Encounter with a Film Maker
By Rafiq Ebrahim
Glen Ellyn IL
I was relishing
a refreshing cup of tea at the cafeteria of my friend
Minocher’s newly established Writer’s
Club and waiting for some journalist friends to
while away the evening in some interesting discussion,
when in came Ustad Bilgrami. Greeting me heartily
and ordering a plate of fish and chips and a large
glass of lassi, he exploded, “We are going
to see Sher Babar, a film maker in about an hour.”
“We? You mean you,” I said.
“My mission would be fruitless if you don’t
“But Ustad, I have a meeting scheduled in
a few minutes with a few journalists, Hajrah, Fatima
and Najam. We shall be discussing the evils of pan
“Forget about it. Let the pan eaters enjoy
the habit while they can. There are other more important
things in life to do than to have a futile discussion
on pan eating, and writing about it in English papers
which at the most only one percent of the population
reads,” said Ustad, throwing in my direction
that charismatic look which so far nobody has been
able to resist.
Readers of this magazine are familiar with Ustad
Bilgrami, but for the sake of those who are not
let me briefly introduce you who this guy is. Three
decades ago he was a sports coach at the college
I was studying in. He gained respect and love not
for being a good coach, but for being a mentor,
a guide and a genuine friend of the students he
liked. Used to solve all their emotional problems
in no time, turning every situation into a win-win
situation. He had also helped me out of emotional
disasters several times, and as such he had earned
a lifetime respect. Since then he had gone out of
my existence, till I bumped into him last year at
Karachi’s Lal Qila. After that we remain constantly
in touch, and I assist him in all his adventures.
Now in his eighties, he is still agile and his brain
functions in top gear, probably due to generous
intake of fish and lassi. Retired, he lives luxuriously
on a monthly assistance of a thousand dollars, which
his son sends him from St. Louis. He has now completely
devoted himself to helping people in distress.
Presently, saying “no” to him was just
impossible. “But why do you want to see this
film maker who has a record of turning out trash?”
“To remove the distress which my favorite
niece, Naila is facing.”
“How does Naila come into the picture?”
“One of those queer turns of fate,”
he said and explained. “Some time back she
had gone to a young peoples’ club and, like
her other friends, indulged in an innocent dance.
It so happened that Sher Babar was there filming
a sequence for his forthcoming film Tapka Dunga.
The camera captured Naila doing a beat. Sher
liked the footage and approached her to get her
permission to use the footage in the film, for which
he would pay thirty-five thousand rupees. Since
it was a decent scene of short duration, Naila agreed.
She signed the contract and accepted the check.”
“So what’s the problem now?”
“The problem is that she overlooked reading
the small print at the bottom which says that if
need be, she has to appear in the studio and do
a song and dance number for the film, and you know
how these sequences are in our films, absolutely
vulgar. Sher Babar has now asked Naila to do that.”
“Well, she can always return the check and
get the contract cancelled.”
“She can’t, because she has already
used up the amount for the Art Academy she is founding.”
“In the soup, right?” I put in.
“I am going to get her out of that,”
said Ustad forcefully.
“Just watch me do that. Let me finish my fish
and lassi, and we are off.”
“But these film people always have hit men
on their sides with evil-looking guns, itching to
pull the trigger at the slightest pretext.”
“Oh, don’t worry about them. I’ll
make them look like paper tigers. Now, come on,
Sher Babar was shooting at a house in Defense Society.
His crew had made a mess of everything in the living
room where we were made to sit. Soon there was a
lull in the shooting, and Sher Babar, feigning a
look of authority and stroking his short beard came
to us along with two shady-looking muscular and
bulky characters on both sides. They looked watchfully
at us, their right hands in their pockets, obviously
to pull out a gun if need be.
“Mr. Sher Babar,” began Ustad. “As
I discussed on the phone, I would like you to meet
Rafiq, who is a film importer of international repute,
stationed in Chicago. Most of the famous film personalities
around the world remain in touch with him. Shahrukh
Khan is his buddy; Preety Zinta never signs a contract
without consulting him. Luckily for you he has shown
his interest in importing your Tapka Dunga
This came as a brazen shock and I began fidgeting
in my chair. This new ‘info’ about me
was entirely unexpected, and I wondered if I could
play this new role effectively. I looked at Ustad
sternly, while Sher was devouring me with a piercing
“He only imports outstanding movies,”
continued Ustad, “ and from what we have heard
about your forthcoming film, it appears that it
would be a movie marvel. Of course, he would have
to see the film first and discuss with his partners
in Chicago before reaching a deal.”
