Born as Syed Kamal in Meerath, India on April 27, 1937, Kamal belonged to an Afghan family that migrated to India in the 1850s. He was not only tall, fair and handsome, but also bore an uncanny resemblance to the great Indian actor and fellow Pathan, Raj Kapoor.
It was this resemblance that hindered his career in India and restricted him to B-grade films. Dejected, he migrated to Pakistan and struck gold since his poor man’s Raj Kapoor image landed him a role in Shabab Kiranvi’s Thandi Sadak (1957). The tramp-like appearance, violin-playing antics and dancing to “O meri Nargis aaja, mein baja raha hoon baja” set things in motion for the debutant despite the presence of comic genius Zarif and the sizzling Musarrat Nazir in the film.
Although his next flicks Aaj Kal, Savera, Apna Paraya were flops, he entered the big league with Banjaran, Murad, Dil-i-Nadan, Tauba and Aashiana. After that there was no stopping him, as offers started pouring in for Kamal who went on to carve a separate entity for himself opposite leading ladies including Shamim Ara, Zeba, Nisho and Rozina.
His hits include Daal Mein Kala, Zamana Kya Kahega, Tauba, Aashiana, Joker, Behen Bhai, Dil Deke Dekho, Honeymoon, Nai Laila Naya Majnoon, Insaan Aur Gadha, Hum Dono and Siyasat. He was also part of Mehboob Khan’s Andaz remake in Pakistan titled Jalay Na Kyun Parwana. Where Nadeem played Dilip Kumar’s role, Kamal depicted Raj Kapoor’s role (what else) and Shabnam played their love interest. His last film, Mehndi (1996), the launch pad of his son Ghalib Kamal, proved to be a disaster despite featuring Farieha Pervez’s hit number, Patang Baaz Sajna.
Kamal started his career in roles where the hero was bungling at first, love-struck half-way and a hero in the true sense, but he matured into a force to reckon with the passage of time. His ability to do comedy as well as action scenes made him a first-choice actor in the presence of more serious peers such as Habib, Sudhir and Santosh Kumar. He managed to brave the arrival of Waheed Murad, Mohammad Ali and Nadeem in the ’60s, and remained a popular actor who made transition to direction and production as well.
His career, however, suffered after the Pakistan film industry shifted to Lahore, as he decided to stay back in Karachi. He continued making films till the mid-80s and became friends with many TV artistes, using Qazi Wajid, Mehmood Ali, Saleem Nasir, Shakil and Zahoor Ahmed in his films. Not only that, he also became the first film star to make a successful transition to television — first as the host of The Kamal Show in the ’70s, and later as a character actor in Kashkol 20 years later. He worked selectively yet comfortably for the last 15 years on television, and died with his boots on. His other famous plays include Ik Safar Tanha Hi and the on-going sitcom Nadaniyan, while Aap Ki Ada — his long play featuring son Ghalib Kamal, Shakil, Amber Ayub, besides himself — was also well-received.
Be it the award-winning role of Abdul Ghani in Behen Bhai (1968) or the super spy in Love in Europe (1970), the police inspector in Hum Dono (1980) or the unsuspicious bumpkin of many films, Kamal was at ease in all genres of the business. But his best role is not discussed as much as it should be. The role of lisping Abdul Tangay Walay in his directorial venture Insaan Aur Gadha commended his creative and versatile genius.
Although the surrealistic film belonged to Rangeela, Kamal called the shots brilliantly and showed his tenderness by giving his comic genius to most of the scenes. Insaan Aur Gadha can easily be termed as ahead of its time due to its bold satire and storyline, and the film went on to earn critical acclaim despite being banned by the then government.
Kamal also had the distinction of working with the best music composers of his times, including Sohail Rana, Nisar Bazmi, Musleh-uddin and M. Ashraf. Thanks to music composer Tasadduq Hussain and director Munawwar Rasheed, Kamal’s most successful film — Naye Laila Naya Majnoon — had the feel of R.D. Burman’s brand of music, only because the people in charge chose to copy songs from Shammi Kapoor’s Teesri Manzil, rather than do something original. Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera became Haseena Dilruba Zara Saamne Aa; Dekhye Sahibon became Dekhye Bebiyon; and the worst of all, Oh Haseena Zulfon Wali Jan-i-jahan made its way to local cinema as Oh Meri Mehbooba. But Tasadduq Hussain paid Kamal back in gold, with Yeh Ada Yeh Naaz Yeh Andaaz Aap Ka from Road To Swat, the most famous and recognisable number featuring Kamal.
He also wrote and starred in Joker (1966) long before his mentor Raj Kapoor produced his magnum opus Mera Naam Joker (1971), whereas he experimented successfully with six artistes in Honeymoon (1969). Some of the scenes of his only flick with Waheed Murad — Yahan Se Wahan Tak — were shot in Disneyland. When Punjabi films overtook Urdu cinema in the late ’70s, Kamal tried his hand there as well and did well with Jatt Kurian Tun Darda (1976), Ajj Dian Kurain (1977) and Kal De Mundey (1978).
His film Siyasat dealt with the non-party general elections of 1985, and his own failed attempt in the political arena.
His detractors believe his political ambitions damaged his chances of receiving the Pride of Performance award, but that didn’t stop him from taking a shot at it.
He won the National and Graduate Awards for best actor as well as four Nigar Awards including the special award for Behen Bhai and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. He was the Abdul we all loved, and his death has left a void that will not be filled for a long time to come – Seema Faruqi