It was June 3, 1954 and Eid-ul-Fitr was being observed throughout Pakistan. Fans were queuing at cinema houses for a first glimpse of the film Sassi, which was premiering that day.
It was the eighth Eid since the independence of the country and the country’s film industry was still in its nascent stage, with only a few movies managing to achieve the Silver Jubilee status — running for 25 weeks in the cinemas. Any releases on Eid — big or small — were considered big draws and attracted good revenue at the time.
The Urdu film Sassi went on to become the country’s first Golden Jubilee film — running for 50 weeks in theatres — and since then all changed for the good. Since Independence, distributors in Pakistan had been releasing Indian films and earning well, but an ‘indigenous’ film was required to provide a solid base for future productions of the industry.
With burnt-down studios, a handful of cinemas and absolutely no technical support at the time of Independence, filmmaking was a tough job. There was little chance of recovering whatever amount was spent on making films and actors often worked for the sake of fame rather than money.
In the early post-Independence days, when many illustrious filmmakers considered Pakistan unfit for filmmaking, it was son of the soil J.C. Anand who refused to migrate and established the infrastructure of what went on to become a booming Pakistani film industry
With Sassi, however, a new dawn broke and veteran film director Daud Chand was behind the big-budgeted Sudhir-Sabiha Khanum starrer. Based on the Sindhi-Balochi folklore of Sassi Punhu, it was a remake of Indra MoviTone’s Sassi Pannu (1938), also directed by Daud Chand. In order to make sure the film got completed smoothly, he required some financial support, which was provided by Jagdesh Chandra Anand, ‘the guardian angel’ of the nascent film industry.
In days when Muslim directors such as Mehboob and A.R. Kardar visited Pakistan and deemed the industry ‘unfit’ for filmmaking, and filmmakers of the Hindu faith had opted for India, it was J.C. Anand who stayed back and decided to establish the infrastructure required.
Born in Karachi in 1922 in a family hailing from Bhera, a town in Sargodha district, J.C. started out as a third-party distributor in his early 20s. Later, he went on to become one of the most influential figures of Pakistan’s budding film industry.
His earliest solo independent distribution venture was the film Gaon Ki Gori (1945) starring Noor Jehan, after which he formed his own production company. The phenomenal success of Gaon Ki Gori was instrumental in the formation of what went on to become Eveready Pictures, and the business boomed after Partition.
Anand became a renowned distributor/financier in a few years and Ashok Kumar’s Mahal (1949), Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat (1949), Aawara (1951) and Baiju Bawara (1952) were released by Eveready Pictures in Pakistan.
After the smashing success of Sassi, the first locally made Golden Jubilee hit, Eveready came up with the Punjabi film Heer (1955) — directed by Nazir and the first Punjabi film produced in Karachi — and the Urdu film Hatim (1956), directed by Daud Chand.
J.C. also invited filmmaker Roop K Shorey, formerly part of the pre-Partition Lahore industry, to make Miss 56 with his wife Meena Shorey signed on to play the title role. Despite being written by India’s famous filmmaker/comedian I.S. Johar, the film was not a success. The adulation Meena received in her late 30s allowed her to stay back and succeed in later films as an actress.
Darpan (real name: Syed Ishrat Abbas) was the brother of the then reigning superstar of Pakistani films Santosh Kumar (real name: Syed Musa Abbas Raza). He tried his luck in Bombay as an actor in the early ’50s after working as a lead in some films in Pakistan. Unable to establish himself there, he returned to Lahore and caught the eye of J.C. Anand.
Darpan was signed for his upcoming film Noor-i-Islam (1957) and the rest is history. Saathi (1959), Saheli (1960), Gulfaam (1961), Qaidi (1962) and Baaji (1963) were all hits, and Darpan became a mega-star and remained so until Muhammad Ali, Waheed Murad and Nadeem appeared on the film horizon.
J.C. Anand’s Eveready Pictures and producer/distributor Agha G.A. Gul’s Evernew Pictures were considered tough rivals in those days. The healthy rivalry resulted in good films that even drove the raising of fees of the actors.
At the time J.C. Anand was producing Ishq-i-Laila with Sabiha Khanum and Santosh Kumar in the lead, another film was being made with the same theme. Producer and director Anwar Kamal Pasha, a legend in his own right, was making Laila Majnun with Bahar and Aslam Pervaiz, backed by Evernew.
