Anwar’s Pakistan – Reliving our history through Anwar Maqsood’s memories

When we at Xpozé sit down for our brainstorming sessions for each issue, all members of the team strive to bring the most innovative, exciting ideas to the table. Usually the ideas are tweaked and twisted and polished and re-polished until we’re all absolutely sure we have something that you, our readers, will greatly enjoy–and then the idea is given a “team effort” label and we get to work to bring you yet another month’s worth of fresh and exciting reading material.
This time is going to be different however, because I’m not ready to share credit for what you are about to spend the next few minutes reading! Call me a bully if you may, but catching hold of an interview-shy legend like Anwar Maqsood and getting him to talk me through Pakistan’s rich, overwhelming, and for the most part roller-coaster of a history, right from the partition of 1947 to the recent loss of Moin Akhtar, in what he claims to be the longest, most in-depth interview he’s ever given is a feat I couldn’t be more proud of.
So sit back and brace yourself for a highly exclusive decade by decade account of how the great Anwar Maqsood lived, saw, felt, loved and experienced the beautiful neglected country we all take for granted: Pakistan.
I think the most significant event for anyone living in the Sub Continent during the 40s was the partition. Everybody’s life revolved around it. My family came to Pakistan four days after Quaid-e-Azam’s death in September ’48, and the first thing we did after reaching Karachi was visit his grave to pay our respects. I was seven years old and I remember everything as if it was yesterday. My nana had a huge house in Hyderabad Deccan which we left to our servants. The only difference between us and the rest of the muhajirs who had left their whole lives back in India was probably that we brought 10,000 books with us. We had always been a very literary family. Bajia was 12 years old when she got her first novel published in India. This was before the partition! My nana was a poet and he had instilled a love for literature in all of us.
The people at that time were generally happy despite the horrors they had witnessed during those few years. They had a lot of hope but very low demands and expectations; they were grateful for the country… a new land, new skies: a place they could call their own! Pakistan had some legendary poets, writers, singers and artists in the 40s. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Madam Noor Jehan, Ghulam Haider, Feroz Nizami, Santosh Kumar and Sabiha Khanum… these are just some of the prominent personalities that we were lucky enough to inherit. We may have been weak and unstable in almost all respects, but we had a lot of hope…and that’s what has helped us survive for so long!
Whenever I think about the 50s, I’m reminded of my time in PIB Colony. Our family moved there in early 50s and it was such a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in. Every second person was well educated and every fourth person was a well-known personality! We used to arrange intellectual gatherings and mushairas and invited guests from India as well.
I started a school called the Bahadur Yar Jung in Hyderabad Colony. Khuaja Moinuddin who wrote famous plays like Mirza Ghalib Bunder Road Pay and Taleem-e-Balghan was my teacher and I learned a great deal from him for eight years. I used to go to school on foot, but back then going from one place to another in a public bus was considered normal. Everybody traveled by bus!
Karachi was a beautiful city before it was ripped of its status as the capital of Pakistan. It was safe; people didn’t hesitate to walk back home after the 9-12 show in cinema halls and they would stay out chatting away with friends at the local canteen till 3 in the morning.
Karachi had always been an industrial city. The SITE and Landhi areas were developed a great deal during this period and that is when people from other cities and villages also started to move into Karachi. Trains packed with people have been coming to Karachi since the 50s, and they almost always return empty.
I had always been an artistic child. I used to draw charcoal sketches of my family members on the walls of our house and one day Shakir Ali and Sadequain came to our house and saw those sketches and encouraged me to start using colour. I got my first set of paints as a gift from Shakir Sahab. Shortly after that, I held my first exhibition in 1958 at the French Embassy. I was eighteen at the time and it was a solo exhibition of 62 paintings, out of which 50 were bought by Jamsheed Marker, the veteran Pakistani diplomat and cricket commentator.
Pakistan Radio was also very popular right from the beginning. Families used to sit together in the evening and listen to their favourite dramas; it was the only form of entertainment available! All the good old actors we have had started their careers from Pakistan Radio. Really, Pakistan was a wonderful place to be living in in back then. The people were simple and unpretentious. Instead of lamenting for what they had left behind, they were content with what they had received from Pakistan. It was a new beginning and you could feel the positivity in people.
It was during the 50s that essentials like industry and infrastructure started taking shape. Unfortunately health and education were never a priority of our leaders…if only they had realized the importance of both these things then; maybe Pakistan would have been in a different league today!
