Although every person who enters the film industry dreams of making it big, success often depends solely on opportunities and luck. There was a time when the Pakistan film industry had an abundance of great actors, singers and musicians, but not all went on to become legends. A successful career spanning decades in the film industry has been witnessed by only a handful few.
Pakistan’s film industry has seen its share of good-looking heroes, powerful villains and excellent comedians, and one person who excelled in all of the above categories was the legendary Alauddin. He could make audiences laugh and cry, and dance with his characters on screen. Another person who could steal the show and overshadow the lead actor at the same time was Agha Talish. Neither Alauddin nor Talish knew at the time they joined the film world that they would end up becoming legends, and the films, especially the ones they were in together, became timeless classics.
In 1940, 20-year-old Alauddin Butt reached Bombay to become a singer. He got a job at the All India Radio and learnt the basics of music from Allah Rakha Qureshi aka A.R. Qureshi (the world-renowned tabla player who is said to have introduced the music instrument to the West).
Alauddin made his debut in the film Prem Nagar (1942) as a chorus singer and a minor acting role (Naushad Ali turned independent music director for the first time with Prem Nagar). That same year, the famous director Abdul Rasheed Kardar set up Kardar Studios, and Kardar Productions became operational.
Starting out as struggling actors in the 1940s, both Alauddin and Agha Talish had become legends by the mid-’60s purely by chance. No film could taste success without at least one of them. And whenever Talish and Alauddin joined forces, exceptionally good films were the result
Hailing from Lahore, Kardar gave Alauddin a job, and it was in his next film, Kurmai, where the 22-year-old Alauddin rendered his first solo song (the film was also the debut of music director Khawaja Khurshid Anwar). Kardar’s next film, Pehle Aap (1944), saw Alauddin singing a chorus song with newcomer Muhammad Rafi and Shyam Kumar.
With Naushad, Khurshid Anwar and Rafi achieving success, Alauddin toiled on with a heavy heart. He did not know then that he was practising at the wrong pitch. Those were the days of World War II, and an undivided India was fighting someone else’s war. Alauddin was also fighting a personal war.
There was someone else who had arrived in Bombay to attain fame, and was still also in the struggling phase. Born in 1927 in Ludhiana, famous as the hometown of legendary poet Sahir Ludhianvi, Ali Abbas was looking for work. Having been expelled from the Indian Air Force after a fight with his instructor, he came over to Bombay without knowing what to do. The ‘Ludhiana’ card played its part and he was introduced to the famous short story writer Krishen Chander who was also venturing into film production.
Considered one of the pillars of the Progressive Writers Association, Krishen Chander had a positive influence on Ali Abbas. The former’s film Saraye Ke Baahir (1947) provided Ali Abbas an opportunity to be on screen in a minor role. Ali Abbas was also looking after the production work of the film and this is where he managed to meet another stalwart of the Progressive Writers Association, Ali Sardar Jafri.
The association turned out to be more aggressive than progressive. A woman was two-timing them, which resulted in Ali Abbas beating up Jafri. Krishen Chander intervened and Ali Abbas, who appeared under the film name of Agha Talish, apologised to Ali Sardar Jafri.
After Partition, Agha Talish moved to Pakistan and had to wait until 1957 to achieve the success he desired most of all. By then, he had worked at Radio Peshawar, and was quite close to legendary poet Noon Meem Rashid. The closeness of these literary giants brought sobriety in the youngster and changed him completely.
In the days when Santosh and Sudhir had to fight Alauddin in movies, T. H. Rashid’s Nath (1952) came and went. Talish played the lead here. However, the song ‘Yaaro mujhe muaaf rakho main nashay mein hoon’ from Saifuddin Saif’s film Saat Lakh (1957) made him famous.
By then, Alauddin had become a top-class villain, after having had his share of struggles. By the late ’40s, Alauddin had joined the famous director Nazir’s Hind Pictures and acted in a couple of movies. He even sang a duet with Shamshad Begum, but the role of Nargis’s father in S. U. Sunny’s Mela (1948) got him into the reckoning. His association with Nazir’s films brought him to Pakistan and he acted as a villain in the super-hit Punjabi film Pheray (1950), directed and produced by Nazir.
For the remaining part of the decade, Alauddin played villainous roles in Urdu and Punjabi films, but it was in 1959 when, in the title role in Kartar Singh (1959) — ironically, Saifuddin Saif’s Punjabi film — he dies as the hero. More good roles followed, and eventually he became an awaami actor — an actor of the masses.
The vacuum of a menacing and scheming villain left by Alauddin was filled in by Talish and taken to another level. If 1963’s ‘Gol gappay wala’ song became Alauddin’s identity, people in far-flung areas of Pakistan still identify Talish as the farangi who was killed by Sudhir’s Akbar Khan in Farangi (1964). In Kaneez (1965), Talish played the ruthless Nawab who brainwashes his grandson (Muhammad Ali) against his own mother (Sabiha Khanum). In Doraha (1967), he was the strict dad who was against his daughter’s marriage to a singer (Waheed Murad), while in Pakistan’s first Diamond Jubilee film Zarqa (1969), Talish was seen as the ruthless Zionist who forces Neelo’s character to dance in chains.
The struggling actors of the 1940s had become legendary actors by the mid-60s, and no film could have tasted success without either Alauddin or Talish. They were the ones who could shoulder a film as well as keep the box office rolling. Whenever Talish and Alauddin joined hands together, exceptionally good films came out as a result.
Both were a necessity for directors Khalil Qaisar, Hassan Tariq and Riaz Shahid’s movies, and roles were created keeping them in mind. Neend (1959), Sahil (1960), the first cowboy-Western film made in Pakistan Bara Bajay (1961), Shaheed (1962), Farangi (1964), Sarhad (1967) Zarqa (1969), Yeh Aman (1971) and Umrao Jan Ada (1972) were films where both excelled in their respective roles. Nazarul Islam’s Bandish (1980) was their last collaboration, which also became a huge success at the box office.
In 1976, decades after playing a successful innings in the film industry, the two joined hands for Pervez Malik’s Sacchai, as petty thieves Masoom and Miskeen. They helped prove their friends’ innocence in their own unique style. The dialogue “Mazboot se mazboot taala bhi unki nigah parrnay se khul jaata hai” [Even the strongest of locks opens with their mere gaze] along with the song ‘Hera pheri karna apna kaam hai’ by Ahmed Rushdi and Akhlaq Ahmed is still remembered by many.
In the movie, Masoom and Miskeen are heard saying, “Har qism ki wardaat kartay hain, ghatya nahin magar aala paimaanay ki, thorri kartay hain magar suthree kartay hain” [We commit all kinds of crimes, not petty but grand, and few but all with finesse]. This also stood true for their own selves as actors, as both Alauddin and Talish used to deliver quality rather than quantity.
Alauddin reduced his workload when quantity bypassed quality in Pakistani films, and the death of his young son in a road accident shattered him completely. He died in 1983, months after the accident. Agha Talish left for his heavenly abode in 1998, after witnessing turbulent times in the film industry. He remained active in films but substandard roles restricted him to his office in Shanoor Studios.
The legendary writer/director Riaz Shahid once suggested to his pupil, the famous director Jamshaid Naqvi, that without Alauddin and Talish, one could never make a classic. Like the hard-hitting dialogues of Riaz Shahid’s films, this quote also proved to be quite true. Although they were accidental legends, sometimes accidents turn into something quite miraculous.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, July 11th, 2021