Shade To Filth!

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The following is from a series of interviews with M. Yusuf, Editor of Shama Film Magazine, Lahore Pakistan.  July 2001

This entire extract is an individuals account and may be far from reality.  Its just one mans perspective and is often difficult to digest as it’s a little too much like a typical pot boiling desi masala epic full of beautiful people, drama, revenge and intrigue.  M. Yusuf may indeed have his own interpretation and his own angle of the whole “Filmi Journalism” thing and he was a seasoned hand at it. Gossip was his profession.  These, often ridiculous, laughable, intriguing, gossipy, shady, tragic, series of events is beyond the best Lollywood pot stirrer. How much of it was just “A Good Story”, how much is folk lore and gossip and how much is the truth is entirely up to you.  

The M. Yusuf / Shama Interviews. Lahore, Pakistan 07/2001

“Pino Pauri” they called her – that extra from the Trade Market of Lahore who had been drafted in as one of many to fill in the background, dancing in the shadow of 60’s siren Mussarat Nazir. While Mussarat gyrated away as the apple of the camera’s eye to the song Gaddi Aawe Narowal Di in the film Mufthbhad, audiences and especially producers caught telling glimpses of a tall, lanky buxom girl – the Pino Pauri – who they felt had a quality that made her stand out from the crowd. Her most striking feature – her height – was what gave her the pet name Pino Pauri which literally means the long (winding) staircase. Her undulating curves were another eye opener and when as Parveen she was summoned by film makers for a camera test, the lenses nearly went up in smoke as she exuded searing waves of heat and passion like no other.

Some were convinced that a rough diamond had been discovered while others insisted that she was far too tall, gangly and awkward to ever make it as a top-notch heroine. Thus, in the early 60’s Parveen was reborn as Firdous and began the ascent of a Pino Pauri of her own………a winding ladder that would take her to the highest pinnacle of Punjabi films in the space of a couple of years. But the higher you climb the harder you fall, and in Firdous’s case the fall was nothing short of cataclysmic. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and an unfortunate Firdous was to find out exactly why.

When Firdous was signed up as a heroine she didn’t enjoy immediate success and it took till her third or fourth release for her to gain acceptance as a top heroine. Then acceptance turned into adulation as her “jodi” (pairing) with Akmal clicked in a huge way and two started scoring one jubilee hit after another (Heer Sayal, Malangi, Paidageer etc). When Firdous danced those energetic thumka filled numbers with her hair let loose dervish style, the public was mesmerized by her allure and salivating for more.

Akmal found his heroine as irresistible off screen as he did on it and the two were having a steamy association (industrywallah’s insist that they had married) when Akmal dropped dead having burned the candle at both ends bingeing on alcohol, drugs and Firdous. Insiders in the industry claim that there was more to it than just death by overdose or liver failure.

Apparently Akmal’s influence on Firdous had grown to the extent that her seven useless brothers felt threatened that she being the golden goose of the family might flee the nest with Akmal, leaving them destitute. They had also been incensed by reports of Akmal thrashing Firdous repeatedly in his drunken, drugged out fits of rage and this provided them with enough ammunition to make a strike of their own. Industrywallah’s claim that it was these disgruntled brothers of Firdous who were responsible for poisoning Akmal – a star who is still talked about as King of the 60’s.

Despite the loss of Akmal, Firdous soldiered on relentlessly and featured in many a hit with the top crop of Punjabi actors Habib, Sudhir, Yusuf Khan and the man who would eventually play such a telling role in her future – Ejaz Durrani. He was already married to 50’s legendary siren turned songstress Madame Noor Jehan who was just beginning to assert herself as a major force in the cinema industry, especially in the Punjabi domain. Producer Masood Parvez bought Firdous and Ejaz together for the folk tale of Mirza Jat in 1967 which became a raging success.

Then he followed up with the same Firdous – Ejaz combination for the similar Murad Baloch and other producers quickly began to cash in on the hottest pair in Lollywood with films like Jawani Mastani, Dilan De Sauday, Sheran Dee Jorri, Hameeda, Yaar te Pyaar, Ishq na Poochay Zaat all following in rapid succession. Then Masood Parvez hit the jackpot in 1970 casting the two for the legend of Heer Ranjha.

