When Pakistan was formed in 1947, most of its Hindu population migrated to India, but not Jagdish Chand Anand. The producer and distributor stayed back in Karachi after the Partition, and continued to run a hugely successful business that included the distribution of major Indian releases in Pakistan.
He was born in 1922 in Bhera, a small town in Punjab’s Sargodha district. His father was an importer of goods from Japan, but trade floundered with the onset of WWII. Rather than carry on with his father’s work, Anand turned his attention to the film industry, working first with a distribution company in Lahore. He soon graduated to releasing films as a so-called second party – he would buy the film rights from the main distributor and run prints in smaller towns or at single-screen cinemas.
After forming his own company, Eveready Pictures, in 1946, Anand broke through as an important distributor after 1947 by distributing Indian films, notably the Bombay Talkies smash hit Mahal (1949) and Raj Kapoor’s films, including Barsaat (1949) and Awara (1951).
As indigenous productions began to slowly emerge in Pakistan beginning with Dawood Chand’s Teri Yaad (1948), Anand foresaw challenges in the release of Indian films. With funds largely acquired from distributing Indian films, Anand decided to do his bit for the Pakistani film industry, launching his first local film as a producer. Sassi (1954) was based on the well-known tragic love story of Sassi and Punhun.
Eveready Pictures’ Sassi was a big-budget production by Pakistani standards. The Urdu movie was directed by Dawood Chand and starred Sabiha Khanum and Sudhir. Sassi was released on June 3, 1954, and went on to become the first golden jubilee film of Pakistan. Sassi was even distributed in India, where it was panned by critics. Baburao Patel wrote in his review in Filmindia, “Sassi is an ugly, rotten seventh rate picture which makes the spectator restless in his seat ten minutes after its start. There is not a trace of technical skill, art or imagination in the entire length of this darkened celluloid. Extremely poorly photographed, more poorly directed and containing silly performances, shoddy sets and dreadfully dull music, the picture is a rarely ugly and crude sight and makes one limp with sheer boredom by the time it traverses its tiresome course to reach its long awaited end.”
The film made more noise in India due to the fact that it had plagiarised the popular song “Na Yeh Chand Hoga” from the Hindi film Shart (1954).
Undeterred by the reception in India and encouraged by the phenomenal response to Sassi in Pakistan, Anand embarked on another tragic love story. Sohni (1955), based on the legend of Sohni and Mahiwal, starred Sabiha and was officially produced by MA Khan and directed by MJ Rana under Anand’s banner. The film didn’t do well at the box office.
Anand returned as producer with yet another famous star-crossed romance in which the lovers unite in death – Heer and Ranjha. Heer (1955) was made in Punjabi and directed by actor, producer and filmmaker Nazir. He cast his wife, Swarnalata, as Heer, while singer Inayat Hussain Bhatti played Ranjha. The film had extremely popular songs by Safdar Hussain, who was making his debut as a composer, and was another smash hit.
Anand was now a producer to reckon with in Pakistan. In 1956, two hugely ambitious productions emerged from his banner. The Arabian Nights-style fantasy Hatim reunited Anand not just with Sassi director Dawood Chand but also with actors Sabiha Khanum, Sudhir and Asha Posley from the previous film. However, Hatim was a setback for Anand, and failed to match the triumphant run of his previous two productions.
For his other film that year, Miss 56, Anand invited former Lahore filmmaker Roop K Shorey and his actress wife, Meena Shorey (the “Lara Lappa” girl) from India to come to Pakistan and make a film for him. Written by IS Johar, Miss 56 was a comedy centred on the heroine and banked heavily on Meena Shorey’s comic talents. Among other things, the film had her chasing the jeep-driving villains on a camel and mimicking a French lady with the help of a false nose and a huge wig. The film proved to be average fare, with a reviewer declaring, “The simplicity of approach and the disproportionately light hearted treatment are surprising, all the more so when found in the work of a veteran director.”
Miss 56 created a bigger buzz behind the scenes. Seeing the adulation that she got in Pakistan, and considering the fact that her career was on the decline in India, Meena Shorey opted to migrate to Pakistan. The broken-hearted Roop K Shorey returned alone to India.
The following year saw Anand hit his peak. He produced four out of the 27 films made in Pakistan in 1957 – Ishq-e-Laila, Noor-e-Islam and Murad in Urdu and the Punjabi biggie, Nooran.
Sticking to his track record of producing epic romances, Anand’s big hit of the year was Ishq-e-Laila, a retelling of the Laila-Majnu tale directed by Munshi Dil and starring Sabiha Khanum and Santosh Kumar. Ishq-e-Laila found itself in competition with another film with the same story, titled Laila Majnu. Anwar Kemal Pasha, another prominent Pakistani filmmaker, directed this version with Bahar and Aslam Parvez as the doomed lovers. Both films were released on the same day on April 12, 1957. The star power of Sabiha-Santosh and Safdar Hussain’s melodious soundtrack of 14 songs, most of them chartbusters, saw Ishq-e-Laila become a smash hit at the cost of Laila Majnu.
In contrast to Ishq-e-Laila’s winning run, the big disappointment that year came with Nooran, Anand’s first and only collaboration with Noor Jehan. Despite a star cast that included Sudhir as Noor Jehan’s leading man, the inclusion of a daring bathing sequence involving her, and the film having possibly the finest musical score of Safdar Hussain’s career, Nooran failed to shake the box office. The MA Khan Jr-directed movie is remembered mainly for its wonderful songs sung by the melody queen at the height of her singing powers.
Anand produced only three more movies. Of these, Hasrat (1958) with Sabiha and Santosh, performed well. The lead stars married each other during its making. The subsequent productions Alam Ara (1959) and Dulhan (1963) were failures.
JC Anand died in Karachi in 1977. He left behind a rich cinematic legacy not just in his country but also in India. Actress and producer Juhi Chawla is his sister-in-law’s daughter. JC Anand’s dream continues in the form of his son, Satish Anand, who runs the Eveready group in Pakistan. The company has released over 400 films besides producing over 100 television shows and events across the border. Satish Anand made the headlines in October 2008 when he was abducted, allegedly by the outlawed terrorist group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and released after six months of captivity following the payment of a huge ransom amount.