Waheed Murad, Sultan Rahi, Mohammad Ali and Mustafa Qureshi – all contributed to Pakistani cinema extensively, entertaining generations with their craft.
By Sonya Rehman
The handsome poster boy of the swinging 60s and 70s, the blue-eyed boy of local cinema, Waheed Murad – dubbed as ‘Chocolate Hero’ – stands as one of the most iconic actors of his time. Every young boy wanted to be him, look like him, and dress like him, emulating his hairstyle and his swagger. From movies like ‘Armaan,’ ‘Doraha,’ ‘Andaleeb,’ ‘Insaniyaat,’ ‘Devar Bhabi,’ and more – Waheed went on to act in over 100 Pakistani productions, out of which he produced eleven movies of his own, of which four of the movie’s scripts were written by himself.
With his schooling from Karachi Grammar School, and an MA in English Literature from Karachi University, Waheed joined his father’s production company in the early 60s as a Producer. In 1962 Waheed made his first debut as an actor in the movie ‘Aulad,’ which received a Nigar Award for Best Film. After his debut, there was no stopping Waheed – he went on to act out numerous roles for movies which were instant hits at the box office. The actor was on a roll, riding the high tide of success. His star power was immense. His fan following grew two-fold. Waheed made a colossal impact on the Pakistani film industry – from the art of production, and music, to the art of acting – the superstar stands as a ‘hero’ of the film screen, prodding Pakistan’s future generation of actors and actresses to stretch their limits, experiment with their craft, and above all, to ‘act’ in the truest sense of the word.
On one of her shows in 2008, actress Bushra Ansari paid tribute to Waheed on his 25th death anniversary, reminiscing with her viewers about the actor, a “symbol” of the silver screen, whose acting was almost “effortless.” Bushra also stated that when one remembered Waheed, one couldn’t help but feel as if one was remembering someone who was deeply adored.
Bushra couldn’t have put it better. Perhaps the reason as to why Waheed is thought of with such sweet, pained nostalgia, is because the actor represented a period within the country when things were less complicated, the times were happier, more fulfilling – one felt far more complete. And while watching Waheed’s movies today, the magic of local cinema of the yesteryear is bound to make one wistful…that such a time truly did exist in a country such as Pakistan.
Sultan Rahi – the name needs no introduction. The brawny Punjabi actor of local cinema, Sultan acted in scores of movies (sources state well over 700), eventually leading him to become one of the most imminent actors of his time, in addition to standing as one of the most loved, admired and respected action ‘heroes’ of Pakistani cinema.
Given Sultan’s long-time love affair with cinema, and his tireless, endless work and contribution to local cinema – acting in hundreds of local productions – it is little wonder then; Sultan’s listing in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only Pakistani to have acted in such a vast number of feature films.
Starting out his career in theatre in the 50s, Sultan eventually made it to the big screen in 1959, with a small role in the film, ‘Baghi.’ But it was in the 70s, ironically, during Zia’s regime, that Sultan hit the jackpot with movies such as ‘Babul,’ ‘Basheera,’ ‘Wehshi Jutt,’ and more.
Today, Sultan’s Punjabi cult classic, ‘Maula Jutt,’ remains his most popular film to date – giving rise to the popularity of the ‘gandasa culture’ in the Pakistani film industry.
The gandasa culture in local movies became all the rage, because at the time, at the peak of Sultan’s career, General Zia-ul-Haq was on an Islamization rampage. Because of this, art and culture in Pakistan was severely affected due to strict censorship policies. This eventually led Pakistani filmmakers to produce movies with violence-driven plots on one hand (featuring a ‘hero’ protagonist, such as Sultan, smashing to smithereens the bad guys) and in-your-face sexual innuendos on the other hand, which were vulgar and distasteful at best.
The clean, puppy romance, depicted in Pakistani movies in the past was done away with thanks to Zia’s heavy-duty cultural suppression. But the masses loved the action-packed productions, oozing with buxom actresses and their suggestive dances. They soaked it all in. And that’s where Sultan’s popularity truly soared. The actor stood as visual opium for the shackled masses, the hero, and the saviour of the common man.
