After Khamosh Raho (2011) and Chambaili (2013), veteran actor Ghulam Mohiuddin feels that it's the right time to make a comeback on the big screen.
“Ever since the release of quality films like Na Maloom Afraad, young filmmakers are interested in producing quality stuff that can take Bollywood head on,” he says. “As seniors, we must ensure that quality is preferred over quantity, otherwise the revival will be in vain.”
Popularly known as Gullu bhai in filmdom, Mohiuddin has seen the rise and fall of the film industry. He has the distinction of working with the greatest actors of the golden era of Pakistani cinema. Whenever the ’70s and the ’80s are mentioned, his name tops the list of lead actors. “When I started my career, Waheed Murad sahib, (Mohammad) Ali bhai and Nadeem sahib were right at the top.
"At first heroines refused to act with me as I was thin and tall, characteristics not considered ideal for a leading man,” he shares. “I am indebted to film star Shabnam for standing by me and agreeing to act opposite a newcomer, and we delivered hits like Moam Ki Gurya, Intekhab and Awaz to name a few. The rest of the leading ladies followed suit and from Rani to Mumtaz, Babra to Sangeeta, Neeli to Reema, I had the chance to work with all of them.”
Becoming Gullu Bhai
Although Mohiuddin has worked in over 400 films (both Urdu and Punjabi), he says acting was never his first love. He believes that had he not been a film actor, he would have been a cricketer.
“It was all cricket, cricket, cricket for me. There was a TV play being shot in our area (Nazimabad) in the early ’70s and I was witnessing the shoot as a bystander. The lead actor wasn’t able to deliver his lines despite repeated takes and I laughed out loud on his inability. The director asked me whether I thought acting was easy to which I replied that I could definitely do a better job. He placed me in front of the camera and I think I aced the audition because it has been over 44 years and I haven’t looked back since.”
"At first heroines refused to act with me as I was thin and tall, characteristics not considered ideal for a leading man. I am indebted to film star Shabnam for standing by me and agreeing to act opposite a newcomer. The rest of the leading ladies followed suit and from Rani to Mumtaz, Babra to Sangeeta, Neeli to Reema, I had the chance to work with all of them.”
Be it playback singer Ahmed Rushdi’s 'Har Larka Hota Hai Chaabi Ka Khilona' or Mehdi Hasan’s 'Chalo Yunhi Roothay Raho' (film: Shararat), 'Yeh Duniya Rahay Na Rahay Mere Hamdam' (film: Mera Naam Hai Mohabbat), A. Nayyar’s 'Karta Rahoon Ga Yaad Tujhe Mein' (film: Naqsh-i-Qadam), Ikhlaq Ahmed’s 'Filhaal Pyar Karne Ka Irada Nahi' or Alamgir’s 'Tum Meri Zindagi Ho' (film: Moam Ki Gurya), Tehseen Javed’s award-winning 'Kyon Tu Ne Mujhe' (film: Sar-Kata Insaan), Ghulam Abbas’ 'Itne Din Kay Baad Milay Ho' (film: Apne Huay Paraye), Asad Amanat Ali Khan’s 'Pyar Kay Sawaal Ka' (film: Intekhab) or Shoukat Ali’s 'Baal Khol Kay Maidan Vich Aayi' (film: Jeeva), Gullu bhai has had his fair share of hits where he danced, romanced and made these songs timeless.
However, he laments the quality of music being produced these days, which in his opinion could be much, much better. “I still remember most of the songs filmed in our days because they were composed from the heart. Nowadays, songs are money-making ventures with no regard for situations, choreography, audience taste etc. Back in our time, creating a song and then filming it was considered difficult since it required perfectionism, and that’s what music composers need to do now.”
Many successful film actors have tested the waters but besides a few, not many found the transition from films to television to their liking or taste. Was it the same for Mohiuddin who started his career on TV and married former TV actress Munawwar Sultana (of Khuda Ki Basti fame)? “TV was my first home. But I was lucky enough to get an early break in films. I quit films in the ’90s when our film-makers started making films on topics that weren’t part of our culture. They were the kind of films I wouldn’t have been comfortable watching with my family and friends. I chose to return to TV where things were much better due to private productions.”
Once a film actor, always a film actor
“Syed Noor’s Jeeva kick-started a brief revival of films in the ’90s, and I’m still very proud of my role of a Sikh in the film. Then when Shahzad Nawaz offered me work in his film Chambaili, I grabbed the chance as not only was the role pivotal to the story, the script was also worth taking a chance. Now, [my latest film is] Sawaal 700 Crore Dollar Ka where my son Ali Mohiuddin is also making his film debut as a lead actor. I’m also working once again with Javed Sheikh (over 20 films in 15 years) after 18 years. In it, I play a very interesting character which will surprise my fans. I’m also hopeful that my son, Ali, will carry our legacy forward in films.”
“‘I met Javed Akhtar sahib in Lahore, and he offered me a three-film deal in India. It was the time when the duo of Salim-Javed was looking for Amitabh Bachchan’s replacement as they had had a fallout with the ‘angry young man’. Who knows how things would have turned out had I said ‘yes’ to the offer!”
Experimenting with different looks has always been the calling card of the actor who played a Makrani man in Sangeeta’s Mahal Mere Sapnon Ka (1980), a Sikh in Geo Aur Jeenay Do (1976) and Jeeva (1995), and the dashing baddie of Javed Fazil’s Zid (1991).
“What good is an actor if he can’t change his appearance?” Ghulam Mohiuddin raises the argument. “When Sangeeta narrated the story of Mahal Mere Sapnon Ka, I asked her if I could darken my face and wear a wig to resemble a Makrani, and she agreed to it. I’m glad it turned out well because I accepted the role as a tribute to the locals of Karachi who don’t get much representation in our films."
"Then, in Zid, I played the anti-hero who wanted the heroine all to himself. The movie was inspired by the Hollywood film Revenge (Kevin Costner, Madeline Stowe), and I had to do replicate the great Anthony Quinn. I put on coloured contact lenses, combed my hair back and donned a moustache to play a local landlord. The effort paid off and my role in Zid garnered praises and the film won many awards that year.”
Then came the meeting with Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar in the early ’80s.
“‘I met Javed Akhtar sahib through Taslim Fazli in Lahore, and he offered me a three-film deal in India; the only thing I couldn’t agree to was shifting base to Bombay (now Mumbai) because I was working here extensively as well. Now that I think of it, it was the time when the duo of Salim-Javed was looking for Amitabh Bachchan’s replacement as they had had a fallout with the ‘angry young man’. Who knows how things would have turned out had I said ‘yes’ to the offer!”
The veteran performer returned to the big screen with the Eid-ul-Fitr release, Sawaal 700 Crore Dollar Ka, and has other projects lined up as well. “As a senior artist, I am open to film offers, provided the script is well-written and the characters are well-defined. It’s our duty to give back to this industry and make it great once again, even if it means doing roles that amount to guest appearances (Chambaili) or even those with shades of grey,” Gullu bhai says in his impressive voice.
Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 10th, 2016