Instep Today

The man, the legacy, the legend

By Omair Alavi
Sun, 07, 20

Undoubtedly one of the most recognizable actors in the country, Nadeem Baig remains committed to the arts, whether it is through films, TV, or both

Pakistan’s film industry has produced some of the finest actors in the region, but when it comes to the best, Nadeem Baig’s name features in the top three. He is an actor who has been around for 53 years, who has proven his worth by essaying all kinds of characters. Undoubtedly one of the most recognizable actors in the country, Nadeem Baig remains committed to the arts, whether it is through films, TV, or both.

He began his career as one of the many Dilip Kumar look-alikes in the 1960s; however, he developed his own style in the first few years to stand out as one of the best in Pakistan. His career exceeds that of Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, who is two years his junior and has managed to reign supreme from the 1960s till this day. One could see the similarity between Nadeem Baig and Rajesh Khanna in countless films in the 1980s (Oonche Log, Alag Alag, Adhikar); that was a time when parallels could be drawn between cinema in both countries.

Born on July 19 in the year 1941, Nadeem Baig turns 79 today and having seen him back on screens in the last two years, we hope to see more of him, doing what he does best even after five decades in the business!

Phase One: Entering the industry

It was in the 1960s that Nadeem Baig rose to prominence as an actor sharing a resemblance to Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar. He was not the first actor to do so, nor was the last, but as luck would have it, he managed to get his first break because of that very resemblance. Before he entered films, he was Mirza Nazeer Baig working in the Sales department of a leading advertising agency in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), who pursued his passion for singing on national TV. Prominent film director Ehtesham saw him on TV singing Urdu and Bengali songs and asked him to consider acting, something the young lad didn’t have any interest in.

With heartthrob Waheed Murad being a rage in the 60s, Mohammad Ali proving his versatility and aging stars like Darpan and Santosh Kumar still a reckoning force, who in their right mind would risk their career and dabble in acting? It was only on the assurance of his boss – film director Zahir Raihan – that his job would be safe even if he couldn’t make it big in films that Nazeer Baig took the chance, and never looked back.

“Ehtesham Sahab approached me to act in his film Chakori but since I had no interest in acting, and that too playing the antagonist, I rejected the offer. In fact, I offered my services as a playback singer, which is how I sang ‘Kahan Ho Tum Ko Dhoondh Rahi Hain’ in the same film. After a few days, Ehtesham Sahib approached me again and asked me to play the lead this time in the same movie for which I had recorded the song; his leading man Azeem had backed out. My boss was instrumental behind my saying yes, and thankfully, with the support of the whole crew, Chakori became a hit and there has been no looking back for me,” said Nadeem Baig when asked about how he entered films in the first place.

Mirza Nazeer Baig became Nadeem after just one hit and was considered East Pakistan’s biggest contribution to Urdu films; however, it was the success of his subsequent films, a style that was nonexistent in Pakistan and a haircut that was a cross between Waheed Murad’s and Dilip Kumar’s that cemented his place as the first-choice actor of most directors. Be it Chand Aur Chandni, Sangdil, Quli (with the same Azeem), Behen Bhai, Daagh, Anari, and Nazneen, Nadeem’s star was on the rise as he managed to upstage most of the senior actors when they worked with him. However, with Nazneen, Shabnam became his heroine and the two have acted in over 50 films since.

It was during the first phase of his career that Nadeem worked best with Shabnam; the list of their hits outgrew all the other onscreen couples with memorable films like Nazneen, Jalay Na Kyon Parwana, Ehsaas, Do Badan, Umang, Sharafat, Zanjeer, Dillagi, Badal Aur Bijli, Pehchaan and Aaina. Be it songs rendered by leading playback singers of the day namely Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Masood Rana, Akhlaq Ahmed and later A. Nayyar and Ghulam Abbas, Nadeem Baig was at ease with all.

In fact, he continued to sing for himself during the first phase of his career, churning out hits after hits, even lending his vocals once for fellow actor Qavi Khan in Mr. Budhoo. As for his competition, Waheed Murad, Nadeem, and Mohammad Ali worked together in Shama, Jab Jab Phool Khile and Phool Mere Gulshan Ka, with each actor delivering near-perfect performances.

Phase Two: Saving the 1980s

Call it upgrading himself, or starting a trend, Nadeem Baig welcomed the 1980s in his own style; by changing his side-part hairstyle to a center-parting. From Bandish onwards, the film actor looked refreshingly different and that added life to his career, especially when things were difficult for the cinema industry. Films like Maula Jatt became blockbusters and softer movies tended to tank. Waheed Murad’s career was on a decline while Mohammad Ali had matured to character roles, playing even Nadeem’s father in Amber. With so much happening in the film industry, Nadeem decided to change gears and did a variety of roles that included playing Faisal Rehman’s father in Naraaz.

While talking to Instep On Sunday, Nadeem Baig credited his success in the 1980s to his directors but blamed the producers in the same sentence. “Some of the film directors who carried on from the 1970s or reached their peak in the ‘80s knew what the audience wanted and how to attract the best performance from the actors. Whatever we are today is because of those directors who invested in their actors because their goal was to produce good films and educate the audience. It was the producers who didn’t back them up as in those days, Punjabi films were gaining popularity. Most of the producers opted for Punjabi films and unable to keep a balance, the decline of Urdu cinema began. People stopped going to cinemas as they had the option of watching English and Indian movies at home on their VCRs, and I am sure that had the directors resisted, things might have ended better for local cinema.”