Sher Babar was now taken in. His expression softened.
Looking at a gem-studded ring on his finger, he
said, “I assure you that Tapka Dunga
would be a classic.”
“Then it is settled. However, there is another
matter of prime importance I would like to discuss
with you,” said Ustad. “You have got
some footage of my niece Naila, doing a little innocent
movement on the beat and you intend to use the same
in the film. Now, you want her to do a dance and
song number, isn’t it?”
“ Yes. As per the contract signed by her,
she has to do it. She has already been paid,”
said the director, once again looking authoritative.
“And I believe it would be your common vulgar
version with the girl scantily dressed,” said
Ustad in a raised voice. I could observe Babar stiffening
and the hit guys moving their hands in their pockets
“Of course,” said Sher Babar. “There
will be box-office elements. It would be like Madhuri
Dixit doing a number in Tezaab.”
Ustad Bilgrami now clenched his fists and said,
“You will do nothing of the sort!”
One of the hit guys whispered in the right ear of
the director, “Boss, tapka dun kya?”
“Shut up,” yelled Sher Babar to him,
and then all three of them began to laugh.
Ustad seemed to be very much at ease as he said,
“I believe the film has to be approved by
the Censor Board before it is released. Isn’t
“That should not be a problem,” said
“There will definitely be a big problem. Your
film simply will not be passed,” assured Ustad.
“And how would that be?” asked the director,
lighting a cigarette.
“ Ever heard the names of Lala Musa and Hanif
Heera?” asked Ustad.
“Yes. They are senior members of the Censor
“Ah, you know that. Do you also know that
they are my childhood buddies, and that even now
we meet regularly, at least once a month to discuss
our films’ falling standard over dinner?”
The moviemaker looked puzzled, and the Ustad continued,
“If you don’t believe me, just call
them and ask them about their close friend Sucrat
Arastu Bilgrami. Tell them I would like to speak
to them regarding your forthcoming film. I’ll
give you their business and home telephone numbers,”
said Ustad, taking out a piece of paper from his
pocket and handing it to him.
Sher Babar looked baffled. He wiped the sweat off
his forehead, and tried not to show his discomfiture.
Ustad roared, “A word from me to Musa and
Heera would completely doom your film.”
He dismissed the hit guys from the scene, leaned
forward and asked softly, “Mr. Bilgrami, what
actually would you like me to do?”
“Use the footage of Naila which you have,
and don’t bother her again.”
“We will do just that,” assured Sher.
“And yes, make a new contract, deleting the
fine prints from the bottom, and come to think of
it, don’t you agree that a paltry sum of thirty-five
thousand rupees is not fair for such a lovely girl
to grace your film with her presence?”
Sher Babar sat bolt upright. “What do you
want me to do?”
“Make it a nice cool figure of fifty thousand.
Send the check for the additional amount along with
the new contract to her first thing in the morning,”
Ustad almost ordered.
Sher Babar was now like a robot in the hands of
Ustad, and assured us that he would definitely do
as asked, and requested Ustad to use his influence
in getting the film approved without a cut.
“Only on one condition,” said Ustad.
“There will be no vulgarity in the film.”
Sher Babar agreed and then turned to me to remind
me about importing the film and releasing it in
American cinema houses. I assured him that I would
do my best.
“One more thing,” put in Ustad. “Ask
your man who was standing on your left side to trim
his moustache. The hairs are growing wild, going
into his mouth and nose.”
He readily agreed.
“Well, Ustad,” I said when we came out.
“You have again hit the bull’s eye.
What exactly is in you that makes you turn every
situation into a win-win one?”
“Fish and lassi. Never underestimate their
“One more question. Do you really know Lala
Musa and Hanif Heera that intimately?”
“Of course! Used to play gilli danda together