[Originally published for Dawn.com]
Pakistani Cinema has defined entertainment for decades in our country before getting into hibernation in later part of the century. Magnificent single screen Cinemas were found in abundance in metros, and even small towns had one or two cinemas of their own. Slowly and gradually they have given way to a sprawling concrete jungle which lacks inspiration and authenticity.
The decades of opulence did not just produce talented actors and directors but a whole bunch of supporting artists which created stunning posters and booklets to go with the movies. On and off some TV channel would play a movie or two but most of the printed work had been lost in obscurity. Or so I thought until I met Guddu.
Guddu, an avid collector of Pakistani Cinema memorabilia; he has a collection of 15,000+ posters, booklets and photo sets. It does not end there. That collection is supplemented by equally impressive number of magazines, LPS, audio and video cassettes and newspapers. It is even more impressive considering the fact that Guddu has not been involved with Cinema in any professional capacity. It was a labour of love and an ode to his idols.
I got to know about Guddu and his collection through my friends at Alliance Francaise Karachi who had been trying to arrange a series of exhibitions on Pakistani Cinema using his collection. The series of exhibition shall span over a year giving public a chance to witness some extraordinary printed material related to Pakistani Cinema.
My friends had been in the process of shortlisting the posters and photosets and I joined them on one of their visit to his place which was on Khalid bin waleed road. We parked our car in front of his home. Guddu lives in a rented space on top of a 60’s era bungalow. We climbed the narrow staircase leading to the rooftop. His rented space comprises of only a few rooms.
How much of a collection could he have in two small rooms? I wondered. There was a wooden cupboard lying out in the open which turned out to be his wardrobe. He could not have possibly kept his valuable collection out in the sun or rain!
Guddu had not been well lately and had been discharged from the hospital only a few days back. In the beginning he seemed a little shaken but as soon as we started going through his collection, his eyes sparked with intent and like an authority on his favorite topic, he started telling us interesting trivia related to his artifacts. There was a hint of pride in his eyes and a smile on his face when he saw us in awe and gratitude.
Guddu had been interested in Cinema since his childhood. He had been friends with the children of a few filmmakers; he would visit their home just to get a glimpse of the people connected to the industry. He lived close to Liberty Cinema and would visit it just to get a view of the posters and hoardings. Slowly and gradually he started building on his collection getting it from whoever could offer him anything.
Guddu did not stop there. He decided to meet his idols and present part of his memorabilia to them as a gift. Their reaction had been priceless and according to them even they did not have such a comprehensive record of their achievements with Pakistani Cinema. There were photos pinned up all across the wall celebrating the occasion. You could see proud Guddu posing with likes of Barbara Shareef, Sangeeta, Firdous, Neelo and many others. In one of the pictures I could see TV actor Faisal posing with him in his very room!
We started digging deep in his collection in order to shortlist some for the exhibition. After realizing that it could take many days before we could reach a consensus we asked Guddu tio assist us in the process.
“Every bit of my collection has a context and hence is special. How could I shortlist only few”, he smiled and replied.
However we convinced him to filter his collection based on the landmark events in the history of Pakistani cinema. He then started putting out posters and explained the reason behind his choices. We took a break in between and gracious Guddu served us green tea with cardamom. Liaquat, his helper and fellow cinema aficionado who was sitting quietly with an amused look later told me that he had himself had witnessed the rise and fall of Pakistani cinema. With glucose level back we got back to business and concluded our selection within an hour.
It was pitch dark by the time we departed. Guddu came to the staircase to wave us goodbye. I shook his hand and thanked him for the astounding work he had done for our generation. Climbing down the staircase someone told me that the owner had been looking for suitable offers for that beautiful home.
It would be replaced by a multistory soon and Guddu would be out on the street looking for a home for himself and his collection with his limited resources. He has played more than his part in the quest to preserve Pakistani Cinema legacy for generation to come.
Would we be able to play our part? The question weighs heavily on the shoulders of each one of us.