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Zahoor Raja – Profile

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Zahoor Raja – Profile

Zahoor Raja in Anmol Ghadi (1946)

There is something about the old guard that has wholesomeness to it. That’s not to decry the younger lot, but the old schooling taught you a lot more than what the best institutions teach you today. One of the seniors, who made a good impression on our cinema, despite relatively skimpy contribution, was Zahoor Raja, a man who was determined to experiment his way to success. And that he did, when he made one of the three horror movies of the 1960s, which are still talked about in hushed tones. He was the director of Diwana, which is still seen with awe and reverence amongst film enthusiasts, alongwith two other fascinating films, Zinda Lash and Street 77.

Zahoor Raja was a multi-dimensional person. Since the pre-Partition days, he was noticed as a man of original ideas and concepts, which he trans­lated into reality in most of the cases. From the 1940s to the late 1960s, he remained in the frame for his fine efforts. He was a notable actor, a superb technician, and a brilliant director. Although he didn’t act as much as others of his ilk, yet his penchant for characterization made him try his hand at acting in a couple of movies. As for his technical prowess, his knowledge of processing and editing was much superior to most of the other directors of his category, who were content to leave the handling of the cumbersome technical side to the assistants and the lower hands. He would strive to learn and do the job in conjunction with his unit. That was the reason that he attempted difficult subjects and was considerably famous for his films.

Zahoor Raja began his career as the assistant to various famous Indian directors, and learned a lot due to his keenness to develop his knowledge. Money was not his main objective, art was. So, Zahoor, finally detached himself from small-time directors, in the early 1940s, and decided to make do with whatever he had learned in the late 1930s. From a young, enthusiastic technical hand, he publi­cized himself as the director of films. A known film company, Eastern Pictures contacted him for editing first, but seeing his all-round prowess, they signed Zahoor as the director. In 1942, their film, Badal was released, with Zahoor being the actor-director in the project; The cast of Badal was Radha Rani and Zahoor Raja doing the lead, while Urmila, Shakti, S. Nazeer, ,Jamshedjee, Radha Krishan and others did important roles. The film didn’t do well, but that was­n’t because of any basic flaw in direction of the film. Zahoor Raja was pitted against masters of the craft in 1942, whose films were awaited with great expec­tations. Amongst them, Deveki Bhos was a living legend, and his Apna Ghar was a social classic that was released just about the time Zahoor’s Badal was released. Then Kedar Sharma’s Arman, Rafiq Rizvi (Bapu)’s Awaz and Ramchandar Thakur’s Apna Paraya were also screened about the same juncture. This competition with the top-tier directors was really hard, and though he couldn’t earn that much from Badal, that was a priceless experience for him. Fortunately, for Zahoor, the Eastern Pictures liked what he made, and the press also appreciated his hard work. So, his publicity as a nice director in the making, provided a powerful leverage for him.

In 1943, Zahoor formed his own company, Raja Movietone, and completed a movie, Mazaq in quick time. His competitors thought that the joke would be on him, but Raja had understood the basic factor of success in the industry. He made Mazaq with a shoe-string budget and earned enough to stay afloat in the stormy waters. He had only spent money on the cast, which was a good one in those days, as Madhuri and Pahari Sanyal, who did the lead, were both popular artistes. Zahoor Raja, himself, was in the film, in an important role, and acquired his nega­tive shades through this role. Now, things in the Street were going towards a revolution, both politi­cally and economically, and Raja knew Muslims would be squirming in a hard place to keep in the race. So, he tried to get as much experience under his belt as possible. In 1944, he made O Panchi which had overtones of migrations in it. The film was liked for its social fabric and good songs. This gave heart to Zahoor, who made another film, Ghazal the next year, trying out a light mood this time, with Charlie and Leela Chitnis in a situational comedy, and Raja and Radha Rani in second pair. This film created ripples that made Raja a much-liked name in the market. Finally, his career was rising. In 1946, he made Dharkan, with a new cast and an arty subject. The film was liked for its technical finesse, making the above-mentioned makers notice this pugnacious young man.

Sadly, now the opposition to Muslims was increasing, and only the most influential Muslim makers were able to continue work in the industry. So, Zahoor packed his belongings and went to Lahore in 1950. Quietly, he started work on the subject of a film, Jihad, which was about the Pakistan Movement. He knew Lahore was a major film center, and professionals were already making films here. So, he laid low and took a new cast for his film. Zahoor was the leading artiste with Rufi, Zarina and Reshman in the film, which could not survive due to a small budget and lack of technical facilities in the studios. Raja was heartbroken, and went underground, so to say, biding his time and planning for the future. He began a shop and lost contact with films for a while. But, art is something you can’t divorce for a long time. Raja came back in 1961, with another ambitious historic project in August, Ghazi Bin Abbas, a film on a Muslim Mujahid. Husna and Ratan Kumar were the lead in the film, and it was a nice effort, but it didn’t earn him much. Immediately, he released his other film, in October, produced by the greatest name in the industry, Anwar Kamal Pasha, titled Gulfarosh, with Nayyar Sultana, Kamal, Meena Shori and himself, apart from Naeem Hashmi. It was, may be, Pasha Sahab’s name or Raja’s better work that Gulfarosh was liked in the cir­cle of the arty crowd and senior critics. Good reviews made Raja continue in his effort to win more. This time, he picked a horror movie, after he had watched Street 77 with interest in 1960. Street 77 had a superior technical work, taking inspiration from the American hit, The Invisible Man. The villain in this film was a scientist, who disappears after drinking a special potion, and only his cigar travels in the air to give the hero, Habib, a private investigator in the film, some idea where the villain is traveling. The film had technical jugglery, and Raja was fascinated by the concept. So, he cooked up his own horror movie, Diwana, in 1964. In Diwana, he cast Sabiha in the role of an insomniac, while Ejaz was the hero. Deeba, Habib and Ilyas Kashmiri were the other artistes. The film had sufficient suspense and thrill, apart from technical perfection, and great tunes by Muslehuddin, to capture audience attention.