It was during the 1980s that Nadeem continued to work extensively with Shabnam and Babra Sharif; Babra began her career opposite Nadeem in the mid-70s as she was the second lead in Intezaar where Shabnam was the main lead but in following years, she developed a chemistry with Nadeem that saw them deliver hits after hits in the ‘80s. With both his leading ladies, Nadeem was on top of his game; his hit films with Babra included Playboy and Zindagiin the 1970s and Saima, Meherbani, Deewanay Do, Mukhra (Punjabi), Ustaadon Ke Ustaad and Zid in later years, whereas with Shabnam, he delivered Bandish, Khoobsurat, Kamyabi, Dehleez, Aahat, Lazawal, and Faisla to name a few films that did well at the box office. Nadeem even got to work with his very first heroine Shabana (now a Bangladeshi actress) in a couple of films including Basera and Aandhi where they were paired together for the first time since the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

There were a few films here and there with the then sizzling Sangeeta and the fiery Kavita in the 1970s and 1980s, Turkish beauty Nazan Sachi and Sri Lankan import Sabeeta in the 1980s. Not many people know this but it was during this time that Nadeem worked in an Indian film Gehri Chot, also known as Durdesh where he shared the screen with Indian actors Shashi Kapoor, Raj Babbar, Parveen Babi, Sharmila Tagore, David and Bangladeshi actress Babita, who had earlier worked with him in Jaltey Suraj Ke Neeche. It was a proud moment for Pakistan because before that, no Pakistani had held his own in an international film.

“I was offered both the role of both protagonist and antagonist in the film but chose Tony because it provided me with a chance to show my talent. Yes, the film couldn’t do well at the box office but I am glad that my role was appreciated. It was also a learning experience for me as I got to share the screen with actors of repute and although I had a few more offers, I had to politely decline because these films were supposed to revolve around controversial subjects, and I would not have been unable to justify my actions in Pakistan.”

Phase Three: The comeback

With the death of frequent collaborator Nazrul Islam, the retirement of Pervez Malik, and a comeback that didn’t go well for Raza Mir, Nadeem Baig was left sort of direction-less. That’s where writer-turned-director Syed Noor came into the frame and staged a mini-revival for Urdu cinema that featured Nadeem Baig in prominent roles. He played Jeeva in Jeeva; Sargam featured him in a prominent role with Adnan Sami Khan and Zeba Bakhtiar. He was the protagonist in Jo Darr Gaya Woh Marr Gaya, the Mohafiz in Mohafiz and the father who took his own son’s life in Inteha. But it began with Javed Fazil’s Bulandi where he played a young to old role, fathered Shaan’s character and romanced Samina Peerzada who played his wife earlier in Bazaar-e-Husn. Atiqa Odho played his wife in two films, Neeli in a couple of movies while he reunited with Deeba Begum, his first heroine in West Pakistan in Hawain. He also acted in his last film with Shabnam titled Aawargi where one of their songs from Aahat was inserted smartly by director Javed Fazil.

Nadeem Baig continued to nurture actors who were born after he had made his film debut and that included Humayun Saeed, Moammar Rana, Faysal Quraishi, Babar Ali whereas reunited with frequent onscreen collaborators Jawed Sheikh and Ghulam Mohiuddin during this decade, as they all gave their best to revive the film industry. The actor while going down the memory lane did talk about the rise and fall of cinema in the country. “I joined the film industry in 1967 and at that time, we were producing Urdu films in Lahore, Karachi and Dhaka. We even reached 200 films per year once but due to our own faults, we have been producing fewer and fewer films in the last 20 years, hardly touching 20 films a year, that too with all the might and force we can muster.”

Phase Four: The new millennium and beyond

The mini-revival lasted for a few years but when all seemed lost, Nadeem Baig returned to his roots with Bisaat, and began his second innings on TV, the place where it all started. At first, the super-fit-at-60 actor played his trademark romantic roles but after a couple of years he diversified and played everything from the hero’s father, heroine’s dad, a doctor leading a team to some plays that revolved around his character. That didn’t stop him from working in films as he played a pivotal role in Reema Khan’s directorial debut Koi Tujh Sa Kahan, Resham’s ‘Tycoon Husband’ in Pehla Pehla Pyar, the doctor that reconstructs Ahmed Butt’s face into Humayun Saeed in Mein Ek Din Laut Kay Aaoon Ga, besides playing the same actor’s embarrassed father in Main Hoon Shahid Afridi and Imran Malik’s Azaadi where he reunited with Pervez Malik’s son.

However, his performance in last year’s Superstar was loved by all; he played Mahira Khan’s grandfather who takes Bilal Ashraf’s character under his wings and make him act like never before. It was after a long time that Nadeem Baig was given a substantial role in films, he didn’t disappoint infact was one of the focal points of the films’ success. He also played Maya Ali’s father in Parey Hut Love and displayed his class by delivering a near-perfect performance as a film director in search of his final hit. Coming up, Nadeem is all set to make a classy appearance in Shaan Shahid’s Zarrar as an Army officer while the audience is also waiting for his substantial supporting role in Moammar Rana’s directorial debut Sikandar, where he plays the father of Momi and Farhan Ally Agha. We, the audience, are proud to be living in the Nadeem era and hope to still see a lot more of him in future films and TV dramas.

– Nadeem’s profile picture courtesy Kumail Zaidi