This artice was originally published in The Star, May 20, 1993. Since then, I have slightly modified the classification of Waheed’s roles and, most importantly, I do not see his work as having anything to do with escapism. For these developments, see my book Waheed Murad: His Life and Our Times (2015).
I am also removing the second paragraph of the printed article, which was inserted by the editor Asif Noorani (for whom I have great love and respect). It read, “For one thing, he was the first Pakistani actor to look slim and boyish at a time when obese actors played romantic roles rather unconvincingly in our movies. He was smart, well dressed and had a remarkable screen presence. He was the heart throb of many a young female and was called a chocolate hero because he was not very fair. He was slightly dark but he had an unmistakable charm about him.”
The legend started with Armaan (1966), the story of a young aristocrat who enjoys spending time in night clubs because he has nothing else to do. He is sent by his father to a hill station to choose his life partner from among the two smart girls, hailing from comparable families. Instead, he chooses the third, a young lady with not an affluent background. He sings and dances happily his way into her heart. Here it is then. Wealth, leisure, access to the opposite sex and the society’s approval of all that. It is the situation that dreams are made of.
Murad was tailored for that image, which came straight out of his fantasy for he had himself written the story of Arman. His character was a picture of sophistication and urbaneness. His voice sounded enchanting, more so when he was enacting romantic scenes. It was never too loud even when he was angry. That gave him an air of restraint and ease which were considered a sign of refinement in those days.
He also had the innate ability to feature in song situations with utmost grace, which was due to his interest in music on the one hand and the innate fluidity of his movement, on the other. Choreography was his forte. Even when he was not dancing there was a certain rhythm about his movements. The image thus established with Armaan was retained with much success by his screenplay writers in such films as Insaniyat (1967), Ehsaan (1967), Jahan Tum Wahan Hum (1968), Andaleeb (1969), Be Wafa (1970), Khalish (1972) and Shabana (1976).
But that is not all. There had to be some variety, or he would not have survived the twenty years of his career. He did essay slightly different types of roles in movies like Dewar Bhabhi (1966). The movies romanticized family relationships. Brothers, sisters, parents, sons or daughters have been shown in Indo-Pak movies as too eager to offer sacrifices for each other. Murad did that too so very often. Dewar Bhabhi, Ladla (1969), Maa Beta (1969) and Anjuman (1970) were cases in point. Incidentally, the last mentioned movie was the one he considered as his best.
In a society where elders often play a cruel part in arranging marriages such films provided a channel for the sublimation of many bitter feelings. Murad did it well because the sacrifice of one’s love often results in self-pity and who could surpass Murad when it came to self-pity, in real life as well as on the screen. The famous song from Anjuman says it all:
Mein is ghar ke sukh ki khatir huns ke sau dukh jhayloon
Is dunya se hunsi khushi ki sari daulat lay loon.
Tum se tumhari khushyan cheenay kis ki hay ye majal!
Perhaps his character in Deedar was the best exponent of the third type of roles he played – the lover in kurta pyjama. He had been appearing in the traditional dress on the screen right from the early stages of his career. Indeed this was the dress in vogue among the educated people in the upper classes before shalwar kameez was made popular by the late Mr Bhutto.
The image was portrayed at a greater length in Baharo Phool Barsao (1972). The film scored a golden jubilee. Deedar (1974) followed the same tradition, but more grandeur; it could not prove as successful at the box office but it was definitely done in better taste than the earlier movie. Also the story was more coherent.
A young nawabzada makes the mistake of falling in love with the lady who reciprocates his love but the trouble is that she belongs to a different family. The elder nawab turns out to be a Montague in the eastern tradition: he succeeds in making his son divorce his bride under pressure. The Romeo soon repents and the rest of the story deals with the agony of separation on both sides and the difficulties of reconciliation involving the issue of halala.