60s was a big decade for Pakistani cinema. Mohammed Ali, Waheed Murad, Shahid and Nadeem emerged as young talented actors whom everybody loved. I was lucky I was friends with all of them. The quality of films was far better than what it is now and it wasn’t uncommon for people to go watch the same movie four to five times!
The music was brilliant. Madam Noor Jehan was the reigning queen of film music and she actually got mad at all the music composers who used newcomer Runa Laila for songs they wanted to picturize on younger heroines.
A lot of people don’t know this but I was the founding member of Pakistan’s first music band! We called ourselves the Knights and I was the base guitarist. We used to perform live, all night long on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. I used to have really long hair that went down to my lower back and I used to wear golden shoes: I was quite a fashionable guy! I’m the one who introduced the concept of tunics and kurtis for men in Pakistan. I even used to model for some magazines back in the day!
Women’s fashion was also at its peak in the 60s. Zeba, Shabnam and Rani were all on top of their game and young girls all wanted to be just like them!
PTV was only a year or so old when the ’65 war broke out. Madam Noor Jehan sang those beautiful taranas that still bring tears to the eye, and they were all aired on television. The war shook the people up, but I don’t understand the need for a war the outcome of which is already known…otherwise it’s just people dying for no reason.
In 1968, PTV aired its first long play called Mehmaan, which I had written. I also happened to play the lead in it.
In late 60s, the economy of Pakistan began taking effect of the political issues that were going on at the time. The job market took a hit and young educated boys started to move out to London, America and the Middle East to find better jobs. There came a time when a large number of houses in Nazimabad were inhabited only by ageing parents and sisters of men who were earning Dollars, Pounds and Riyals. They would send their parents gadgets like tape recorders, TVs, ACs, fridges and cars to fill up the empty houses. That is when families started to drift apart… I, however, said good bye to the 60s by getting married!

I left my bank job and joined EMI as a recording incharge in early 70s. It was something I had always wanted to do, and it was a great experience for me as I’ve always been a huge music buff. I still have a huge collection with thousands of movie and classical songs from that era.
I’m sure a lot of people would agree that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was perhaps the most prominent personality of the decade. Everyone was mesmerized by him including me. He brought men’s shalwar-kameez to the mainstream and suddenly, people who had been wearing white kurta-pajamas for years started wearing colored shalwar-kameez.
I made a lot of posters for Bhutto Sahab’s political campaign and even voted for him, but sadly, never really got a return from him. We had a lot of expectations from him and that was the basis of all our support, but unfortunately he didn’t meet our expectations and he ended up doing nothing…just like all the other politicians in Pakistan.
Pakistani politics became dirty in the 70s. We all know what a joke the ’71 war was. We lost the most beautiful part of our country and it was devastating. There were tons of amazing Bengali poets, singers, artists…and we let them all slip away just like that. It was all so sudden; people couldn’t believe what had just happened to them and their country.
Still, I feel we’re truly blessed by Allah Mian for our country, despite losing a vital organ so unexpectedly, is most extraordinary. I’m sure there are only a handful of other countries in the world that have a huge coastline, rivers, lakes, forests, mountains, deserts, the most exquisite fruits and flowers and so many different kinds of people all living together. We have everything…everything except a good leader. Our biggest tragedy is that we’ve always been directionless.

Politicians had always used Islam and religion to gain political mileage, but religion suddenly became fashionable in the 80s under Zia Ul Haq’s administration. Religion is supposed to be a very private thing. If I want to pray, I will pray quietly and it will be between me and my Allah… but during this time, people started telling others that they were going to go pray.
The trend of moving out of Pakistan was also strongly increasing in the 80s among young boys who wanted to move out to greener pastures right after completing their Intermediate and A Levels. I think one of the reasons for this was the Afghan influx. Our economy was once again under a great deal of pressure because of all the Afghan refugees who Zia Ul Haq wrongly assumed would leave once things settled down in their country…but instead of leaving, the Afghans slowly took over our transport and roadside hotel industry, and today, more than twenty years later, they’re still living here.
We made some amazing dramas in the 80s. I also did a lot of television work in during that time…some of the most memorable projects that people really appreciated were Angan Tehra, Silver Jubilee, Showtime, Studio Dhai and Studio Ponay Teen and a ton of other long plays. It was during this time that two new channels STN and NTM began their transmission. It was a big change as suddenly people had choice: they could take their pick from three channels!
I wrote Sitara Aur Mehrunnisa for NTM. It is one of my favourite serial to date, especially because it was the launching pad for three great Pakistani actors: Atiqa Odho, Sania Saeed and Sajid Hassan.
