A nation is not only known by the heroes it produces but also by the idols it reveres and the legends it endorses and emulates. Pakistani film industry is at its lowest ebb. There are barely any signs of life in it. The reason being, not only did it stop producing great artistes but also because it stopped celebrating the craft of people like Habib.

Habibur Rehman, better known by his screen name Habib personifies the golden era of Pakistani film industry. He has worked in more than 250 films and has won world wide acclaim. His work was appreciated by the much celebrated Dilip Kumar.

In his calm and assertive voice which makes the conversation even more intriguing, the veteran actor tells, “A film Devdaas was made in Pakistan. I have never touched booze in my life but nobody played a better drunkard than me. India too made Devdas in which Dilip Kumar featured as protagonist. He later came to my place in Lahore to say that you played the role better.”

The destiny which endowed Habib with so much talent also pushed him to make a mark in Pakistani film industry. “I never wanted to be a film actor. My two brothers were in army and I had plans to follow suit. But there is a proverbial saying that man proposes and God disposes. That is what happened to me,” he tells.

“I wanted to be a pilot. I took test and cleared it. I passed the interview as well but I was ousted after the medical. There was the problem of knee-knock. Then I turned to films and that too was a happenstance.

“Two films, Hameeda and Lakht e Jigar, were being made with the same story. I went to see the shooting of Lakht e Jigar and was instead invited to play a part. There was rush on the set as the story was the same so whichever movie were to be exhibited first, it would have beaten the other one out.

“My friends pushed me as well for the audition which I cleared and my first scene was with Madam Noor Jahan. I had to beat her, and drag her out of the room. I knew nothing so I actually did beat her up and slapped her twice or thrice. Then I realized that Noor Jahan was a living legend. She was a great artiste. I had decided that if she scolded me then I will run off. On the contrary, she praised my acting skills, and lo, I became an artist.”

As his luck brought him to industry, it favoured his new film too. “See the coincidence. Hameeda was released first and was a super hit. My film was released a week later but it too was a super hit because of Noor Jahan’s songs.”

Reminiscing the hay days of Lollywood, the actor tells that “As long as I worked in industry, there was nothing like obscenity or vulgarity in our films. We focused on our culture, our people and our problems. The scenes were shot on locations. When we started copying foreign things then people stopped watching our films. Our industry was ruined.”

“A country is known by its culture. Hundreds of thousands of people sacrificed for the creation of Pakistan. Pakistan was made to preserve a lifestyle. If we were to emulate India then we would have rather lived with them.”

Habib, like many other actors is not in favour of importing films from India. “In 60s, it was decided that both India and Pakistan would release each others’ films in their cinemas but that did not work as Indians used to buy our films in as less as half a million and would sell their in as much as 10 million. Even then they used to dump our films after purchasing those. The Pakistani films were never released in India. In short, they would sell their own movies to Pakistan in 95 lacs. This was a deal profiting only them.”

Realizing that deal with India was not going to help; Pakistani artists demanded that Indian movies be banned in Pakistan. Habib recalls, “Following the release of a film “Jaal,” our industry led a rally. From technicians to artists everybody marched on foot from Lahore to Islamabad. It was Ayub era. We demanded from General Ayub that Indian movies must be banned. He told that he could not do it. However, a bill would be presented in Assembly. If it is passed then it would become the law. His approach was right. The bill was presented and passed.

“That law still exists. There has been no contradictory law passed nor has been there any amendment in the existing legislation. The law of the land is that Indian movies cannot be released in Pakistan. However, as you can see there is no implementation of this law. It is as if the law is being mocked.

“Nobody pays heed to the culture of the land. And I must reassert that a country is known by its culture. Actually as a result of bombardment of the foreign culture our own culture is corrupted.”

It is a well known reality that many Pakistani films were censored in Pakistan owing to different objections. Habib thinks that the standards of censorship have not been the same for indigenous and foreign films. “There is one door to Pakistani land and everybody must come through that door. Similarly we should have one uniform code and all films must be censored according to that one code. I would have no objections then. According to the code we cannot show a bottle of booze in the films whereas in the Indian movies it is a normal thing. Moreover, the censor board does not allow either obscenity or vulgarity. We must not overlook our traditions.”

