Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza Mirza

Misrepresentation of Culture in Pakistani Cinema – II

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The struggle for a ‘religious’ cultural identity

During the British Raj the provinces of India where Muslims were in minority, “faced the threat of social decline.”[1] The Muslims of these provinces were deeply concerned by the British policy after the 1857 ‘Revolt’ led by the Muslim landlords against their British rulers. The Muslim landlords, “whose members often came from the same aristocratic milieu, were discriminated against in terms of administrative recruitment…this Muslim elite…was further weakened in 1899 by the recognition of Hindi as the other official language of the United Provinces (UP), on the same footing as Urdu.”[2] It was primarily the Muslims of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) who “prepared the ground for the Pakistan project.”[3]

In 1896 Syed Ahmed Khan “founded in Aligarh the Mohammedan’s Anglo-Oriental College that was to provide the basis for the creation of the Aligarh Muslim University in 1911.”[4] It was the Muslims of United Provinces who in 1906 spearheaded the creation of Muslim League. The fear of remaining marginalised was deeply felt when in “1906 the British announced the establishment of the Legislative Councils.”[5] The Muslims formed just “13 per cent of the local population but occupied 45 per cent of the civil service in 1886”[6]. It was the necessity of protecting the privileged position of Muslim elite of the United Provinces that gave birth to a feeling of Islamic (read religious) nationalism from which stemmed the tendency for Muslim separatism within India.

The “rather unorthodox Muslim”[7], Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who received his education in London and was a practicing lawyer in Bombay, became the leading vocal exponent for the minority Muslims of United Provinces. “For him, Islam provided the cultural basis for an ideology based on ethnic (religious) nationalism that was intended to mobilise the Muslim community in order to defend the ‘minority Muslims’.”[8] This vital background information about the fundamental political and social elements regarding the rise of Islamic nationalism is missing in Kartar Singh, the film that I have describe in my pervious article.

In 1935 the British imposed the Government of India Act. This prepared the ground for a federal India. During the 1937 elections the Muslim league “could only win 5 per cent of the Muslim vote.

(See figure below):





Total Seats




Muslim League

Bombay 175 159 11


Central Provinces and Bihar  








United Provinces 228 134 27



N. W. F. Province 50



19 _
Sindh 60


Punjab 175


18 1
Bengal 250 50 40

It was after this defeat that Mr Jinnah coined the formula of ‘two-nation theory’. He elaborated on his separatist political views in more detail at the Lahore session of Muslim League in March 1940 as follows:

Islam and Hinduism are not religions in the strict sense

of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders…

The Hindus and the Muslims belong to two different religious

philosophies, social customs and literatures…To yoke together

two  such nations under a single State, one as a numerical

minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing

discontent and the destruction of any fabric that may be so

built up for the government of such a State.[9]

The Muslims in United Province were in minority and they desperately needed support from other Muslim majority provinces. The results of the 1935 elections “worried…(Muslims) of those regions where they were in a majority.”[10] Jinnah now argued “the ‘Hindu’ Congress’ was putting ‘Islam in danger’.”[11]  In 1937 the party leader of the Unionist Party in Punjab, Sikander Hayat Khan, “agreed to sign a pact with Jinnah. According to this pact, Hayat committed himself to have the Unionists to join the Muslim League.”[12] The Unionist Party “had won all the elections (in Punjab) between 1923 and 1937.”[13]

“G. M. Syed” a Sindhi nationalist “had left the Congress in 1938 to become the architect of the Muslim League in Sindh.”[14] In the North Western Frontier Province (N.W.F.P), where the Muslim league could hardly compete with the ‘Red Shirts’ movement of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Muslim league had only won 17 seats against 30 won by the Congress. “Thus Muslim separatism developed primarily among the Muslims of the British provinces where they were in a minority and faced social as well as political marginalisation.”[15] In order to present their case for Pakistan the ruling establishment “shaped an ethnic variety of nationalism based on the religion of Islam.”[16]

Pakistani film Kartar Singh (see previous article) does not bring to the audience any of the above facts or analysis. It tries to appeal to its audience on an emotional level and, in order to provide different regional ethnic groups living in the new state with common past to relate to, the film seems to be an attempt to generate narrow minded (religious) nationalistic sentiments.

