Shaheed, a stunning b-&-w movie, was released in 1962. It was written by Riaz Shahid, and directed by Khalil Qaiser, both men destined to be removed from the board by exploitative forces just on the fringes of the 1970s. One has always known that good literature or even all art, pre-empts situations and events to come in later history. Shaheed was a stroke genius, and if you see it even today, you will find that not a single aspect of the film is of a lower level. Its direction, dialogues, camerawork, sets (some of them just paintings), editing, acting, music, dances, processing and most of all, the pace, is brilliant. Each character was given on merit, and cannot be faulted anywhere. Even the role of a deaf and dumb servant of the Arab Sheikh, Alauddin, which was done superbly by Saqi, could not be redone on the same level again, considering that an actor of the caliber of Nadeem attempted it in Watan!
The tricky Li’l Fox, with a hornpipe between his lips, Talish, who played Ajnabi (stranger), had all the cards in his hand. He had fooled the Arab leaders, and had bought oil wells. He knows his game plan like the back of his hand. But, he couldn’t have known that a bolt from the blue would change the climax altogether! When Mussarat Nazir, a dancing girl who sold herself for some dinar, ran towards the oil refinery and dived into it with a huge burning torch, in that unforgettable climax scene in Khalil Qaiser’s remarkable episode on Palestine, called Shaheed, the wolfish grin disappeared from Ajnabi’s face. He had been squarely defeated by a girl who he thought was a plaything in the Arab cafes! Did Mussarat play the first ever suicide bomber in our films?
Well she didn’t. She played the heroine of whom a nation is proud. And what a performance. Nothing could rival that performance by any actress in our films in that particular role, and though Neelo did a fascinating job in another Khalil Qaiser-Riaz Shahid spectacle on the Palestinian issue, Zerqa, I would not say she did it better than Mussarat in Shaheed. Even Rani, a superlative actress by all accounts, could not replicate that show in Hassan Tariq’s remake of Shaheed, in the 1980s, called Watan. The remake was nowhere near the original. Hasan Tariq had misjudged his own potential because he was a master of other subjects, on which he could not be surpassed by anybody, namely Anjuman, Seeta Maryam Margaret, Maazi Haal Mustaqbil, Begum Jaan etc. Mussarat lived a role of quick buck earner, who had no love for anything except the customers she could catch in the net of her allure. But, she was intrigued by his workaholic game planner, who called himself Ajnabi, and never looked at her to satisfy his basic instincts, except to use her against her own people! When she realized she was exploited to become a catalyst for a drastic change in her country’s political and economic freedom, she finally took a decision. She blew herself up to save her country’s destiny from invaders, who were on the verge of siphoning up all the energy resources of her land, while the Arab leaders were fooled by the glib-tongued exploiter from across the desert city state. Would you label her as a suicide bomber?
I don’t think so. She remains a heroine. In a new millennium, why should I throw off the back of the old values, and buy a form back of globalization? She was fighting against the invaders, wasn’t she? So, she is a heroine. She detonated an exploitative system being built up in a free land. It is a hugely different angle from a religious extremist’s attack on foreign tourists or their own brethren. How can you equate the two? If a person is fighting his or her country from long time usurpers, it’s another situation altogether.
Mussarat enchanted the audience as a dancing girl working for the underground nationalist movement to foil British designs to gain control over oil-rich Arab land. Riaz Shahid’s highly charged anti-colonial eloquence for the right of people to their soil sounded logical and relevant to the over-all situation in the region. Rashid Attre’s musical score was also a major factor in the tremendous response that the movie received from the public. Shaheed won a record number of nine Nigar Awards including the Best Picture Award.
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1962, Genre – Drama, Country – Pakistan, Language – Urdu, Producer – Khalil Qaiser, Director – Khalil Qaiser, Music Director – Rashid Attre, Cast –Mussarat Nazir, Ejaz, Husna, Talish, Alauddin, Saqi, Diljeet Mirza, Emmy Minwala and Himalayawala