The essential elements of the ‘nawabi culture’ of the bygone days are all to be found in the movie – a stubborn patriarch, helpless younger men, passive women and repressed emotions all contained in the confines of interacting households. These trends have outlived the days of nawabs. They are all around us in the contemporary urban and rural middle class. As the repressible nawabzada, Murad is also the ultimate daydream of those young men and women for whom the disco outings of Armaan are out of the question. They are entitled to speaking to the opposite sex only in the well-guarded environment of the family and for whom it is often difficult to marry the person of their own choice due to social or economic constraints. Whatever the shortcomings, Deedar is a fine epitome of that culture. A couple of years later Surrayya Bhopali (1976) presented Murad again in the kurta-pyjama role but it turned out to be a comparatively inferior movie except for its memorable songs.
Meanwhile the radical changes occurring in all walks of life around 1970 had also affected the filmdom. A new hero had evolved out of the aspirations of the people in both wings of the country. I am referring to Nadeem. He was an antithesis to Waheed Murad. He was the common man from obscure corners of the society, who would dress up in inexpensive clothes and impress his lady, not with the polished manners of the elite, but with the robust warmth of the ‘paroles’.
Waheed tried to wear these shoes as well, ironically unaware of the fact that the popularity of this new role depended on the negative public reaction to his own earlier images. He could never do it very successfully. He was made of different stuff. His attempt to portray an ordinary driver in Khawab Aur Zindagi (1973) was a failure. It was not easy for him to cast off the genteel air which was so natural to him and which had accounted for his earlier popularity. The one occasion he came close to the successful portrayal of this stereotype was in Waqt (1976), but then Waqt was no great film. Apart from appearing overage for the role, the film suffered from lack of continuity and poor direction.
Part of Waqt is the story of a disowned son of a prosperous industrialist. As a child he refuses to study and as a grown up he turns out to be an uncouth rickshaw driver. When he discovers about his origin, he makes all efforts to make his father accept him and his mother, which he ultimately does. In Waqt, as well as in Apney Huay Paraey (1977) Murad is saved by his limited appearance and powerful supporting casts.
A comparison between Waqt and one of his earlier movies, Kaneez (1966), may prove interesting. There too is the disowned son of a ‘high’ family. Brought up on meager resources this one turns out to be a bright student and a polished gentleman. Upon learning about his origins his first reaction is to show respect for his new found relatives, and offer sacrifice for them without as much as asking due acknowledgement in return. The cutting line between them is class consciousness. While both of them are poor, only Akhtar in Kaneez is willing to notice the social ladder and also willing to climb it. The best of himself that Waheed could offer to an audience craving for ‘the common man hero’ was only in such roles; in films like Heera Aur Pather (1964), Doraha (1967), Maa Beta (1969), Mulaqat (1973), Awaaz (1978), but most characteristically in Daulat Aur Duniya (1972). The last is the most entertaining of them all. Not that it does not suffer from stupid sets, poor photography and inadequate direction; but here Waheed is alone able to make up for these shortcomings – ‘alone’, except for a little help from the seductive curves of Aliya’s figure!
Naag Aur Nagin (1976) represents the sinister side of his artistic self. The story is based on the traditional legend of Indo-Pakistan about a couple of sheesh nags (king cobras) assuming the human form and then accidentally getting separated. In the film they spend most of the 150 minutes in search of each other. Much of the story is set up in Gothic places – ruins of an old haveli, a snake charmer’s hut, the surrounding wilderness, and a nawab’s grand haveli right in the center of that forsaken world. It wasn’t new story – the film was an acknowledge remake. But Murad’s performance as a snake-turned-human was marvelous. The pathos he created perhaps came from his deep sense of the tragedy in his real life.
Other enjoyable films in which he portrayed characters bordering on supernatural were Hill Station (1972) and Naag Muni (1972). The latter happens to be a better production but Naag Aur Nagin surpasses in preserving the unity of place and action, and the treatment of the unexplainable.
These are five different masks of Murad then. Whichever he puts on, the image remains that of an escapist’s. But then all of us need a little escape some time. And that is when Murad comes in. He wasn’t worried about it himself. His own perception of illusion and reality is what counts. And so we conclude with what he had to say: “Of course our films are realistic. What could be more realistic than falling in love and getting married?