At the time of partition, Lahore, the training ground for the Bombay film industry, was incorporated in Pakistan while Bombay, the hub of film production, became part of India. Partition led to the division of resources. Lahore lacked the production facilities of Bombay. The cinemas in Pakistan screened a few Lahore made films but the main bulk of films shown at the time were produced in Bombay. In 1946, a year before the partition, 107 films were made in Bombay, 4 in Calcutta and 9 in Lahore.[17]

A number of Muslim filmmakers, distributors and artists from United Provinces and Bombay background, migrated to the newly born country of Pakistan. Among them were the filmmakers Shauket Hussian Rizvi, Amwer Kamal, music directors Ghulam Haider, Khawaja Kurshid Anwer, artists Hamaliyawala, Allaudin, actress and vocalist Noor Jehan and many others. The fleeing Hindu filmmakers, technicians and studio owners had left the field vacant that the migrant Muslim artists conveniently took over.

The filmmakers in Pakistan struggled hard to finance their projects and were faced with unsympathetic established distributors of Indian (Bombay) films. The local press in Pakistan was enjoying financial rewards in advertising for their continued loyalty to the distributors of the Bombay produced film. The press was not enthusiastic about the development of a local film industry. “In 1949”, writes Mushtaq Gazdar in his book, Pakistan Cinema, “a meeting was held between government officials, filmmakers and distributors of Indian films”.[18] The filmmakers were demanding for a five-year ban on Indian films in order to “develop local cinema.”[19]

To the relief of northern distributors the federal minister for industries A R Nishtar issued the following statement:

In principle Muslims should not get involved in filmmaking. Being the work of lust and lure, it should be left to the infidels.[20] (!)

As the imports from India continued to meet the demands of cinemas in the ‘northern territories’ i.e. Pakistan, tensions between local filmmakers and distributors of Bombay made films continued to grow.

(To be continued…)

  The writer is from Mirpur. He is the Chairman of Tehreek e Itefaq e Rai (Movement for Consensus) and can be reached at [email protected]

[1] Ibid.pp24

[1] Ibid.pp24

[1] Ibid.pp24


  • Jaffrelot, Chritophe. Nationalism without a Nation: Pakistan Searching for its Identity. Pakistan: Nationalism without a Nation? Edited by Jafffrelot, Christophe.Zed books ltd.2002.pp 8

2 Rehman, Tariq. Languages and Politics in Pakistan. Oxford University Press. Karachi. 1998,pp37,69.

3Robinson,F quoted in Jaffrelot, Chritophe. Nationalism without a Nation: Pakistan Searching for its Identity. Pakistan: Nationalism without a Nation? Edited by Jafffrelot, Christophe.Zed books ltd.2002.pp 8

4 Jaffrelot, Chritophe. Nationalism without a Nation: Pakistan Searching for its Identity. Pakistan: Nati

onalism without a Nation? Edited by Jafffrelot, Christophe.Zed books ltd.2002.pp 8

5 Ibid.pp 9

6 Ibid.pp 9

7Ibid.pp 11

8[1] Ibid.pp 11

9 Malik, A,I. Edition. Muslim leaguer Session 1940 and the Lahore Resolution. Documents. National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research. Islamabad. 1990.pp 156-7

10 Jaffrelot, Chritophe. Nationalism without a Nation: Pakistan Searching for its Identity. Pakistan: Nationalism without a Nation? Edited by Jafffrelot, Christophe.Zed books ltd.2002.pp 12

11 Ibid.pp 13

12Ibid.pp 13

13 Ibid.pp 13

14Ibid.pp 13

15Ibid.pp 14

16Ibid.pp 15

17Gazdar, Mushtaq. Cinema Before Partition. Pakistan Cinema. Oxford University Press. Oxford. Uk.1997.pp23






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