Zahoor’s good times were there now, and another of his adventurous movies, Baghi Sardar was a hit in 1966. With Mohammad Ali in great shape those days, he was the king of the industry, and the film did good business. Saloni, Adeeb and Zahoor Raja were other important stars of the film. It doesn’t make sense that Zahoor Raja just disappeared after two such successful movies. But, according to the insiders, he felt that he was not getting more takers, and was adamant that he would want to go to the for­eign countries to learn more in latest film technology to make high-class movies. But, once he went to England he got into business and left his idols down memory lane – Zulqarnain Shahid

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24 Comments

  1. This is my grandfather. i am English but my grandfather of my dads side of the family was indian/ pakistani. i know little about his personal life in Pakistan, however i do know that when he moved to england he married and English lady called Peggy and they had for children, one of which Ronaled is my father. i would be gratful for any additinal infor you have on my grandfathers life in Pakistan, thanks very much! iesha 😀

  2. hi iesha, my name is waqar,i am ur fathers cousin, which makes me ur uncle. i dont know why ur dad did not tell u that u have relatives living in london. i am ur grandads younger brothers son. i am now living in dubai, i would love u to contact me then i can tell u all about uncle zahoor. i hav been trying to find ur dad, clair and john for years, plz contact me. i also hav a lot of fond memories of holidays in margate with uncle and family. my contact details are- waqar_ahmed18@hotmail.co.uk phone n.o is 00971558093963.

    • This is Javaid from Islamabad presently working with Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority ( PEMRA ) as General Manager. Pls let me know whether Zahoor Raja was the maternal uncle of Indian melodious Queen and artist Suraiya who died in Mumbai in 2004 ? I was just peeping into the past and suddenly came across with these write ups. Interesting really. Regards to all of you.

  3. Dearest Iesha, my name is kosar and I am also known as Kay. My brother Waqar has made you aware that you have family who have been searching for John, Clair
    And you dad for years…..after we lost uncle Zaoor we lost contact with everyone….please call me on 07951399321 You can not imagine how happy I am that I have found you guys………

  4. Hi iesha. I m ur cousin Hamza from pakistan. Im nephew of waqar and kosar. Most of ur grandfather family lives in pakistan. And some of them lives in uk like waqar and many otherz. We wll like to c u in pakistan. rajahamzaali@hotmail.com its my email i.d

  5. Thanks for beautiful write-up on Zahoor Raja. I suppose many of his relatives still could watch one of his movie he acted (Anmol Ghadi) which is commonly available in DVD.

  6. Your article about Zahoor Raja was fine containing information,but add to your article that Zahoor Raj Produced and directed Gumrah in 1959,with introducing a new heroine ,Kafira also ,he played villain role in it,thanks

  7. Hi Iesha, I was speaking to my dad about Zahoor Raja, who is my father’s Uncle, my grandad and your grandad are brothers, so i decided to Google him as you do nowadays lol, and stumbled across this very informative article, I’ve met your Grandad many times when he lived in South London. We used to go his house all the time when we were little. We have a lot of memories of him and my dad can tell you so much about, if you want to get in touch with us dont hesitate to drop me a email, we still live in South London Ohmzin@hotmail.co.uk

  8. Hello, my name is elisha zahoor was also my grandfather, I see my cousin iesha has commented above! Clair is my aunt john and ron are my uncles and there other brother hughie who noone has mentioned is my dad! There is also another cousin called laura who is aunt clairs daughter x

  9. As salamu alaikum everyone!!

    this is amazing! I have only just found this page again I had no idea I had so much family, nor that they are muslim Alhamdulillah!!

    I have emailed you all
    my email is ieshamathews@gmail.com

    subhanAllah I had no idea about my grandadfathers life!

    a huge thank-you to this page thank you so much for making all this contact possible

    I am so happy Alhamdulillah

  10. As Salamu alaikum,
    Firstly I want to sincerely thank this page for making it possible to contact my long lost family Alhamdulillah!! Amazing I truly never new I had and relatives here in Lo Don nor did I ever think it would be possible for me to find any in Pakistan but I am so so lucky and happy to have found them all due to this wonderful page!!!
    I am so so happy Alhamdulillah!!
    My email is ieshamathews@gmail.com

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