Faiz Ahmad Faiz was interviewed by noted researcher and writer Ahmad Salim on the work of A. J. Kardar and films of social comment.
A film made in the second half of the 1950s may be considered the most serious and creative attempt at film making in Pakistan. The film was “Jago Hua Sawera”, directed by A.J. Kardar with script and lyrics by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It is interesting to note that the film is often referred to as “Faiz Sahib’s film”, by the common film commentator as well as the cultivated film connoisseur (including Safdar Mir, a talented film maker himself). The director’s name mentioned is only in passing. Perhaps this is because Faiz was by then an important figure on the political scene in the country. After his release from prison he had indulged whole-heartedly in trade-union activity and was a vociferous spokesman of radical change in the socio-economic structure of the country.
The declaration of One Unit, the framing of Pakistan’s first constitution, the attack on Egypt over the Suez Canal by Israel and its supporters, the silent endorsement of that action by Pakistan’s pro-western government, and the instability of democratic government in Pakistan were events that occurred in rapid succession, deeply affecting average Pakistanis. The undemocratic means employed in East Pakistan to crush the Jugto Front further alienated Bengalis. The vast majority of the populace working as fishermen could look forward to no other world, no other future beyond the fishing waters and the fish. The sensitive Bengalis, the victims of the worst forms of economic, social and cultural oppression, had nevertheless salvaged their identity. But not all the people of the Western wing and certainly not all Punjabis wore spiked boots, and there were those among them who were painfully aware of the oppression of the people of Bengal. That Faiz’s film had fishermen as its protagonists was a logical consequence of that feeling.
Director A. J. Kardar adopted a narrative style in the film which had not previously been used in commercial cinema. It was meant to communicate subjectivity in a study of characters. A special technique used in the film was that of close-ups that lasted up to a minute, lingering on the facial expressions. The technique was inspired by Podpikin, the Russian director, and especially from his silent movie ‘Mother’ where he used it to create empathy with the character. It is difficult to assess how successfully Kardar was able to use this technique, for many people did not respond to it and it was possibly instrumental in the film’s failure in commercial terms at box office. It can be said with certainty that it was not the content of the film, but Faiz’s name that drew the crowds to the theatre.
Of course, one cannot say that the direction was entirely without merit. The aura of romance associated with Bengal and its people was given a very unusual treatment by Kardar. The cast of the film was unknown to the public. The leading female role was played by a famous stage and cinema artist of Bengal who was unknown to the Urdu speaking public. But the most important aspect was that there was an attempt to take a closer look at people’s lives and to portray their problems and their conflict-ridden lives in a realistic way. In this respect the film was successful. Ironically this very success was the root cause of its commercial failure. But what other root causes can we trace for the ill fate of such films? Faiz’ reply is that the first problem is to interest the distributor. If the distributor refuses to distribute it, such a film cannot be screened. With films such as these the distributor might simply say he is not interested. Even when a distributor is found the question remains whether the exhibitor will buy it from him.
Ideology and audiences
“Do you suggest that making a film is not enough in itself?”
“No it is not enough, because it involves several actors. All right, so you produce an ideological film like, for instance, “Jaago Hua Sawera”. Suppose it is ready for screening. But imagine the gatekeepers between the studio and cinema-screen do not share your ideology. They may not be concerned about its ideological point of view or its aesthetic aspect. As a result, it will not reach the audiences. Also, painting, music or poetry are considered art. But filmmaking is considered an industry and an industry caters to the market. “Jaago Hua Sawera” did not cater well to this market that is why it failed”.
“But it was also perhaps due to the fact that the film was an individual effort and was not patronized by a private or governmental organization.”
“Yes, that also played a role,” Faiz agrees.
“In India, in England and in other countries there are private organizations or governmental ones to patronize such ventures. Under the fold of governmental or cultural organizations such films stand a chance. In our country one such organizations was founded (NAFDEC) but before it could take up its real function it got itself thoroughly involved in business deals; as a result the whole setup collapsed without performing its intended role…”
Faiz’s sounds more sad than bitter. Perhaps it is because he understood the true importance of such an organization. I ask him:
“So do you think a film like ‘Jaago Hua Sawera’ can no longer be made?”
“Other such attempts have been made. Another such film ‘Of Human Happiness’ also awaits a decision on its fate in court. So one can’t say anything for sure, but one thing is certain there must be governmental or private organizations to help in the making of such films. Not only to provide financial help, but also to make arrangements to distribute, exhibit and export the film…”
The question of the peoples’ “taste” perhaps also played a role. Hence, “Jaago Hua Sawera” failed because it did not keep in mind the peoples’ taste?
Faiz does not agree with this statement; he says this is a misconception—
“Would you like to elaborate on the point?” I ask him.
“Yes it is a misconception that anything that has social perspective, or which has high aesthetic or technical standards will not be appreciated by the people. There are films made that are of high aesthetic and technical standard and they are watched by people – films that fail could have certain technical shortcomings – If someone makes an ideological film it is not necessary that it is of a high quality technically – it could have technical faults…”
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