How migration triggered by the Partition influenced Indian cinema

A Pakistani academic settled in Stockholm recalls the post-Partition exodus from Pakistan and reverse migration from India of filmmakers in a book on Indian cinema

How migration triggered by the Partition influenced Indian cinema

Humra Quraishi

When a book on undivided Punjab’s contribution to Indian cinema lands on your table days before the Independence Day, curiosity does get the better of you. When it is written by a Pakistani academic settled in Stockholm in Sweden, it goads you to turn the pages. I am glad I did.

Born in February 1947, Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed has a PhD in Political Science from Stockholm University and is a Professor Emeritus there. But films, he confesses, were his first love.

“For us who grew up in Lahore in the 1950s and 1960s, the greatest joy and entertainment was to save enough pocket money to go and watch a film in one of Lahore’s film theatres… As a teenager I was so infatuated with a girl in our neighborhood that I did not do well in my exams. My father wrote a nasty letter to my mother, who lived in Karachi (my parents divorced in 1950 when I was only three and that scar has never really healed) blaming my poor results for listening to Radio Ceylon instead of doing my homework.”

His academic career revolved round the stark and harsh realities associated with politics, power, democracy and dictatorship. While such concerns would seem far removed from cinema, they were not quite so, he writes before delving into the Partition and its impact on the film industry.

“Beautiful Punjabi men and women headed towards Bombay and Calcutta, because the Lahore film industry had limited capital and essentially produced Punjabi language films which had limited outreach. Villains, character actors, comedians, bit actors, storywriters, scriptwriters, song writers, music directors, producers, film makers, studio owners--- headed towards Bombay and Calcutta….The advantage they enjoyed over others was their Urdu- Hindi ( Hindustani) language skill.”

The rioting in 1947 set in motion irreversiblemigration. BR Chopra and IS Johar were planning major films in Lahore but had to run for their lives. Ramanand Sagar left in July, so did Gulshan Rai. Comedian actor Om Prakash (of Fateh Din fame, an alltime favourite skit by Radio Lahore) comedian bad-man Jeevan and many others also left Lahore for Bombay. Poet Sahir Ludhianvi (Abdul Hai Fazl Mohammad) left Lahore for India.”

author Ishtiaq Ahmed
author Ishtiaq Ahmed

OP Nayyar recorded his immortal song ‘Preetam aan milo/ dukhia jiya bulaye...’ at His Master’s Voice studio in Lahore. He left Lahore in 1948 when it became clear that people with the wrong religion were not going to return to their home on either side of the Punjab.

Writer Rajinder Singh Bedi escaped, sitting on top of a railway carriage. Songwriter Naqsh Lyallpuri began his literary career in Lahore as a journalist but had to leave. Punjabi singers, sisters Surinder Kaur and Prakash Kaur besides Pushpa Hans also left. Music director Sardul Singh Kwatra was bewitched by a Muslim woman he loved, but had to leave for India at the time of Partition…”

The author does not miss out detailing the migration which took place in the other direction and the mixed marriages which posed challenges. Raj Kapoor’s mama (maternal uncle) married a Muslim, converted to Islam and stayed back in Lahore, he points out.

“Nazir and his wife Swaran Lata, Noor Jahan and her husband Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, character artist Alauddin and many others headed for Lahore from Mumbai. Manto left Mumbai in 1948; music directors Ghulam Haider and Khurshid Anwar followed some years later, and director M Sajid in 1969 or 1970. Meena Shorey, Khurshid and Mumtaz Shanti also migrated to Lahore …”

While Nazir shifted to Lahore, his nephew K Asif stayed on in Bombay. Kardar stayed on but his brother Nusrat Kardar and son Rauf Kardar returned to Lahore. While Suraiya, her mother and grandmother settled in Bombay, many of her other relatives shifted to Lahore …”.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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