Having carved out an iconic ‘image’ for himself over the many years of his acting career, Sultan is remembered as one of the most hippest and coolest celebrities in Pakistani pop culture today.
Listed as one of ‘Asia’s 25 Greatest Actors of all Time’ in 2010 by CNNGo (CNN’s online portal for everything art, culture, travel and lifestyle in Asia) which states: “Mohammad Ali is immortalized as ‘The Emperor of Emotions’ and Pakistan’s greatest actor, starring in over 300 movies with prominent actors such as Shamim Ara. He played heroes and villains with equal ease, delivering passionate yet naturalistic performances.”
Hailed as one of the most legendary Pakistani actors of local cinema’s golden days, Mohammad Ali first entered the world of broadcast media in the 50s, when he joined Radio Pakistan’s Hyderabad radio station. From thereon, Mohammad moved to the station’s headquarters in Karachi.
But it was only in the early 60s, did Mohammad make this eventual entry into Pakistani cinema – making his debut as an actor in the movie ‘Chiragh Jalta Raha,’ where he played the role of a villain. From then on the actor starred in a number of local productions as both a hero and a villain – roles which proved his diversity as an actor, ultimately leading him to win numerous Best Actor awards for movies such as ‘Kaneez,’ ‘Aas,’ ‘Insaan Aur Aadmi,’ ‘Saiqa,’ and others.
He also received the prestigious ‘Pride of Performance’ award in the 80s – propelling his status even further, as one of the most esteemed actors that the country had to offer.
Interestingly, it was through the local film industry that Mohammad met his wife – the Pakistani actress, Zeba, on the set of the movie, ‘Tum Mile Pyaar Mila.’ The couple remained married till Mohammad’s death in 2006.
Mohammad is not only remembered for his gracious, almost maternal personality, who truly loved his work, but the actor is also revered for his brilliant flexibility as an artist, giving each of the character’s he played, a little extra something – the signature Mohammad Ali touch, wowing critics and audiences alike. His contribution to Pakistani cinema will never be forgotten.
Veteran actor Mustafa Qureshi is no small fry in the Pakistani film industry. Known primarily for his villain roles in Punjabi films, Mustafa’s career as an actor soared after his appearance in the movie, ‘Maula Jat’ in 1979 (opposite Sultan Rahi). However it must be stated that Mustafa’s movies prior to ‘Maula Jat,’ were hits too – such as the movie, ‘License,’ where Mustafa played the role of a hero. But with his bushy eyebrows, deep cleft in his chin, sharp eyes and deep voice – Mustafa continued to make the perfect villain for local cinema.
Given his Sindhi background, initially, the actor had to get the hang of Punjabi, since he had to move to Lahore from Hyderabad to work in the film industry as a full-time actor. Interestingly, Mustafa had no inclination towards becoming an actor – the thought had never crossed his mind. His career in showbiz seemed to have happened by default.
Prior to his entrance into the industry, Mustafa was working at Radio Pakistan in Hyderabad while also enrolled in a BA degree.
Due to the success of his first movie, while still in college (and working in radio), Mustafa continued to be cast in movies where he played the villain. But he took to it like a fish to water – and for the next 20 – 25 years, the actor was cast side by side with Sultan Rahi. Their on-screen chemistry worked extremely well; while Sultan acted in a larger-than-life boisterous fashion, with a high-pitched voice, Mustafa’s low-tone, sinister voice and acting worked well. They complemented each other as good cop and bad cop. While they remained true enemies on screen, in real life, both the actors nurtured a strong friendship and deep respect for one another.
In an old PTV interview, Mustafa had stated that both Sultan and himself had a great understanding of each other’s working style and that Sultan would address him as ‘Mucho Bhai,’ out of love and respect. At the peak of their careers, as stated by Mustafa during the interview, both the actors would work together for a good 18 hours a day. But it had paid off.
While Mustafa’s name will always be closely associated with Sultan’s – as the most well-known male actors in Punjabi cinema, Mustafa gave the villain of local cinema a ‘face’ with his brand of stellar acting and delivery.