Ahmad Bashir, as his friends knew him

January 21, 2024

Dr Ajaz Anwar on Ahmad Bashir’s centennial anniversary

— Image: Supplied
— Image: Supplied


On January 6, the Anjuman Taraqqi Pasand Musannifeen and the Punjab Institute of Language and Culture, in collaboration with the Department of Information and Culture, decided to celebrate the centennial birth anniversary of Ahmad Bashir. The invitation was sent by Javed Aftab, the PWA central secretary, via WhatsApp, to a lot of people who might be interested. Most of them turned up and were accorded the status of chief/ honourable guests.

It was after weeks of research that they were able to organise such a well-attended show. Most of the speakers at the centennial dwelt on various facets of Bashir’s personality — a senior communist; a progressive writer, who always protested against social injustices; a novelist; a critic; a journalist; and a filmmaker.

A huge banner displayed the names and portraits of the speakers. It was a valuable collection of portraits put together painstakingly. It was also an opportunity to meet so many long lost friends and benefactors. Asghar Nadeem Syed, who had inaugurated my paintings exhibition at the Lahore Museum, was there too. I wanted to exchange a few words with Farrukh Sohail Goindi about Orhan Pamuk, a friend from my university days in Istanbul, but a sea of crowd prevented me from reaching him.

Pamuk is an architect whose novel-writing has earned him the coveted Nobel Prize for literature. As Sibel, a character in his second novel, titled Museum of Innocence, puts it: “Illa ki beni rahat birak.”

Travel writer Salma Awan, with whom I had once exchanged notes about the Middle Eastern countries, too, was inaccessible.

Several books by Bashir were on display. These included Dil Bhatkay Ga, Jo Milay Thay Rastay Mein and Sachai Ki Tareekh. In another corner, cakes were waiting to be cut. The show was stolen by Madam Zarreen Suleman Panna and the members of her dance academy. In the midst of the riotous on-goings, she ascended the stage and gave full expression to her art.

Of the many speakers on the occasion, Khawar Naeem Hashmi has braved a lot of ordeals in life. One knew him as someone who had been flogged at the orders of a military court after Bhutto’s government was toppled by Gen Zia.

Interestingly, no one pointed out that the stadium where the function was being held was named after Col Gaddafi who had addressed a huge public meeting in 1974, in Arabic language, right after the Islamic Summit.

In his tribute to Bashir, Shahid Mahmood Nadeem of Ajoka Theatre spoke of the feature film, Neela Parbat, which Bashir had produced. Nadeem blamed its dismal performance at the box office on a cartel of producers and distributors; even the screenwriters.

Soon it was decided that the proceedings of the event be conducted in Punjabi, because Bashir was a strong proponent of mother tongue. His daughters Bushra Ansari and Neelam Bashir were present, but avoided making long-winded speeches.

Critic Wajahat Masood, on the other hand, had much to say. He could’ve been the moderator of the event, but chose instead to speak only on his key points.

I was invited to the stage towards the end of the event, which in a way was an opportunity to discuss points that had not been touched upon earlier. Neela Parbat was my focal point. I had had the experience of managing a film distribution office in Karachi where my uncle had acquired the rights for the film, Yaar Tay Pyar, for Karachi and Sindh circuits. (That the film fared miserably at the ticket windows is another story.)

I had travelled as far as Mirpur Mathelo to see for myself how the sale of tickets had grossed. In the process, I had learnt that there were no ethics in the film industry. When Ahmad Bashir’s film was nearing completion, I’d often visit his distributor’s office in Royal Park. Bashir minutely designed even the show cards, using the movie stills. The distributor did not contribute any finances, even though he had sold the film’s screening rights for the entire Pakistan, East and West, in 1968. I had the chance to be at the grand premiere at Gulistan cinema, which was attended by a large number of dignitaries, including the Pakistan hockey team members.

As the crowd stepped out of the theatre, I congratulated Bashir, but he remarked that the public hadn’t liked it. I didn’t have the guts to ask him for a movie pass and had no money to buy a ticket. Not having seen the film in the cinema remains my big regret to this day.

Decades later, I did see the movie on the internet, but the impact of the silver screen can’t be replaced.

Neela Parbat was highly appreciated by the intellectuals. The movie dealt in psychedelics. Some speakers at the function tried to compare Bashir with Manto. NANNA quipped, “Give back my money, the film is not for adults as claimed.”

It may be noted that several songs in this film were sung by Ahmad Bashir’s wife Mahmooda Begum.


My father had a special relationship with me. He was into cartoons/ animation and commercial advertisement spots for the then-nascent PTV. Bashir directed many of his short films, and he was of great help because of his training in cinematography from the US.

Once, we were shooting a live film for the Family Planning Association, which was headed by Dr Attiya Anayatullah, and Bashir saw a house sparrow bathing in the water droplets leaking from a tap. He immediately directed the cameraman to shoot the scene. My father angrily remarked that he was wasting ‘stock’ (or film). “You can always buy more stock but never find a sparrow enjoying the bath like that, can you?” he said.

It is common knowledge that cinema film passes through the camera or projector at 24 frames per second. This means 18 inches — or 900 feet — of film stock, that is, if the bird bathed for 10 minutes. But Bashir was an artistic cinematographer. In one such project, a young girl cooked some food in the kitchen; she was escorted by her parents. Bashir commented that the girl should be allowed to come unaccompanied. This obviously meant that girls should have the freedom that he himself had allowed his own daughters to enjoy. No wonder, they grew up to become accomplished actors, writers and singers.

End note: After the Neela Parbat (mis)adventure, the services of his assistant Arshad Baig were given to us.

Note: Even though Ahmad Bashir was my father’s close friend, he’d treat me like an adult

(This dispatch is dedicated to Ahmad Bashir’s personal assistant, Arshad Baig)

The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of the NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at ajazart@brain.net.pk

Ahmad Bashir, as his friends knew him