Many famous artists of yesteryears were all-rounders who impressed people with their talent and variations. Amongst such artists, Zareef was one of those who appeared most frequently in films during the 1950’s. He was probably one of the two original comedians in Pakistani cinema, who used to sing very well. Apart from Zareef, Rangeela also later sang quite a few songs for films.
Zareef’s punch lines, his spontaneity, timings, and above all, the whole behavior, was of a true comic. It was this mannerism that Munawwar Zareef later inherited and enhanced it to such perfection that he became one of the prime comedians of Indo-Pak. Zareef was the son of a most pleasant conversationalist from Gujranwala, known as Sufijee, who was an inspector in the ticket department of Pakistan Railways. Zareef’s real name was Mohammad Siddiq. He was known to sing to his friends in private functions too. He had all sorts of jokes and anecdotes on the tip of his tongue, and provided quite pleasant company in and outside the industry. Zareef was known for his special cue, which was due to the fact that he was well versed in theatrical stuff. He used to copy the senior performers in the rural theatres. Although Zareef made his debut for film before Partition – Dil Diyan Lagiyan, his true popularity was attained when he worked for the local cinema. When he came to Lahore, his talent developed fourfold. Sufijee was not like other conventional fathers, and did not stop his son in the attainment of his goals. And let’s say, he wasn’t disappointed.
Zareef first film in Pakistan was Ghulam Mohammad’s Hamari Basti, which was released on 18 March, 1950. Another brilliant radio, TV and film artiste, Sheikh Iqbal also appeared for the first time in Hamari Basti, which had a good leading cast of Sabiha, Shahnawaz and Najma. At that time Nazar was the rage. So, Zareef had to struggle for his place, as Asif Jah and Charlie were also available to the film makers. He was noticed in Imtiaz Ali Taj’s creative endeavor, Gulnar, which starred Noor Jahan and Santosh, and had an ear candy score from the brilliant Ghulam Haider. He was not in much demand till the middle of 1955, when his three films were released in quick succession, which were Jheel Kinarey, Toofan and Shabab Kirvani’s Jalan. In Jalan, he had a role that proved he could carry of a light-hearted second lead character, with panache. So finally, Zareef was booked as a second lead for a big-banner production, Patey Khan, with Aslam Parvez and Noor Jahan in the main roles.
Late M.A Rasheed, endearingly called Daddy in Lollywood, was making his debut as director. And wanted a new team. Zareef was cast opposite Mussarat and Zubeida Khanum. Very excited about the film, Zareef talked to Daddy about carrying a new music director, and introduced a young boy, who was Akhtar Hussain Ankhiyan. When Madam Noor Jahan saw him, she smiled and said to Zareef, “As usual, you are joking, aren’t you?” But, when she listened to the tunes this young man had composed, namely Kalli kalli jaan dukh lakh te karor ve and others, she was much impressed. The film was a super hit and established all concerned.
It was in Patey Khan that Zareef sang his first song for films. In Mahi Munda, Zareef sang Rannanwaliyan de pakan paronteh, which was a big Punjabi hit. Later, he sang a few other numbers too, including the biggest hit, Burey naseeb mere beri hoya pyar mera in Choo Mantar, picturised on Laila and Zareef.
Zareef’s roles are mostly unforgettable. In Yakkewali, the way he performed the role of Mamaji in Karachi, and gave his typical verdicts in the public courts, is memorable stuff. Similarly, in the Kamal-Mussarat Nazir starrer, Thandi Sarak, I still remember the way he used to say Hudd ho gaee yaar, in his typical style of emphasizing on double dee. He showed his versatility in Kartar Singh, where he played the character of a traditional and God-loving hakeem, which was a totally serious role. Zareef worked in many films including Peengan, Anarkali, Miss 56, Naji, Wehshi, Chotti Begum, Jatti, Rani Khan, etc. If not for his excessive drinking, he would have survived till much later. But over intoxication has deprived us of many such brilliant artistes at a young age. Munawwar Zareef, his younger brother, also died young due to much drinking, which is a real tragedy for those who literally kept themselves happy on the basis of such blessed men of cinematic humor.