The film, its songs and its stars became a rage and is still considered to be among the finest films ever to have come out of Lollywood and certainly the best ever Punjabi film. Even Bollywood superstar Dharmendra was apparently so taken by Firdous in the film that he enquired about the possibility of her working on the other side of the border.

The chemistry between the two stars in Heer Ranjha was such that there was clearly so much more to it than just good acting. Studio people recall that Firdous and Ejaz would take all their tea breaks together and would be heard mumbling sensual dialogues to each other that weren’t part of the script! Madame Noor Jehan caught wind of the amazing intensity between her husband and Firdous and she flew into a rage arriving unannounced onto the sets of Heer Ranjha one day much to Ejaz’s intense embarrassment to make sure that the couple weren’t getting overly intimate as her spy’s had been informing her.

Madame’s suspicions had actually been spot on and she was to be stunned into a stupor when one fine day Ejaz packed his bags, said goodbye to his three daughters and his wife before walking out on them in preference for a new life with the seductress Firdous, a woman who had become his natural partner on screen and now in reality as well.

Meanwhile Madame Noor Jehan’s cronies managed to snap her out of the state of shock she had lapsed into and it wasn’t long before she was back to her spirited self, breathing fire and swearing revenge in the most colourful language imaginable. She laid down the gauntlet and swore to destroy the woman who had dared to steal her husband away and to teach Ejaz a lesson he would never forget for daring rejecting the great Melody Queen, Malka-e-Tarannum Madame Noor Jehan!

However so long as Firdous and Ejaz had each other, they were okay but even then, slowly with time the two of them began to feel the flames of Madame Noor Jehan’s wrath begin to lick at their career’s – Madame ji was spewing venom and already several steps down her warpath. A fuming Madame Noor Jehan let all the Lollywood producers know in no uncertain terms that she would absolutely refuse to lend her voice to any movie which starred Firdous and moreover she would not be willing to cooperate at all with producers who signed Firdous on for their productions as it would be a direct insult to her.

Basically, Madame forced the producers into making a choice and despite Firdous’s impressive track record studded with an array of hit films, it was Madame Noor Jehan who held sway and producers were well aware that they would self-destruct by not using the Madame’s services.

During the 70’s and 80’s there were two forces that dominated the scene and were considered essential components of any potentially successful film – Sultan Rahi had to be in the cast and the film had to contain at least two Madame Noor Jehan songs. Without these two ingredients it would be virtually impossible to sell your film. Slowly, one by one producers were forced to shy away from signing Firdous for their upcoming projects and work began to dry up completely for the once super-busy actress. It was during this period of uncertainty and upheaval that Ejaz was tempted to try to take the easy way out of his financial problems by dabbling in drug smuggling.

Then came the dark hour that was to change the lives of Ejaz and Firdous forever – Ejaz was arrested in Europe for smuggling heroin and sentenced to jail for a period no less than five years. Firdous’s life was suddenly turned upside down and she jumped onto the first flight out to London to see her husband in jail where he assured her of his support through this turbulent phase of their lives. Firdous, already out of work having been crushed by Madame Noor Jehan’s vengeful tactics hit rock bottom, even seeking solace through the very drugs her husband had just been convicted for.

Even while her career spiralled downwards a film called Ansoo was released in which she played Shahid’s mother and reminded her adoring fans of her ability as a performer. She was quiet stunning, even if in the unfamiliar role of a mother. Meanwhile in her drugged-out state she started having a relationship with Shahid that even hit the headlines when the two of them were allegedly caught in an awkward situation in Lahore’s main cemetery at 2 am in the morning, stoned out of their minds. She got few other roles despite her excellent performance in Ansoo and the limelight began to recede from her direction leaving her groping in the dark.

Madame Noor Jehan, despite everything, still had more than a soft spot for her husband and she flew over to the prison in the UK to be by his side in his hour of need and perhaps regain entry to his heart, but her hopes were dashed yet again. The prison authorities refused to allow her to see Ejaz claiming he could only have a single visit from his wife, and that had already taken place. When Madame ji retorted that SHE was his wife, she was shown the signature of Firdous on the register which sent her into a deep depression once again and she returned home, forlorn and rejected for a second time in favour of a woman she had crushed but who Ejaz still seemingly preferred over her.

