Faiz was due to go to London for the screening of a film he had written Jago hua savera (Awaken, it’s dawn). Alys [his wife] had already arrived in London with the girls, her first trip home since 1938. Faiz had never been involved with the film industry, although as early as 1947, a film made in Bombay called Romeo Juliet had used one of his poems as a song. Subsequently, several of Faiz’s poems were used in feature films, including the Dilip Kumar-starrer Mazdoor.

‘Hum Mehnat Kash Walon Se’ from ‘Maazdor’.

After his release from prison, Faiz had become extremely popular, partly as a result of his constant demonization by the mainstream press. In Pakistan, he was welcomed back from prison a hero. It was during this time that he met A.J. Kardar, son of the famed film-maker A.R. Kardar, who was originally from Lahore and had been one of the pioneers of the film industry there. He eventually ended up in Bombay where he introduced many legendary artists to the Hindi film industry, including Naushad, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Suraiya.

A.J. Kardar persuaded Faiz to write a film script which Faiz based on one of his favourite novels, The Boatman of the Padma (a translation of Manik Bandhopadhyay’s classic, Padma Nadir Manjhi), about the lives of Bengali fishermen. He also participated in the direction of the film. Earlier, there had been an attempt to make a film based on the Faiz poem ‘Hum jo tareek rahon main maray gaye’ about the life of the American couple Julius and Ethel Rosenberg but it had come to naught.

The song ‘Bandhu Rey’ from ‘Jago Hua Savera’.

Jago hua savera was filmed almost entirely in East Pakistan and Faiz wrote most of the songs for the movie. The film did not do well at the box office, probably because of its unusual subject matter and a total disinterest on the part of the Pakistani establishment to promote it, but was feted at several international film festivals. Faiz’s poems though, continued to be used in feature films. There were several other attempts to make films in which Faiz was involved, none of which came to fruition. Faiz would have a ready answer for people who would ask him when there would be good films made in Pakistan. He would say, only half in jest, that it would happen when instead of shooting films, the film-makers would be shot! The film-makers, Faiz maintained, refused to accept that a film could be realistic and entertaining at the same time. Another film that Faiz made much later, in the early 1970s, when he was cultural advisor to the government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was also made with A.J. Kardar. However, that film never saw the light of day due to contractual disputes between the film-maker and the crew.

Faiz’s only English poem was also a screenplay for a documentary about two artefacts recovered from the ruins of Mohenjodaro. ‘The Unicorn and the Dancing Girl’ describes the march of human civilization through the ages and was made into a documentary film under the aegis of UNESCO in 1963.

Faiz knew that films are a very powerful medium in which multiple creative endeavours can be combined to communicate a very effective message. He had written in one of his essays that it was strange that all other creative activities were considered ‘art’ while film had been designated an ‘industry’, thus relegating it to the commercial sphere only. While Faiz was not wholly opposed to the commercial aspects of art, it was his view that the real purpose of films, like all art, is to reflect human life—its joys and sorrows, its agonies and ecstasies, its purpose and ends. He was also painfully aware, though, that like all art forms, films were beholden to financiers and profiteers and subject to their whims. In spite of this, he maintained an active interest in films and his poetry continues to grace films today.

Excerpted with permission from Love and Revolution: Faiz Ahmed Faiz – The Authorised Biography, Ali Madeeh Hashmi, Rupa.