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OBITUARY: Farewell, Pervez Malik

Published Nov 29, 2008 12:00am

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lt began in those days when the Pakistani nation had newly earned its freedom — and that included the freedom to dream, which is something which we seem to be forfeiting voluntarily these days. Pervez was nine years old when Pakistan was born. His family had a background in military service, but he got influenced by a class fellow whose father ran a film distribution business. His name was Waheed Murad.
Attending previews of Indian and Pakistani films, meeting celebrities from the national film industry and listening to them discussing the possibilities of success or failure of a new release, the two boys began to dream about making films with pertinent messages and thus bringing about a revolution of thought. They planned to study film-making in the US after graduation, but Waheed was the only child and his parents wouldn't let him go away for four years. So Pervez went alone while Waheed took admission in Karachi University to pursue his second highest passion, English Literature.
 
When Pervez returned four years later, he was perhaps the only professional with a Masters degree in film-making from California and who was willing to make a career in mainstream Pakistani cinema. Waheed had already produced two films under his own banner, Film Arts, but had not acted in them. He was about to appear in the lead role in the third, preparation for which was already complete and another director had been hired. Due to some differences which arose between him and Waheed, Pervez got to start his career with the film instead of waiting for the next venture. That film was Heera Aur Patthar (1964), which was followed by Armaan (1966) and Ehsaan (1967), all under the banner of Film Arts and with the same team (These three films have been discussed in detail in The Mystery behind Waheed Murad published in the November 23 issue of Images).
 
Pervez and Waheed began to branch out in slightly different directions after their third film together. While Waheed continued with the highly symbolic manner of storytelling, Pervez began to spell out his messages a bit more clearly. He directed 21 films over the next 25 years and almost always wrote his own screenplay. Almost always, these were parables about Pakistan.
 
A typical Pervez Malik film, a young man returns home to a mother from whom he ran away as a child. Since she doesn't know what he looks like, a fugitive sees the opportunity of impersonating him and tries to kill him by throwing him off a moving train. The heir survives but loses his memory. Following only a retarded instinct, he keeps moving and somehow reaches his native village where the villain is now living under a fake identity. Having lost his memory, the real heir is nothing more than a madman and even his mother fails to recognise him or give him shelter, while the only person who has a hunch about him is the old female fakir who is blind. While most among the younger generation might never have watched these films, they all no doubt familiar with the signature song of the fakir woman, Allah hi Allah kiya karo.... The film was poignantly called Pehchan (1975), and that is what it was really all about The young man was a personification of the educated, urban Pakistani who loves his motherland but has lost his memory and is no longer aware of his true “identity” (hence the film's title).
 
Unlike Waheed, whose messages never got “decoded” in his lifetime (perhaps for his own good), the patriotic undertone of Pervez's work was widely appreciated. Three of his films were declared exempt from entertainment tax and he also received the President's Pride of Performance award.
 
The 24 films  which he has left  us, most of  which were also  co-written by him,  are our collective  dreams captured  by the one most  qualified to do so.  We need to  interpret them, and we need to  do that soon,  because sometimes dreams also come true.
 
In the early days of the late General Ziaul Haq, when the nation was in doldrums on the question of impending elections, Pervez released a benign mixture of The Sound of Music and Jane Eyre, but quite symbolically named it Intikhab (1978). Since nobody expected a commercial film-maker in Pakistan to be too profound, the title was interpreted as referring to the boy 'choosing' the girl although, in Urdu, the word also means 'election'. Revisiting the film now, it is quite amusing to notice that the 'boy' in the film is a retired colonel who is being too strict with his numerous children while the 'girl' is a governess who never tires of reminding her dictatorial master “Colonel Saheb! You're retired now. You can't turn a home into a barrack. The children need love.” Obviously, this is a parable about Pakistan under military rule.
 
That's why the death of Pervez Malik can't be the end of the story. The 24 films which he has left us, most of which were also co-written by him, are our collective dreams captured by the one most qualified to do so. We need to interpret them, and we need to do that soon, because sometimes dreams also come true.
 
 A GENTLEMAN DIRECTOR
 
Pervez Malik had returned from the US after doing his Masters in the University of Southern California at Los Angeles about the same time as I had joined the country's most widely circulated English magazine Eastern Film in 1963 as assistant editor. We hit it off from the very beginning.
 
