by Samia Altaf
In the 1960s, in the sleepy little city of Sialkot, almost in no-man’s land between India and Pakistan and of little significance except for its large cantonment and its factories of surgical instruments and sports goods, there were two cinema houses, all within a mile of our house, No. 3 Kutchery Road. Well three to be exact, the third being an improvisation involving two tree trunks with a white sheet slung between them at the Services club and only on Saturday nights.
The one closest to us our house, just this side of the railway crossing, was Nishat, popularly known as Begum’s cinema with a risqué aura because it was owned and managed by the ‘Begum,’ a burqa-clad, not so young, but still beautiful woman. There was hushed talk about the Begum’s morals because she, a single woman, owned and managed a cinema house in a time when so-called ‘decent’ women rarely went to the cinema let alone own one.
The second, past the railway crossing on the other side of the ‘drumma wallah chowk,’ the main city square, was the Lalazar. Lalazar was considered to be in a class above the others partly for its sweeping marble staircase curving upwards to the gallery and partly for its owner Mr. Majeed’s newly acquired daughter-in-law Mussarat Nazir, the rustic Punjabi beauty and a leading lady of film industry. Mr. Majeed, a portly gentleman with a loud laugh, was among the city fathers, the ‘shurafa,’ of the city. Mussarat Nazeer, still in her teens, came to public attention in the movie Yakkey Wali. My father tells how he and his friends, all grown and married men, saw that movie about twenty times and every time M. Nazir appeared on screen, they along with the whole house threw coins at the screen in the age old tradition of showing one’s appreciation. M. Nazir’s untimely departure at the height of her career to lead a life of married bliss in Canada was mourned by all till she returned thirty years later, still the rustic beauty, and became a household name selling millions of audio cassettes of Punjabi wedding and folk songs. My older son, then three years old, heard her signature folk song ‘Laung gwacha,’ saw her face on the grimy cover of a much used audio cassette, fell immediately in love and vowed to marry her. His grandfather understood completely. Read more »