One Hindi movie from 1955 inspired two Pakistani remakes at the same time. To understand why Vachan was retooled as both Hameeda and Lakht-e-Jigar, we need to rewind to the early years of Pakistani cinema, which was born with the Partition of the subcontinent.
Ever since Pakistan was formed in 1947, there have been efforts from groups within the country’s film industry to ban the release of Indian movies and help the efforts of local filmmakers. The Pakistani film industry built itself up from virtually nothing after the Partition. The two main studios in Lahore were owned by Roop K Shorey and Dalsukh Pancholi, both of whom migrated to India, and the properties were badly damaged during the communal riots that marked the Partition. There was a lack of halfway decent equipment and barely any production infrastructure. In fact, filmmakers Mehboob Khan and AR Kardar made a trip to Pakistan to study the conditions there but returned to India, choosing to line up distributors for their films instead. Khan said at the time, “I wonder how films can be made in a country when there is a shortage of electricity.”
Despite the challenges, the first Pakistani film, Teri Yaad, was released on August 7, 1948, starring Asha Posley and Nasir Khan, Dilip Kumar’s younger brother.
Teri Yaad performed dismally at the box office and only highlighted how far behind Pakistan’s film industry was compared to Mumbai. Through efforts of pioneers such as actor-producer-director Nazir and his actress wife, Swarnalata, a greater number of productions began to emerge out of “Lollywood.” Pakistani cinema celebrated its first silver jubilee with the Punjabi film Pheray in 1949. Pheray was a remake of Nazir’s pre-Partition hit Village Girl (1945), in which he had co-starred with Noor Jehan
The distributor lobby in Pakistan successfully prevented a proposed five-year ban on Indian films. In 1952, an important agreement was reached to allow for a fixed number of films to be exhibited in both countries. However, Pakistani producers opposed the quota system, and demanded that the government either lift the restrictions to facilitate free trade or ban Indian cinema altogether. This led to what came to be known as the Jaal Movement of 1954.
Guru Dutt’s Jaal (1952), starring Dev Anand and Geeta Bali, was to have been released only in East Pakistan, but distributor Bari Malik illegally brought over its print to West Pakistan. The release of Jaal in West Pakistan was opposed by producer WZ Ahmed, directors Shaukhat Hussain Rizvi and Syed Sibtain Fazli, and actors Noor Jehan, Santosh Kumar and Sudhir, among others. Santosh, Rizvi and Fazli were even briefly arrested for their protests. An agreement was eventually reached to allow the exhibition of Indian films in both East and West Pakistan on a case-by-case basis.
The Jaal movement did manage to bring Pakistani filmmakers into a broad collective. Soon, the number of box office successes in Pakistan increased dramatically. If only seven productions were made in 1954, the following year saw the release of 19 films and 1956, 32 films.
Amidst the restrictions on the exhibition of Indian films, some Pakistani filmmakers began to steal from Indian films. The plots of Indian hits were pilfered in violation of copyright laws and the characters were given Muslim names. For instance, producer Syed Attaullah Shah Hashmi made a number of unauthorised remakes beginning with Naukar (1955), starring Nazir, Swarnalata and Ragini, which was a re-working of Mohan Segal’s Aulad (1954), starring Usha Kiron, Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy.
The artistic theft became near farcical in the mid-1950s, when two prestigious films were launched. Both Hameeda and Lakht-e-Jigar liberally borrowed their plots from Devendra Goel’s heroine-centric Vachan (1955), starring Geeta Bali as the hapless Kamla.
Vachan is a typical women’s weepie. Kamla’s father loses his job due to failing eyesight. His boss tells him he’s willing to hire his elder son in the same position if he passes his exams. The son comes “first class first” but is killed in an accident that very day. The father loses his eye-sight after banging his head on a wall in grief. It is left to Kamla to take care of her blind father and a younger brother. She gets a job and cancels her upcoming wedding to her broken-hearted fiancé, who is forced by his mother to marry another woman. It doesn’t stop here: a few years later, the opium-addicted uncle of the younger brother’s wife causes severe complications in the family and drives the siblings apart. Despite all the travails, all’s well that ends well, and if the relentlessly melodramatic movie is watchable, it’s because of Geeta Bali’s brilliant performance.
Ironically, some of the talent associated with Hameeda and Lakht-e-Jigar were also at the forefront of the Jaal protest. Santosh Kumar actually played the same role of the fiancé who marries elsewhere in both the remakes: opposite Sabiha Khanum in Hameeda and Noor Jehan in Lakht-e-Jigar. The similarities between the two Pakistani films don’t end there. Both introduced new actors, Ejaz (Hameeda) and Habib (Lakht-e-Jigar) in the key role of the heroine’s youngest brother, originally played by rising star Rajendra Kumar in Vachan.
Both the films were in a close race to reach the finishing line. Hameeda won by the narrowest of margins, releasing just a week ahead of Lakht-e-Jigar on February 10, 1956. The first mover advantage benefitted Hameeda at the box office too. It was a huge hit, even though its rival is regarded as a better production. Lakht-e-Jigar, by contrast, was a dismal flop despite Noor Jehan teaming up with legendary music director GA Chishti for the first time and recording fine songs under his baton, such as “Who Khwab Suhana Toot Gaya”, “Aa Haal Dekhle Mera” and the magical lullaby “Chanda Ki Nagri Se Aaja.”