That was when Pervez had just finished directing Heera Aur Patthar, which his friend Waheed Murad had produced (it was Waheed's third production and first as a leading man) for Film Arts. It was also the first film to pair Waheed with the raging beauty of her period, Zeba. The film's script was written by Iqbal Rizvi, who also wanted to direct it, but with the availability of a trained and highly educated director Pervez Malik, with whom Waheed was on the same wavelength, there couldn't have been any one else to wield the megaphone, to use an expression common in those days. The film was commercially a hit and was refreshingly different from other movies that were being made in Karachi.
 
But the next venture with the same team, a movie called Armaan, was a much bigger success. It went on to score a diamond jubilee and did more business than any other Pakistani film. But success didn't go to Pervez Malik's head. A lesser person with two back to back mega hits would have become swollen-headed.
 
In 1966 when my office shifted from Haroon Chambers to Eastern Film Studios and I had taken over as the Editor of the magazine, I started to spend my spare time with him. His analyses of some of the classics, including the Russian film The Cranes Are Flying, which he ranked very high, were stimulating and thought-provoking. One could learn a lot from him about the theory and practice of cinema. The popular column in Eastern Film profiling men behind the screen (in those days women only appeared on the screen) called Men & Ideas, started with an interview of Pervez Malik.
 
One point which has remained embedded in my mind was a reference to film songs. “Don't they interrupt the flow of the story?” was the question to which he replied “A film song is an additional tool in the hands of a director,” he maintained. “If imaginatively filmed a song can enhance the effect of a scene,” he added and gave examples of Mehboob Khan's picturisation of songs in Andaz.
 
Pervez himself had been at his best when filming songs. In Heera Aur Patthar and Armaan the songs were innovatively picturised but he was still more creative when he filmed the songs of Doraha, a movie he co-produced with composer Sohail Rana. The songs were recorded in Lahore, where the recording facilities were better, but the movie was shot in Karachi, mainly at the Eastern Film Studios, where guests, local and foreign, were treated to the filmed versions of the songs. If asked to pick up three best picturised songs in Pakistani movies my vote would go to two of Pervez's songs, Akele na jana hamain chorr kar from Armaan and Haan issi morh per iss jaga baith kar tum ne wada kiya tha saath doge zindagi bhar from Doraha.

Pervez also had a flair for dramatic scenes and got the best out of his actors. One actor who had quite a wooden face became much more expressive when he was directed by one of the finest directors we ever had. He wrote the screenplay of his movies himself. When his first two movies became commercial successes, he bought a two-door convertible Chevrolet. He used to jot down the shot division while sitting in the driver's seat after parking his car in one remote corner of Eastern Film Studios. That was when he was to shoot at the studios. Normally, he parked the car close to the office of PM Productions.
 
His enthusiasm for work was infectious. It was not just his assistants who worked for him with a missionary zeal even the light boys on the catwalk were quite motivated when adjusting lights for a Pervez Malik film because Pervez was very kind to one and all. Even the humblest worker was at ease with him, something rare in an industry where success brought with it arrogance. Pervez took the initiative in wishing everyone, big or small, rich or poor, and that broke all barriers. He made everyone feel important.
 
In 1970 I left film journalism to join a multinational with the result that I could not see him as often as I wanted to. Sometime in the early seventies he left for Lahore, where he made movies which were applauded by all, the front-benchers and those who sat in the upper-most class, not to speak of the critics, who believed that popular films need not be pedestrians.
 
The last time I met Pervez was four years ago and that was in Islamabad where Pervez had settled down. It was good to see his charming wife and him in the company of his two sons Imran and Irfan with their wives and children. Pervez had switched over from directing films to making TV serials. His two sons were assisting him.
So, what went wrong? Why did Pervez disappear from the scene? Why did he turn down invitations from home and abroad to speak on the Pakistani cinema or on the art of film-making?
 
His son Irfan says that Pervez took his younger brother's death to heart. They were best of friends, but they parted when the brother died of cancer, barely a month after the dreaded disease was diagnosed. Pervez couldn't bear the loss. When his sons asked him why he didn't he direct a TV serial once again, he invariably replied “My innings is over, now it's your turn. Just leave me to myself.” They couldn't but he left them behind when the cardiac arrest that he had last week proved fatal.
 
Looking back, I feel that Pervez Malik was not just a great director but also a gentleman to the tips of his fingers. — Asif Noorani

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