Fresh after the success of Pasha’s Chann Mahi, both newcomers Bahar and Aslam Pervaiz were pitted against the best. Safdar Hussain was taking care of the music department of Laila Majnun while his uncle, Rasheed Attre, was handling the music of Ishq-i-Laila.
J.C. Anand paid a hefty amount to the lead pair and made sure they stayed at his beck and call — the only way Ishq-i-Laila could be completed before time. Both films were released on April 12, 1957, and Ishq-i-Laila won the duel.
By the early ’60s, J.C. Anand had turned full-time distributor. At that time, the Pakistan film industry was standing firmly on its feet and enjoying its golden era. When the 1965 war put an end to the screening of Indian films, J.C. decided to import talent from India. Akbar ‘Akku’, director of many B-grade films and S.T. Zaidi, assistant to K. Asif during the production of Mughal-i-Azam, relocated to Pakistan and started to churn out hits.
Producer Shabab Kiranvi had the biggest production house, tying up over 50 films with Eveready after receiving J.C.’s blessings, and the father-son duo of director S.M. Yousuf and director Iqbal Yousuf also remained deeply indebted to Eveready for having their back.
S.M. Yousuf, an established director in India during the ’50s, moved here and made several films in Pakistan, beginning with Saheli (1960). It was in Yousuf’s Aulad (1962) that Waheed Murad was first introduced as an actor. Iqbal Yousuf’s Zamana Kya Kahega (1961) was also released by Eveready. Fazl Karim Fazli’s Aisa Bhi Hota Hai, 1965’s runaway success, was also under Eveready’s banner.
J.C. also ‘ghost’-produced many movies — Aadil (1966), Aag (1967) and Jaisay Jaantay Nahin (1969) to name a few. Actor Mohammad Ali was credited as the producer of these films but it was J.C. who took care of the films’ finances.
J.C. Anand never delayed in making decisions and stood by them till the end. The rights of Ajay Kardar’s Qasam Uss Waqt Ki (1969) were bought for one million rupees, an amount with which one could buy an entire cinema then. Instead of getting a full-length film, however, J.C. got a documentary and his spent amount was never recovered. His son Satish Anand recalls that he used to laugh that a chair in his office was not a ‘rocking’ chair but, rather, a ‘shocking’ chair.
Famous poet Nakhshab made two films Fanoos (1963) and Mai Khana (1964) and the songs of Mai Khana were relayed from Radio Ceylon. The songs became a rage but, on release, the film flopped. Music director Nashad came over to compose for his guru Nakhshab. When no one paid heed to the efforts of East Pakistan productions, J.C. used his Dhaka connections (he had offices in both Dhaka and Lahore but carried out his operations from the Karachi headquarters) and bought many Urdu films made there.
However, in 1971, with the loss of East Pakistan, Eveready Pictures went into dire straits. “Many films were ready for release but the offices had to be closed due to the fast-changing political situation,” Satish remembers.
Nevertheless, Eveready Pictures gathered all its strength and supported the available talent. It turned journalist-turned-scriptwriter Ali Sufyan Afaqi into a director with Aas (1973) and also got hold of director Hassan Tariq, who was then riding the wave of success with Anjuman (1970) and Tehzeeb (1971). The collaboration resulted in movies such as Umrao Jan Ada (1972) and Ek Gunah Aur Sahi (1975).
“All movies by S.M. Yousuf were released by Eveready, such as Saheli, Aulad, Aashiyana, Eid Mubarak and even Honehaar starring latter-day TV actor Shakeel and Waheed Murad. Kohinoor Cinema opened with Honehaar, which sank without a trace at the box-office,” Satish laments.
J.C. Anand died in 1977 as a result of a sudden and fatal heart attack. Soon after his death, Satish Anand took over the reins of Eveready. Even in the face of Gen Ziaul Haq’s ‘Islamisation’ drive and the ‘VCR invasion’, Eveready stood up and continued from where J.C. Anand had left off.
With Nadeem and Shabnam’s Qurbani (1981), the industry got a life that was further enhanced by frequent joint co-productions. Eveready ventured into TV productions by the late ’90s and survived. When the industry hit rock-bottom in 2004-05, Eveready helped bring across the first Indian film to Pakistan cinemas since the 1960s, Taj Mahal (2006). Later, the first Bollywood film that released simultaneously in India and Pakistan, Goal, was also due to Eveready Pictures’ efforts.
J.C. Anand would have been proud.
Published in Dawn, ICON, July 31st, 2022