Monday, December 1, 2008

Farewell, Pervez Malik

Ironically, just as I was finishing my article 'The Mystery Behind Waheed Murad', the man who might have known the most about that mystery was breathing his last.

Farewell, Pervez Malik

Filmmaker Pervez Malik died on November 18. It can't be the end of the story if we remember where it began.

lt began in the days when the Pakistani nation had newly earned its freedom — and that included the freedom to dream, 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 classfellow 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 Waheed and the other director, 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.

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.