The people’s actor

Review by Maheen A. Rashdi published in Dawn, Books & Authors, September 25, 2016.

“Shafique’s narrative is addictive, and while you may pick up Waheed Murad: His Life and Our Times out of curiosity … the story that unfolds surpasses expectations. Whilst revealing diverse aspects of Waheed Murad’s personality, Shafique has opened up a new perspective of our history … with Murad playing a pivotal role as a strong nationalist.”

Waheed Murad: His Life and Our TimesKnown as Pakistan’s most dashing film hero of all times, Waheed Murad dominated the Pakistani silver screen from the 1960s to the 1980s. Those two decades of cinema in Pakistan gave us such gems as Armaan, Doraha and Anjuman to name but a few, when this ‘chocolate hero’ regaled audiences with his debonair looks rivalling Rock Hudson and his graceful, understated style of acting.

However, what the Pakistani public probably does not know is that Murad’s contribution extended beyond acting, to significantly contribute to Pakistani nationalism which, at that time, was overshadowed by wars and separatist movements, besides being abused by military rulers, democratic dictators and misdirected socialists.

Khurram Ali Shafique, who has come out with a biography of Murad, has opened up a hitherto undiscovered depth to Murad’s personality. Tracing Murad’s role and growth as a filmmaker, director, writer and actor, Shafique takes the reader on a truly wondrous journey of discovering Pakistan’s cinema industry. He presents fascinating revelations connecting the role of movies during the early years of Pakistan, and how they shaped the ideas of a new population still unused to the boundaries of a fledgling country.

We remember Waheed Murad as a film star, but he was so much more

Shafique’s narrative is addictive, and while you may pick up Waheed Murad: His Life and Our Times out of curiosity, his account compels you to continue the ride into the world of Pakistani cinema with him. For readers who can recall the times he talks about, this will be a nostalgic trip, too. A detail-oriented historian and literary figure of many accomplishments, notable among which is his comprehensive six-volume biography in Urdu of Iqbal, Shafique has a habit of casually sprinkling a wealth of information on a well-made delicacy. The biography of Murad is served with all such garnishing.

Interesting mentions of his friends who were giants in their own right — Ahmed Rushdi, Pervez Malik and Sohail Rana to name a few — and the historical perspective of Pakistan’s early politics are some references which readers will find as side orders of the main entrée. Murad was not just the actor we saw on screen. He was first a successful producer who started his filmmaking days by launching his production house, Film Arts, in 1960.

Having thought of him as simply a popular personality from Pakistani cinema’s earlier and better days, I was jolted out of my perception to discover that Murad was a philosophical producer displaying an “academic wisdom”, trying to pave an innovative path for making films and writing stories. While he ran around trees singing soulful melodies on the silver screen, he could also quote Shakespeare and James Joyce and discourse on profound philosophical concepts.

Shafique writes how Murad’s scripts transcended the boundaries of adab-i-aalia (high literature for the elite) and awami adab (popular literature for unschooled masses) and belonged instead to yakrang adab — uniform literature for all — erasing social boundaries and class consciousness.

“In retrospective, it seems that the real problem that may have undermined his career — imperceptibly at the beginning — was an overall decline in creative imagination in Pakistan after the loss of its Eastern wing … Simply put, it was stagnation, and why it hit mainstream culture of Pakistan so hard in the 1970s is another question altogether. What can be said of Waheed is that he did not take it passively or without making an effort to fight back … ” — Excerpt from the book

The appearance of this book is humble, to say the least, with an unpretentious paperback cover, binding a little over 150 pages and strongly resembling a school textbook. The opening chapters which detail Murad’s ancestry are also reminiscent of a textbook, but I would urge the reader to forge on to when Shafique begins to speak of the man behind the legend.

The story that unfolds surpasses expectations. Whilst revealing diverse aspects of Waheed Murad’s personality, Shafique has opened up a new perspective of our history in relation to Pakistan’s cinema and the creative excellence of the visionaries of those times — with Murad playing a pivotal role as a strong nationalist.

On the suggestion that this would have been much more attractive and ‘reader-friendly’ as a fully pictorial and colourful presentation, Shafique replied, “I didn’t want the reader to get distracted by glamorous images and pass over the true worth of the person that was Waheed Murad, whom I have tried to present through my words.” Shafique’s research into the life and times of Murad took him over 30 years, starting from the time of Murad’s tragic and untimely death at the age of 45 in 1983 (the incident is detailed in the book).

The result has been an amazingly woven story which also includes glimpses of his relationship with his wife, Salma Murad, and love for his children, particularly his daughter, Aalia. Through reproduced letters written by Murad to his “darling” Salma, whenever he was on location, we see his natural flair for writing and his deep attachment to his family. A Masters degree holder in English literature, Murad was from a bygone era of highly educated filmmakers and actors who gave cinema the high status of creative arts, depicting an ideology on screen framed in moral values and civic codes.

The writer’s research is evident, as there is a great deal of information included in the book. Detailed movie reviews and a historic perspective of the ideologies that defined the script are complimented with a complete filmography and a list of Murad’s awards. In Murad’s words from the biography, he wanted to be remembered by his film song from Doraha, “Bhooli hui hoon daastan, guzraa hua khayaal hun” … (I am a tale forgotten, a thought that has passed). Shafique, though, has opened some hidden doorways for us to take a look into Murad’s multifaceted personality and understand him and his contribution to Pakistani arts.

The reviewer is a former Dawn member of staff.

Waheed Murad: His Life and Our Times
By Khurram Ali Shafique
Libredux Publishing, Karachi
ISBN: 978-0957141674

The book may be ordered online through the courier service and website and

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