Lakshmi chowk is a magical place. Long before the M.M. Alam roads of today existed, the Lakshmi chowk was the hub of Lahore’s entertainment and cultural activities. It was the Hollywood district of Lahore; the center of formal and informal filmi gatherings. Come evening and people from all walks of life especially showbiz and literature would gravitate towards the Lakshmi which was home to major film production houses, distributors and cinemas. Hotel king circle was the spot where all film stars would gather reaching there on their beautifully decorated tangas and thus a night of merriment, entertainment and cultural discourse continued.
Among the showbiz glitterati was also Syed Sibtain Fazli, a visionary filmmaker of his time who produced and directed the cinematic masterpiece ‘Dupatta’ in 1952. This is the film which included in its list of songs perhaps the most famous song of Pakistani film industry ‘Chandni Raatein’ sung by Madam Noor Jahan. Composed by Feroze Nizami and written by Mushir Kazmi, The song is immortalized in the hearts and minds of the people of the sub-continent due to its relatable words, heartfelt melody and soulful rendition by the queen of melody Madam Noor Jahan.
According to Mr. Ali Sibtain Fazli, the son of the film’s director Mr. Sibtain Fazli and a renowned lawyer himself, the song’s lyricist Mr. Mushir Kazmi narrated to him an interesting story. Mr. Kazmi told him that when it came to writing one particular song, The film’s Director, Mr. Sibtain Fazli, was not content with the themes and words Mr. Kazmi was coming up with. Sitting in Mr. Fazli’s office in the majestic Diyal Singh mansion one night, Mr. Fazli rubbished the latest attempt of Mr. Kazmi at penning the song and told him to come up with something unique by next morning as time was running short.
Mr. Fazli, who had an intellectual bent of mind, also had a very keen sense when it came to words and storytelling. He would take inspiration form the most ordinary things and develop it into a cinematic wonder. His first film as Director ‘Chowrangi’ was inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘The Pygmalion’. Upon witnessing a beggar in the Chorangi chowk in Calcutta, he was inspired to make the film ‘Chowrangi’. Similarly, According to his son, he chose the theme of his film ‘Dupatta’ after drawing inspiration from the novel ‘Jane Eyer’.
Dejected at dismissal of his latest attempt to pen the song that Mr. Fazli desired, Mr. Kazmi went to the film headquarter of Lahore, Lakshmi chowk, to soak in its magical surroundings and come up with something inspiring. And as he lay there on his charpoy surrounded by the cultural and intellectual richness of the Lakshmi chowk, he looked up towards the heavens and was mesmerized by the clear night sky and full moon shining down upon him. And as he contemplated his fate of having to stay awake all night to write a song while the entire world slept, he likened his situation to the situation of the heroine of the film and thus was born the evergreen verse ‘Chandni Raatein’.
Next day when he explained the theme and the lyrics to Mr. Fazli, it immediately struck a chord with the visionary in him and the rest is history. The film went on the do huge business and celebrated in golden jubilee the same year. The film was widely acclaimed upon its release in India and the Filmfare magazine in its October 3rd 1952 edition stated that the film was evidence of what Pakistani filmmakers were capable of doing and the film posed a very serious challenge to the Indian filmmakers.
Unfortunately, the likes of Mr. Fazli and Mr. Kazmi don’t exist today because the Lakshmi chowk’s magic doesn’t exist today either. An artist draws inspiration from his/ her environment so it is no wonder that even Manto came up with his best works when he resided very close to the Lakshmi chowk. The utter neglect of authorities has rendered the place devoid of its richness and sensuality. And what remained of that magic has now been completely killed off by the unsightly and distasteful Orange line train. The small minds of the trader cum political class cannot comprehend the value of heritage because for them heritage exists only in structures and the intangible heritage holds little value. Can you imagine Mr. Kazmi coming up with a masterpiece like ‘Chandni Raatein’ today? Had he traveled to Lakshmi chowk today in order to write a song, laying on his charpoy where the view of the night sky would have been completely obscured by an ugly concrete structure ripping through the heart of Laskhmi chowk would he have been able to draw any inspiration? One can only wonder what kind of a song would he have been able to write in today’s time.
Listening to Chandni Raatein will be a different experience from now on.