Intiqam ki Aag
Only Film Made in Quetta
It is often said that Balochistan is the heart of Pakistan and Quetta, the provincial capital, is its heart. And the heart of Quetta, a busy marketplace and the most famous business center of the city is Liaquat Bazaar which remains thronged not only by the citizens of Quetta but also tourists coming here from outside as everything they like is available here. In this very Liaquat Bazaar, there once was a general store, named Khan General Store, which served customers till 1970s. This Store was owned by Abdul Razzaq Khan. Although Mr Khan was a shopkeeper, yet beating in his chest was the heart of an artist. And his inner artist kept inveigling him to make a film. Finally, he surrendered to his inner voice and started thinking seriously about making a film. He gathered, and consulted with, his like-minded friends who all agreed to join hands to turn Mr Khan’s dream into reality. They were in unison to decide that although it would be an unprecedented venture in the history of Quetta, yet the risk is worth taking.
Since there must be a story to make a movie, they decided to depict the life of a great freedom fighter from Zhob area: Sher Jan Kakar who fought the British colonialists. He was as disquieted as all the people who abhorred the British in their area. It was 8-10 years before the independence of Pakistan that he, overcome by his resolve to get freedom from the British, killed the Political Agent of Fort Sandeman (also known as Zhob Fort), Major Barnes, and went into hiding. However, as often happens in such cases, some insider informed the authorities about his location and he was arrested and was hanged in the notorious Machh Jail after brief legal proceedings. He killed Major Barnes on October 4, 1940, and was hanged on December 8, 1941. The story of Sher Jan Kakar’s bravery and valour is not only etched in history but also in Pashto literature. It is believed that when he was asked to make his last wish before being sent to the gallows, Sher Jan, with great raffishness and bravery, told that he wanted to smoke a cigarette.
Abdul Razzaq Khan decided to make the story of Sher Jan Kakar the subject of his film and, for it, he suggested the title “Inteqam Ki Aag” (Fire of Revenge/vengeance). After that, Mr Khan contacted Balochistan’s revered poet, critic, playwright, researcher and intellectual, Ata Shad, who is, indubitably, the pride of Balochistan – he had started his career with Radio Pakistan Quetta – and requested him to pen the songs for this film. Since Ata Shad had rich experience of writing plays for radio and television, he was well aware of the ups and downs of a story. It can be inferred that the story of Sher Jan was given to Mr Shad after necessary dramatization.
The next step was to select the music composer. At that time, an old friend of Mr Khan, Khudai Rahim, who was a very good musician and singer, was roped in for that purpose – Khudai Rahim used to be Pareshan Rahim Pareshan, though he changed his pseudonym later to Rahim Khushhal. He composed the songs and also gave the background score. The next stage was to hire a cameraman who would shoot the film. The problem was that there were no people in Quetta who had experience in this field. Abdul Razzaq Khan was himself a businessman and had no experience of filmmaking. Khudai Rahim had expertise in music only. But shooting was an altogether different department. For this purpose, a person nicknamed ‘Mama’, an employee in the Agriculture Department and a still photographer, was engaged. He agreed to perform this formidable task. Similarly, Mr Khan met another gentleman Saeed Qureshi, who was associated with the American Center, and persuaded him to shoot the film.
Now let’s have a look at the artists who were all new and, save one or two of them, none had prior experience in acting. Some people were unfamiliar with microphone, and some with camera. So, this was, in fact, a first opportunity for all. Abdul Razzaq Khan invited all people in his circle of friends to be the actors in the film. There were two female characters in it and to play their roles, two women were called in from Lahore. This is how the making of the very first film in Quetta got underway – with almost no paraphernalia and meagre resource.
The people involved in, and/or associated with, this film had some memories of this great venture, though they have faded with the passage of time. However, after persistent persuasion by the author, some of them refreshed their memories and shared their thoughts which are being presented hereunder:
1. Aftab Khawaja (The Colonel in the film)
I was running a shop in Liaquat Bazaar and Abdul Razzaq Khan Sahib’s general store was 8-10 shops away from mine. When I came to know that he was making a film, I was a bit surprised as it seemed strange that a shopkeeper would make a film and that too while sitting in Quetta. One day, Kahn Sahib came to my shop and said, “Aftab Bhai, I am making a film. Please work with me.” I replied, “Dear, I have no experience in this field. Although I have been working on stage and with radio, I have no experience in film.” He told me in a firm voice that everything will be sorted out. He asked me to join him on the coming Friday. When I asked about my role, he said that it was one of a colonel of British army. So I agreed. We went to Bolan Hotel on Friday where two rooms were already booked. There, I was given a well-decorated military uniform. They were of some foreign soldiers and were bought from scrap. A sola hat to be worn as headgear was also a part of the uniform. I had an old sweater which was of black colour. We combed it and pasted military decorations with the help of glue. It was there that we shot our first scene in the direction of Abdul Razzaq Khan.