Habib thinks that ignoring our values has taken a toll on every field. “A friend told me that he went to India and a Hindu said to him that you can go to mosque. The mosques are safe in here. However, in Pakistan people have stopped offering Friday prayers owing to fear of blasts. This all is the result of cultural corruption.

“Who will stop this injustice? The government must! Pakistan was dismembered but nobody learnt a lesson. No one even mourns that day as an anniversary. I wonder, why we created this country. Why we fought for it? Pakistan must have its own culture and identity.”

The popular narrative is that Indian movies are need of hour as they are popular and are readily consumed by Pakistani audiences. “That is not right. People want to see their own films. If Indian movies are preferred then tell me who watched Bol? Who watched Khuda kay Liye? Majajan was screened for 370 weeks. Waar was a super hit.

“We made a film Ath Khuda da Wair. Its producer was Mian Siddique, the owner of Siddique Centre Lahore. Interestingly that huge plaza was made with the income of one film. He made no other film. That one film brought enough income”

Like all artists, he thinks that his art is like his kids. “The films are like our children. You would always like your own kids. No sane person would say that they like Bush’s children better than their own. We, in the end, have to work for the betterment of our own kids.”

“High court banned Indian movies but they got the stay order. My point is, ban everything which is not Pakistani and which does not follow the very principles of our existence. Culture is identity. If we want to export culture then keep in mind that already we are dismembered and now we should expect even worse.”

Obscenity or “Masala” like that do not make a film hit. The renowned actor, producer and director says, “There is no formula for making a hit film. If there were, then I guess there would have been no better business.

“Titanic was screened for 50 weeks in Lahore. There is no obscenity in that film. Terminator was released and was watched for fifty weeks. People want to see reasonable films.”

Regretting about the cultural cringe of our people, Habib says that “Other countries are proud of their culture. Look at KSA. They even chop off the heads of their own princes and princesses at crossroads because it’s their custom. I myself saw, one of their princes was beheaded in Mecca in front of thousands of people.”

Habib does not think that all Punjabi movies about Gujjars and Biradri Systems must be discarded, “Everybody has right to talk about their Biradri. They are our Pakistanis. If they have something to share and some reason to celebrate their culture via arts then they must. Sultan Rahi did not bring Gandasa to the industry. He was just performing his role. He did what people wanted to see, so he ruled on the hearts of the people”

It is a well known fact that like all other sectors, film industry too has borne the burns of negligence of the government. Habib tells that “The governments have never supported us. All the government has done for us is collecting taxes and censoring films. They have not done anything else at all. Even while censoring the films, no rules are followed. It’s the fault of the government that they let you exhibit the films where there are drunkards shown as protagonists. If all films are like that then bar them all. You have a code so follow it. Not following the code is corruption as well.”

Habib narrates as interesting incident, saying that “A film was made on Jallianwala Bagh incident where General Dyer ordered the killing of dozens of local people. The General went to England after retirement and Indian followed him there, killed him and was hanged in England. Pakistani film altogether changed the history, depicting that the man was killed here. Amazingly, this distortion was passed by our censor board because there are people sitting there who know nothing. There must be a system to ensure that right man is at right place and the true potential of the people is realized.”

Usually in the defense of the government, it is said that the government cannot do everything. Habib does not agree, “Hakoomat e Pakistan must do everything. That is what they are supposed to do. They must deliver on all aspects. On the other hand the government is actually robbing its own citizens.

“See what they have done for our films. Despite promises by Nawaz Sharif and Benazir, the government has not recognized us as industry. If they would, then banks will support and finance us.”

Like the golden days of industry, the artist remembers the good old days when there was good governance in Pakistan. “India and Pakistan were on war and in the Punjab there was not shortage of a single thing. There was no inflation. This was governance which seems like a far fetched day now.”

Though apparently Pakistani drama industry is thriving and film industry is lagging far behind, Habib believes that “Nothing can replace film as it has its visual and audio effects. Dramas cannot deliver in the same way.”

He says that it is a good thing that new cinemas are being built but cinemas alone would not do. They are like stores. The stores serve when you bring in things to sell. Similarly cinemas are supposed to showcase films which are not being made.

“Some people contact me telling me that they have collection of my films. I think there should be an archive of old movies so that people can cherish again what once was celebrated.”