However, as she learned of Firdous’s worsening situation and her slow dive into drugs and a procession of men, she decided that she wouldn’t give up on Ejaz and spent tons of her money trying somehow or the other to get his sentence reduced if not upturned completely. Each time it was a futile exercise and Ejaz ended up serving his stint of five years.

During Ejaz’s time behind bars his business interests at home were handled by his erstwhile secretary, a handsome blue-eyed Pathan by the name of Taj Khan. This sleazy fellow grabbed his opportunity with both hands while his master was floundering in prison. He also kept providing Firdous with the drugs she needed to keep her pliable. Having usurped all Ejaz’s wealth, Taj Khan now proceeded to muscle in on Firdous and the two of them got married. Ejaz had grown philosophical in jail and when he heard of the marriage, in his heart he understood that Firdous must have been desperate for security and forgave her for marrying Taj. It wasn’t long before Taj got into plenty of hot water with his bad deals and had several people out for his head which resulted in him fleeing to oblivion never to be heard from again.

At about this time Ejaz was released having served his time and he returned to Firdous snubbing Madame ji yet again who in her heart of hearts was hoping that he would be over his thing with Firdous and would repent and return to her and his three daughters. No such luck, Ejaz went straight to Firdous where she wept and cried and he forgave her for everything that had happened and that they would pull through somehow or the other. Madame was shocked yet again; amazed that Ejaz still didn’t see Firdous for what she was.

There was to be a further twist in or two in the tail though as while jobless husband went around Royal Park trying somehow to beg people into giving him a chance to rebuild his career, Firdous had found herself a rich admirer who would be able to provide her the security Ejaz wasn’t able to and she would entertain this gentleman while her hubby was out job hunting. Her servant was a willing accomplice in these afternoon encounters and usually warned Firdous of any impending arrival or simply locked the door from the outside telling visitors and Ejaz that Madame had gone out with her friends and wouldn’t be back till much later. One day however the servant girl caught some heavy flak from Firdous who proceeded to give her the vilest tongue-lashing in front of some astonished onlookers. The girl sobbed an apology but within she decided that one day she would have her revenge from the woman who humiliated her in public – and her chance came just a few short weeks later when her latest toy boy Nadeem Carpetwallah came calling for his afternoon chat with Firdous while husband Ejaz stumbled about Royal Park begging for work.

The servant girl locked Madame inside her house with her secret lover as was normal practice, but this time the girl hopped into a rickshaw and went straight to Ejaz’s office, forcing him to arrive home immediately – then the vengeful little waif quietly unlocked the door and waited for Ejaz to enter and the fireworks to begin ……….and they did!  Ejaz showed Firdous his wrath with a thrashing and walked out in a state of stunned disbelief, never to return to the woman who he had virtually destroyed his life for. Fortunately for Ejaz, Madame Noor Jehan forgave all his past follies and read him a new riot act before allowing him to be rehabilitated at the Noor Jehan residence reuniting with his three daughters.

Meanwhile Carpetwallah soon absconded leaving Firdous to fend for herself which she did returning to the screen for a stint as a character actress in the mid 80’s appearing in such classics as Hitler and also investing her money by building on some land she had acquired in better days and converting the space into a shopping area which assumed her name.

Firdous Market is indeed named after the Pino Pauri of the 60’s who has certainly had her fair share of ups and downs and twists of fate in her tumultuous life. She managed to get her son married off to Nisho Begum’s daughter and having done that she retired from her second innings in Lollywood as a character actress and returned to life in relative comfort in her home that is directly opposite the market bearing her name. Though industrywallah’s claim that Firdous married producer Sheikh Nazir in the days just after she was discovered and that he never divorced her, so technically speaking she is still married to him….but that never stopped her from marrying half a dozen others either and more recently she has tied the knot with some non-controversial businessman and is currently living a far less stormy and steamy life then she did in the past.

Firdous was battaoing mitthaee (distributing sweets) the day Madame Noor Jehan abdicated but of course it was Eid then, wasn’t it – a day of festivity, not mourning.

From a series of Interviews of M. Yusuf, Editor Shama Magazine, Lahore. Pakistan

July 2001.