There was no regular script to be followed rather Mr Khan would tell us the words of the dialogue and we were to utter those. Although we faced some problems in the beginning, yet everything smoothened later on. A camcorder of 8mm, which was often used in wedding videography, was used to record the shots. It was installed on a tripod with Saeed Qureshi and his brother behind who would record the scenes. Light stands were also used. Since shooting a movie with such a camera was almost impossible, I wondered how the project would complete as it had a very thin film. However, Mr Khan told that he would blow it up to 35mm later – and he actually did that – but he had to travel to Lahore or perhaps Karachi for that purpose. It was indeed a formidable achievement, and to me a first in Pakistan. Nevertheless, blow-up made a difference by improving the result of dubbing. Two women called in from Lahore to play the female characters were paid for their work; the rest of the cast worked voluntarily and free of cost. People were happy and were
feeling proud that at least there would be a film made in Quetta.
Saeed Qureshi, the Cameraman
I would often meet Khan Sahib at his general store while sometimes he would visit the American Center. Since he knew that I was fond of photography, he told me that he wanted to make a film and asked me for help. I told him that I had no experience in cinematography; however, I had taken a bit of training in making videos and also had some idea from my work at the American Center. So, I will do whatever I can. The film was shot entirely on a 16mm camera and I helped him with the editing. I had a small editing machine at the American Center, but it took a lot of time. Secondly, I didn’t have much time to do the editing. Khan Sahib intended to go to Karachi to get the film edited. He went there and the film was finally ready.
Two actresses of this film – Noreen and Chanda – came from Lahore. Noreen was the heroine. The film had in all four songs – three were sung by Nighat Seema and the fourth was in the voice of Nashanas. I personally recorded Seema’s songs at the auditorium of the American Center with the help of two microphones I had at that time. Although we faced difficulties as one microphone was for the singer while the other one was for all musicians, yet, by the grace of the Almighty, we successfully completed the task.
To the dismay of all, the film, however, failed to get considerable public response. Abdul Razzaq Khan must have been very disappointed because he had conceived, shot, edited and made the film with so much enthusiasm, with so much hope. But it could not get a good response. Khan Sahib’s efforts were not well received. But if you look at the other side, it were the people of Quetta who watched the movie. They had waited long for this moment and had very high expectations. They were very eager and were expecting a great movie; after all, a local boy was its hero, a local boy was its producer and director. It was actually the inexperience that cost Khan Sahib his dream as the film failed to make a mark on the silver screen.
Another thing I noticed is that you don’t find any mention of this movie in any of the movie directories, on movie-statistics websites or in organizations that collect such data. None of them ever mentioned this film. Why? That was also a big question. I tried on my own to find out the reason why no one bothered to register and acknowledge that one film was made in Quetta. One thing that comes to my mind as a possible answer to this critical questions is that although Khan Sahib did everything – from conceiving the idea to completing the film – he forgot to present it before the Censor Board so as to get a certificate that was necessary for registration because those who prepare and update film directories certainly maintain those according to the details they receive from the Censor Board. Since “Inteqam Ki Aag” was not approved by the Censor Board, it was not released and that is why there is no mention of this film. A little information that you may have about is that people have in their memories. In future, perhaps even these memories will fade away. Even the print is just a piece of trash now as it is too worn out to be screened. What is left is its music. Three of its four songs were sung by Nighat Seema who belonged to then-East Pakistan and was an artist with Radio Pakistan Karachi. She sang 50-60 songs for movies. The fourth song was in the voice of Nashanas an unknown Afghan singer who sang very well in Persian and Pashto. She is very popular among the people who know and understand Pashto and Persian. Khan Sahib had pragmatically planned to get a song sung by Nashanas as he knew that it will win the film success and would also make him popular. He undertook an arduous journey to Afghanistan to record the song. Although the film was made with very scant resources, due to which actors could not be trained and even Khan Sahib had no experience in the field, he continued to work passionately to achieve his dream. Another reason for the failure of this film was that it was screened in only two cinema houses in Quetta. Moreover, it was released on 03 December 1971, the month that has horrific memories for the Pakistanis as only days after the release of the film, the tragedy of Pakistan’s dismemberment struck.
Dr Tameezuddin, a critic of film and music
All the songs of “Inteqam Ki Aag” are preserved in my audio library. The film was released in two cinemas: Regal and Delight. The first show attracted a huge number of people and many more were eagerly waiting to watch it. In the first show, the director of the film Abdul Razzaq Khan was himself present in Regal Cinema. The film was created with very limited resources and in unfavourable circumstances. Although there were technical flaws in that, it would be unfair to not appreciate the film because it is to the credit of the people who put in extreme hard work and dedication to bring this project to fruition.
It would, indeed, be sheer injustice if we do not appreciate and applaud the people who made the first and, till today, the last Urdu feature film of Quetta with limited resources and in unfavourable conditions. This great effort should have been applauded and appreciated but it is never too late; some people associated with this film, in one way or another, are still alive. We need to find them, appreciate and acknowledge their work by giving them certificates of appreciation, calling the relatives of those who are no longer with us and award them, especially to the family of Abdul Razzaq Khan, the brain behind this monumental project. Though it is only a gesture, even this small effort will inspire so many hidden gems in the land of Balochistan. Tanveer Iqbal Sahib has preserved an important part of the history of Quetta in a documentary, but only God knows how many unspoken facts about this unique city are present in the memories of the people. They need to be preserved. Save these memories before it is too late!
The writer can be contacted at: email@example.com