombay before her migration to Pakistan. She sacrificed her film career for Pakistan where she did not do much work and acted only in two films.

According to cinemaazi.com, a website of Indian Cinema Heritage Foundation, the Hindmata Cinatone, Bombay had opened its office in Lahore to make the Ishq-e-Punjab, the first feature film in Punjabi. The entire cast was taken from Punjab. The film was shot in all major towns of Punjab like Amritsar, Lahore, Gujranwala, Jhang and Gurdaspur capturing the natural beauty and culture of Greater Punjab. It took two years for the film to complete with heavy expenditure.

Iqbal Qaiser says Shiela aka Pind Di Kurri (1937) is considered the first Punjabi film as it ran in cinemas for the whole week. It was produced in Calcutta (now Kolkota). Two sisters from Kasur, Noor Jehan and her elder sister, Haider Bandi, worked in this movie. It was her first film and she sang first song of her life Langh Aa Ja Pattan Chanhaan Da Yar in it. Due to contribution of three women from Kasur in laying down the foundation of Punjabi cinema, Qaiser decided to set up the first museum of the Punjabi film of the world in Kasur.

The first Punjabi talkie produced in Lahore was Gul Bakavli (1939) by the Pancholi Pictures that had a studio in Muslim Town.

“Most of our first films were based on folk dastaans and romances like Ishq-e-Punjab Mirza Sahiban (1935), Heer Sayal (1938), Sehti Murad (1941), Laila Majnu (1940), Jagga (1940), Dulla Bhatti alias Anhi Jawani (1940) and Gul Baloch (1944). The reason was that before being filmed, all these stories used to be played in public theatres in Punjab and plots and dialogues were already available.”

Before them it was the era of silent movies. The first silent movie in Lahore was made in 1918.

The museum houses posters of all 35 Punjabi films produced before the Partition of India in 1947 and posters of about 300 films produced after 1947.

Iqbal Qaiser has collected some of the film posters of old Punjab films from collectors of Lahore. However, his main source is from India, a journalist, film historian and actor Mandeep Singh Sidhu.

“Sidhu published a book, Punjabi Cinema Da Sachittar Ittehaas, (The Illustrated History of Punjabi Cinema) in Gurmukhi. The posters are a part of the book. Some of the posters were collected by me. Some posters were collected by him. Main source of the posters being displayed in the museum are from Mandeep who got some posters from Kolkota and Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.”

Qaiser claims to have gathered the whole history of Punjabi films from Bombay, Calcutta and Lahore here at one place.

The museum has Punjabi film posters, especially rare ones, pictures of actors and books on Punjabi films, including those published in India and elsewhere. The book collection includes All India Film Directory, published in 1940, and Filmdom, Who is Who (1946), both published from Lahore.

The museum was launched on March 29, 2021 to commemorate the day first Punjabi film was released (March 28, 1935).

Iqbal Qaiser is himself working on the history of cinema in Lahore. He says whatever has already been written on films from Lahore starts from 1947 as if nothing existed before it.

“We have wiped out the history before 1947 and that part is considered a forbidden fruit. I started tracing history from 1918 from silent films until 2000.” The manuscript of this book is ready.

Another project he is working on is compilation of an encyclopedia of the Punjabi language films from across the world, including those from Pakistan, India, Canada and England. It includes the actors and other artistes who worked in the films. The encyclopedia has three portions, first of those who were non-Punjabis but they worked in Punjabi movies, the second portion is of those Punjabis who worked in Punjabi films while the third part consists of the people who were Punjabis but they worked in other cinemas, not Punjabi movies but Hindi and Urdu.

Qaiser says Lahore was once the centre of film making and it had many studios. Films in many languages were produced in its studios, including Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Pashto and Sindhi.

The Daughter of Today of A.R. (Abdur Rasheed) Kardar and his friend M. Ismail was the first film made in Lahore in 1928. There are three people on whose support the film industry of Lahore stood, i e A.R. Kardar, M Ismail (both friends from Bhati Gate area) and G.K. Mehta.

According to Iqbal Qaiser, Himansrai, one of the founders of Bombay Talkies, made the first silent film in Lahore, The Light of Asia (Prem Sanyas) based on a poem by Edwin Arnold on the life of Buddha. The first studio was made along the Bradlaugh Hall by erecting makeshift walls and Iqbal Qaiser considers it the first Punjabi Studio. Film making at Bradlaugh Hall has been mentioned in Lahore Number of literary journal Naqoosh also.

Iqbal Qaiser thinks that the downfall of Lahore film industry started with the protests of actors and artistes against the screening of Dev Anand-starrer Jaal in 1952. The film was made by Guru Dutt. The protests in Lahore were led among others by Noor Jehan, her husband Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, M Ismail and Santosh Kumar. The government used force against the protest and arrested the protesting artistes, only to later give in to their demands. After this episode the import of Indian films, at least in West Pakistan, started dwindling. It showed the insecurity of Lahore artistes and their lack of will to compete the film making in India.

The Punjabi film poster museum takes the viewers on a journey into the forgotten past of the Punjabi films and history of Lahore’s cinema.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2021

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