By Sonya Rehman
If you’ve lived in Lahore long enough, you’ll know who Mian Yousaf Salahuddin is. Commonly known as Yousaf Salli, Salahuddin is perhaps best known for his quaint haveli in the Old City, Haveli Barood Khana, which has seen political figures, journalists, writers, local and foreign celebrities; popular TV and movie personalities, singers, models and others – in the public spotlight – frequenting its space over the years.
The haveli’s popularity and recognition also stems from the fact that it has been used as a set for televised interviews, drama serials, music video shoots, parties, evening gigs, and so on. But Salahuddin is not just known within the city (and outside) as an immense supporter of the arts, in addition to being a socialite; he is also known as the grandson of Allama Muhammad Iqbal – the celebrated scholar and poet of the subcontinent.
Currently in the midst of shooting an adapted version of Waris Shah’s ‘Heer Ranjha’ for PTV, Salahuddin speaks earnestly about his project. Standing as the drama serial’s Head of Project and Executive Producer, Salahuddin states that the project has been a labour of love for both himself and his team. Everything from the cast’s apparel and jewelry to the shoot locations – the team has striven hard to make the drama serial as accurate and as authentic as possible.
Having roped in a Bollywood great such as Naseeruddin Shah to be a part of the serial vis-à-vis the drama’s voice-overs, Salahuddin couldn’t have picked a better artist. On his iPhone he plays a small clip of Shah’s voice-over: it is rich, the timber of Shah’s voice sets the pace for the story that is to unfold.
Salahuddin emphasizes the importance of having a strong soundtrack for the serial too – and interestingly, he has collaborated with well-known Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Sahir Ali Bagga for the drama’s music score.
Seated in a room within his haveli, Salahuddin turns up the volume of his TV set several notches high, as he begins showing me a few recorded songs from the musical drama.
One song, in particular, is beautiful – everything from the visuals to the song’s composition and arrangement. Featuring a new, cute-as-a-button actress (who plays the role of Heer in the production); the song depicts an open field, thick, leafy trees, fresh mangoes, colourful dupattas, light dancing and Eastern eyes.
“We need to be more original,” says Salahuddin in relation to the banal, unoriginal fluff that the country’s media industry currently seems to be spewing out. “We had a program like Begum Nawazish Ali for instance; it was one of the biggest hits in television in Pakistan. The [talk] show wasn’t influenced by any other program. I always thought it was absolutely brilliant.”
“I don’t think copying the West makes one any classier,” states Salahuddin regarding local culture and where it stands.
Citing the example of India, he mentions that culture has fast-faded across the border. However, Pakistan isn’t very far behind either. Stating that his current production, just as his past projects, is a step in the direction of keeping alive local culture, Salahuddin reveals that he plans to produce a serial on his grandfather – Iqbal in the near future.
“If there’s one particular belief of Iqbal’s that I Identify with, it is the belief of the self, where a man is judged not by his background or lineage, but by what he achieves in life. I’ve always admired an individual’s personal achievement,” states Jalal Salahuddin, Salahuddin’s eldest son who runs the event management company, J&S in Lahore.
Sohail Salahuddin, the youngest, after Salahuddin’s daughter – Fatima Salahuddin – states that his family “instilled simple, Sufic beliefs” into their everyday lives, and that growing up, humility and perseverance were virtues stressed at home. “Iqbal’s legacy lives not only through us, but through every Pakistani who holds these ideals dear to them.”
Speaking about his grandfather, Salahuddin says that Iqbal’s message “is for the youth,” and that Iqbal stressed proactivity for the youth “of the entire subcontinent.”
“What we need to do is to make our younger generation understand their roots; we have a very, very rich culture.”
“I’m extremely hopeful about the future of art and culture in Pakistan,” Salahuddin states while comparing both India and Pakistan’s standing vis-à-vis the promotion of the arts. “If you look at India today, Bollywood is the face of the country. I agree that in Pakistan we don’t yet have a film industry like Bollywood, still, I do see an increase in the promotion of local television shows which promote our heritage and culture.”
Salahuddin believes that television programs such as ‘Coke Studio’ and his own show, ‘Heritage Revived’ (broadcast on PTV), are aiding in “taking the country’s heritage forward.”
“Our heritage will survive with programs such as these,” he says, “I’ve noticed quite a few local channels these days are focusing on traditional, Pakistani music. Thank God we have PTV – the channel truly adheres to encouraging our old tradition and heritage.”
With his current undertaking, adapting the tragic, romantic story of ‘Heer Ranjha’ for local audiences, Salahuddin seems to be moving in the right direction as far as the endorsement of Pakistani art and culture is concerned. And while Bollywood has had, and is continuing to have a great impact on Pakistan’s entertainment industry – diluting it in the process – one hopes that those closely associated with the arts in the country, continue funding, supporting and producing works which aid in retaining Pakistan’s heritage for the current and future generations to enjoy, and never lose sight of.