I remember I was called upon by Zia Ul Haq once and he asked me to write something about him… and I told him that I would definitely write something based on you whenever you do something worth writing about. A few other leaders also approached me with the same request…but my answer was same for everyone, and unfortunately no one ever gave me a chance!
Strings also released their first album in ’88. I wasn’t writing for them yet but I was obviously very attached to the band because of Bilal. Some other very good boy bands like Vital Signs also came out during the same time, and suddenly pop music was brought to the mainstream.
Strings re-launched themselves in the 90s but I didn’t start writing for them until their 2002 album Duur.
Our cinema was in ruins. Punjabi and Pushto films started dominating the industry. Madam Noor Jehan was still singing for all the heroines whether it was Anjuman, Saima, Shabnam. There are only a handful of actors left and they too don’t seem to be very serious about their work anymore. Reema and Reham both had great potential, but what could they do with just one director running the whole industry?
Then came the Atom bomb! I still don’t understand what the need for that was. The harsh truth is we import tennis balls from China and sewing needles from Korea; we can’t make these things ourselves. Our people don’t get clean drinking water, thousands of people are starving to death and yet we wanted to become a nuclear power so badly.
Musharraf came and took over just like Ayoub Khan and Zia Ul Haq in the past. People accepted him because he was the better option at the time. We as a nation were never given much of a choice. The people who come to power democratically change overnight and start acting like monarchs…the people grow tired of them and then the military takes over…it’s a vicious cycle that has been going on for years.
Generally, the 90s were bleak compared to the previous decades. Karachi was a victim of political violence and people, it seemed, had stopped caring and trying to strive for better things in life. People had hope before, and now that I look back I think they started losing that in the 90s.
I think the new millennium started out pretty badly for the whole world because of the 9/11 incident and Pakistan was taken into its fold as well. In fact, we have been one of the worst affected countries because of it… but if you ask me, I’m not as sorry for the destruction of those two buildings on 9/11 than I am for the old 9/11 tragedy, which is a far more significant date for Pakistanis, for it is the death anniversary of Quaid-e-Azam.
Although we lost a lot of great Pakistani artistes during this decade, Pakistan was still blessed with a lot of new channels. Lots of new faces came forward and the volume and variety of work increased extensively. No matter what people say, this media bloom is a gift from Musharraf and we have to give him credit for it. Of course a lot of bogus channels were also introduced that had no decent content to show, but some brilliant ones also emerged that have changed the face of Pakistani drama and news and entertainment for the better! One of the biggest long term negative effects of all these channels was perhaps how politics and political talk shows slowly took over prime time entertainment. People without realizing it have become obsessed with politics, which surely cannot be a good thing.
Although the political situation was somewhat bleak throughout, people learned to laugh about it, which was great. My satirical talk show Loose Talk with Moin Akhtar and Bushra Ansari ran for eight years. We did 321 shows, each with a new getup, tone and script.
Fashion wise, I think this decade was most significant, with so many talented designers making a big name for themselves and some even doing Pakistan proud abroad.
Pakistani cinema was almost dead, but two new films came out: one by Shoaib Manoor and one by Mehreen Jabbar, and they were both very well received by the public. I however felt they lacked something on the technical side: they have more of a TV feel to them than a cinema feel. The effort was very well appreciated however, and they’re both amazing directors who have contributed a great deal to their field.
People have started losing hope in Pakistan and it’s a sad thing. From being a happy, simple and hopeful nation in the 50s and 60s we have turned into pessimists and opportunists; we have lost all our patience and tolerance.
Politically, the country is down in the dumps. Entertainment wise, there are a lot of new dramas and actors and writers and directors coming out but they’ve all lost meaning. You rarely get to see something that truly pleases you. The content and tone of conversation in dramas these days has become so depraved its downright offensive. I’ve written a serial called Hum Pay Jo Guzarti Hai just to counter that and remind people that being poor doesn’t mean you have to be vulgar and ill-bred!
Shoaib Mansoor’s new film Bol has just come out, which is a big hit among people. Coke Studio is doing exceptionally well and some extraordinary musical talent is coming to the forefront.
I lost my dear friend Moin Akhtar this year. I still haven’t come to terms with the loss yet and over all, I can’t see the upside of the way things are going these days yet… The government is playing with the public and we’re all helpless. We’re still living on foreign aid and I believe as long as we continue to depend on aid, we cannot do anything for ourselves.
The only hope remaining for Pakistan is YOU: the children of Pakistan. No one, not even the men in power right now can do anything for Pakistan except for the youth of today. Only you have the potential to bring Quaid’s and Allama Iqbal’s dreams to fruition… and that’s my message to the Pakistan for this Independence Day!