Faiz Mujaddid Lahori: Unsung Calligrapher From Lahore Who Became Bollywood Legend - I

Faiz Mujaddid Lahori: Unsung Calligrapher From Lahore Who Became Bollywood Legend - I
The city of Lahore has always been a fertile ground for people who excelled in various professions. Those who were either born in Lahore, came here to study in Lahore’s educational institutions, came here for the sake of jobs or businesses, or simply had the least relationship with this grand old city – reached new heights of excellence in their respective fields. Concerning the film industry of the Subcontinent, many notable names belonged to Lahore. They belonged to acting, direction, production, music and other aspects related to the film industry. Among them, there were: Abdur Rashid Kardar (great Indian film director and producer), Khwaja Khurshid Anwar (famous music director), Yash Chopra (film director), Muhammad Rafi, Kamini Kaushal, Prem Chopra, Dev and Chetan Anand (both these actors studied at Government College, Lahore), Meena Shorey, Pran K. Sikand (came to Lahore to earn a living in early 40s), and the list goes on and on.

Besides the above-mentioned subfields of the Indian film industry, an important aspect - and often a neglected one by scholars - was that of ‘film advertisement.’ During past times, film posters were designed by hand, and apart from English, the Urdu language and script was important in writing film titles and cast names on posters. In such an important line, a rather unknown calligrapher from Lahore went to Bombay in the late 1920s and became an important personality for the Bombay Film Industry – so important that the film producers would wait for him at his residence, to have their film advertisements designed by him.

Born on 06 August 1912, to a well-known journalist from the late 19th and early 20th century Lahore, Taj Uddin Ahmed Taj, Ustad Faiz Mujaddid Lahori belonged to the ‘Paal Family’ of Kashmir. Due to confrontation with challenging circumstances at home from an early age, he could not carry on with his education. Such were the conditions that he was not able to complete even the third grade. Since the age of five years, he was accustomed to arduous labour. To earn a living, he began with commercial painting. But he didn’t like doing it, as in his own words, “In such job one needs to bath daily in kerosene oil.” Hence, he left commercial painting and moved towards Urdu calligraphy and penmanship. He began his training under Ustad Ghulam Farid in Lahore, who used to do calligraphy for the text books taught in schools. Later, under the influence of the famous calligrapher Abdul Majeed Parveen Raqam, he adopted the Lahori style of Nastaleeq calligraphy. The various inscriptions and engravings on the historic monuments in Lahore like Badshahi Mosque and Jahangir’s tomb further enhanced his love for this art.

The Lahori style of Nastaleeq is actually a subcategory of Persian Nastaleeq. Munshi Abdul Majeed Parveen Raqam and Munshi Tajuddin Zareen Raqam brought subtle changes and improvements to it, that made it appear even more elegant. Faiz Mujaddid sahib considered them his masters in this connection. By the age of seventeen, he achieved quite an expertise in this skill. During all this time, he wrote countless posters for the local cinemas. On such posters, alongside the written part, hand drawn pictures were of equal importance. So, he improved his skill and started making pictures. Therefore, in parallel with being called “Faiz Kaatib” (Faiz Calligrapher), he also became famous as “Faiz Artist.”

In 1928, he went to Bombay for holidays and returned to Lahore after a few days. There, he demonstrated his skills by designing and creating six-sheet posters in Lahori Nastaleeq for a couple of films, that received great appreciation from the masses. Two years later in 1930, he received a letter from the owner and editor-in-chief of the Bombay based weekly Musawwir, Mr. Muhammad Nazir, in which he offered Faiz sahib to join their magazine’s staff.  Faiz sahib already had a deep love for Bombay, so he migrated straightaway to Bombay and took the job of scribing the film advertisements in the said magazine. After the death of Mr. Nazir, he went into writing and designing film advertisements for the weekly English magazine Screen (est. 1951), that were also widely admired.

Titles of magazines and newspapers

Being a superb artist, he would use the pen and ink drawing technique to infuse any kind of effect that he wanted to his drawings and sketches. Whenever he would start working, he became so absorbed in his work that he remained unaware of what is happening around him. The mastery in his craft and his growing popularity led him to find a way to the Bombay film industry. By 1960s, Screen was the only weekly issued magazine in English language, that was advertising the Bollywood produced films of that era. All of the advertisements in it were in black and white, and majority of them were designed by Faiz sahib. Almost all of the big producers in Bollywood of that era would desire to have their films’ advertisements designed by Faiz sahib. The greatest Bollywood star of all times Dilip Kumar was a good friend of Faiz sahib. He would insist that he make the show-cards and posters of his films. It is said that during the shooting of the movie Mughal-e-Azam, Faiz sahib was on the set. At some point he liked some pose of Dileep Kumar so much, that he instantly made a sketch of him. When Kumar saw that sketch, he got so amazed with praise, that from that time onwards he would often request Faiz sahib for a sketch whenever he met him.
He began his training under Ustad Ghulam Farid in Lahore, who used to do calligraphy for the text books taught in schools. Later, under the influence of the famous calligrapher Abdul Majeed Parveen Raqam, he adopted the Lahori style of Nastaleeq calligraphy

In 1971, when the movie Kati Patang was made and the designing of its advertisements were under the process for cinemas, Faiz sahib was making its two-pager advertisement for the Screen magazine. When the design was complete, Faiz sahib drew a stray kite with cut off string as a symbol of the movie title, at a corner of the page.

The whole advertisement was created with painstaking efforts and the line sketches of Rajesh Khanna and Asha Parekh were drawn with precision and perfection. Anyone who saw them lauded the artist with praise. When the producer of the film, Mr. Shakti Samanta came to Faiz sahib’s house to pick up the design, he also loved it. On seeing the little sketch of the stray kite, he remarked, “Faiz Sahib! You have made the stray kite’s cut off cord, but forgot to draw the wooden splinters of the kite”. The artist replied that a kite’s wooden skeleton doesn’t appear when it is high in the sky. Still Mr. Samanta kept on pushing him to make it. This led to a heated argument, and Faiz sahib agreed to draw it, but on the condition that he will not write his name below the sketch. But the producer wanted the artist’s name under the design. This again led to a quarrel between the two and Faiz sahib tore apart the design, asking him to have it made from somewhere else. Finally, the producer had to give up and have the design made again by Faiz sahib on Faiz sahib’s own terms.

(to be continued)

The author is pursuing a PhD in Art History from Punjab University