Zehr-e-Ishq is a bold experiment in finding new and better values for the Pakistani film. It defies convention in almost every respect – subject matter, treatment, and music. There is no relying on pseudo drama or cheap emotionalism. This clean film raises the crucial question – how far aesthetic values can be adhered to in the films of today? The choice, of course, is for the public to make. It will be a choice that will greatly influence the future quality of the Pakistani pictures.
It is the story of an impulsive woman. Sanwali (Mussarat) develops early in life uninhibited instinct of motherhood and of possessing what she loves. Her whole character is molded by these two dominant traits. When she falls in love with Jamil (Habib), an artist belonging to a house where social status and family prestige are still held most sacred, she wants to have him all to herself. But both of them are loved and sought in marriage by other persons. Both are forced into marrying persons they do not like. They are equally madly in love with each other, with the difference that while Sanwali knows of no bonds on love and has the will to fight for happiness, Jamil suffers inwardly and submits under his domineering mother to the painful routine of home life with his loving and dutiful wife. Even the arrival of a baby fails to relieve his torment.
Sanwali breaks away from bondage and returns to bring peace to her love. Jamil’s wife, seeing the lovers’ happiness, decides to move out of their lives. Sanwali gets Jamil. But she must have a child. Four years pass by and the only thing she can fondle is the old doll. She tries to accept her stepson as her own but the grandmother’s baby would not take her for mother. She also comes to know of her rival’s sacrifice. Caught in a dilemma she follows her natural motherly instinct to solve her misery.
This is a powerful story. Sanwali is a real living being with genuine feelings and impulses. Her character has been drawn with remarkable understanding and her emotions are interpreted with perfect clarity in visual terms. Her tragedy has been brought out both, as a personal case and in contrast with two mothers-Jamil’s mother and his first wife and their values of life.
As a classical tale, the style it follows to a considerable extent one may not be able to find fault with the theme, but as a film story it is open to criticism on two main points. Firstly, the writer does not appear to have taken into consideration the fact that in Sanwali’s love story, Jamil has no will of his own, still he is absolutely faithful to his love and is prepared to sacrifice everything for her. He may not be the move of things but, nevertheless, he is as much involved in them as anybody else. This character should have been given more importance. Secondly, due to various factors Sanwali does not get the audience’s sympathy, which she deserves, till the last few reels. By that time they have formed certain definite impressions about her which conflict with later conclusions. Further, the whole theme is so different from what the people find in films that they may have difficulty in identifying themselves with the characters. Their appreciation depends upon their sense of understanding the psychology of motherhood and the subtle points of drama, which a majority of our film goers cannot be said to possess. This point, however, goes in favor of the film rather than against it, from the purely artistic point of view.
Even more different from the routine is the film’s musical score. Completely untraditional it is the work of an individualist whose zeal for aesthetic perfection does not admit of many compromises. His experiments in Pakistani film music are valuable but for the audience that we have opera music and the expression of feelings with notes are as yet rather unfamiliar. Unfortunately, the music director has not been adequately helped by the singers and the recordist. Still, some of the songs are excellent. The background music all along is appealing.
Taking the theme as it is, it has been developed intelligently. The narrative is compact and follows a logical course. In presentation the basic requirements of film craft have been observed and there are touches of poetic treatment at suitable points. Symbolism and irony are treated with success. Situations of dramatic effect are exploited with maximum effect. The director, however, has not paid full attention to the tempo, although the plot is tense throughout. Shots of motion have been taken exceptionally well.
The film presents some of the artists at their best. Musarrat displays a fine command over histrionics in her marvelous performance as Sanwali. The role fits her completely and she lives it up like a great artiste. Yasmin is a perfect foil for her. She is dignified and restrained. And after a long, long time one sees Bibbo acting. The child, Pishoo, shows gifts of naturalness and confidence.
Technical values of the film, barring recording, are first rate. The photography is clear and sharp. Lighting is satisfactory and the camera movement smooth.
On the whole an excellent film, far above the common run of local productions – Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1958, Genre – Drama, Country – Pakistan, Language – Urdu, Producer(s) – Khurshid Anwar and Sultan Jilani, Director – Masud Parvez, Music Director – Khurshid Anwar, Cast – Mussarat Nazir, Habib, Yasmin, Neelo, Bibbo, M. Ismail, Nusrat Kardar and Pishoo