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Spotlight: Jawed Jabbar

A voracious reader, film-maker and connoisseur of the finer aspects of movies, and a music buff, former senator Jawed Jabbar, renowned for his eloquence, has much to say about all three of his pet interests.

When asked about the kind of films he enjoys the most, he says, “Movies that first of all make one think and feel and challenge the mind, but at the same time present human sentiments and relationships in a way that tries to be true. The interplay of sentiments, ideas and thoughts, and the perennial struggle the human being makes in trying to separate the emotional part of their nature from the practical, interests me as the theme of a movie.”

Depending on his mood, Jabbar says he enjoys a good thriller. “Anything that keeps one on edge.” And thirdly, Jabbar enjoys a “Good, marvelous comedy, which is so difficult to do”.

So essentially, any well-made film, regardless of the genre, and for that matter language, could find favour with Jabbar, though he admits that he has no patience for Bollywood films. Says he, “I find Bollywood movies excessively verbal and being a film maker myself, find no charm in them because virtually all of them are dubbed films. However, India’s parallel cinema continues to produce some good quality films.”

Since Jabbar has been a film-maker, he realizes how complex it is to make a good film. Says he, “It is the single most collaborative art form, which weaves together so many different talents and skills to produce literally a single moment. The poet is alone with his pen and paper, the painter alone with his canvas and they are both an epitome of singularity of creativity. But film-making is the exact opposite. There are so many people involved and all their creative input comes together in a single art form.”

Jabbar admits that he did enjoy watching commercial Indian cinema once. Says he, “I mustn’t be unfair — there are some marvelous old Indian and Pakistani films which are still enduring — films like Mughal-e-Azam, Mother India, Andaaz; all the Guru Dutt films; those starring Dilip Kumar and Madhubhalla.”

Jabbar is also rueful about the fact that while satellite television channels do a lot to promote run-of the-mill Indian films, they make no effort to project quality world cinema. “It is unfortunate that people in Pakistan are not exposed to the best of world cinema, be it from Japan, China or Iran. In spite of the fact that politically we are in such a hostile state with India, we are completely abreast with Indian movies.”

Refusing to be cornered into naming just one favourite movie, song or book, Jabbar exults about music, “Music is the sound of the universe — it is the sound of nature. You can see visual music in the movement of the plants and the trees. It is the very essence of our life and does not enable the dark side of human nature to exist, unless it is music expressing strength or power, as in the case of the music in the title sequence at the end of War of the Worlds.”

Jabbar likes film songs composed in the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s in India and Pakistan. “To my mind that was the greatest period. Not before or after has there been this remarkable coincidence of poets, composers, singers and actors depicting the songs on screen, all coming together and creating melodies that have lasted over 50 years and which will last well into the future. Music knows absolutely no boundaries. Once, I heard a Senegalese in Perth singing a naat — a haunting rendition of a tribute to the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH) — which became to my mind, even more communicative, because the language was unfamiliar.”

Deeply appreciative of the fact that his mother, who used to play the sitar, instilled in him a love for classical music, Jabbar recalls the time when he was making the film Beyond the last Mountain and had been keen to use the harpsichord as the lead instrument in the film theme. So important was the sound of music to him, that he had to send Sohail Rana to London to procure the instrument as it was not available anywhere in the country.

Not an exponent of classical music, although he does know how to play the sitar, Jabbar claims to be a good listener and appreciating all forms of good music. He says he is fascinated by classical music’s legacy in South Asia. He states: “We talk about globilization today but the first form of globilization was probably music because when people travelled, they took whatever instruments they had with them and exchanged tunes and compositions and enriched each other’s folk music.”

A voracious reader, Jabber admits that he sometimes reads several books at one time, although it is very unfair to the writer. He is currently reading a “Very thought provoking, beautifully sensitive book on man’s relationship with Islam, by Ziauddin Sardar, called Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim. He is alternating that with books that he is “revisiting” — books he had read several years ago and which he still finds remarkable. The Destruction of Pakistan’s Democracy is one such book.

He has also just finished reading a morbid thriller Trace and says “What I read depends on my mood at the time. I enjoy books on Pakistan and fortunately such books are becoming prolific now. But, some authors, even though they are very reputed, get away with unfounded comments. In fact, I am shocked that one of the scholars I know in the US, Stephen Cohen, wrote a book called the The Idea of Pakistan and quoted me from one of my writings, completely misrepresenting what I wrote about the media situation in Pakistan. I find that many books that receive fairly wide appreciation have not done the kind of meticulous re-verification of facts before arriving at a conclusion, that they should have. This was not the first time that I had been misquoted, so I greatly prize authors that are meticulous in their research.”

There is so much to read that Jabbar says it is a challenge to keep pace with the excellent writing being done, both overseas and in Pakistan. “I am delighted to see the abundance of talent being produced in Pakistan — whether it is young writers like Kamila or old ones like Zulfiqar Ghose or poets like Salman Qureshi. I remember reading a gem of a book called First Voices which has some of Pakistan’s finest English poetry.”

Another book that Jabbar is fascinated by is a biography of Alexander written by Robin Fox. Says he, “Alexander lived some 3000 years ago but Fox writes the biography like Alexander has been documented by television cameras. He makes the man come alive, describing his relationships with his friends; his intense rages and his campaigns.”

Among the books that have made an impression on him, Jabbar also mentions books that are out of print now, like The White Nile and The Blue Nile written by Allan Moorehead. He describes them as “A beautiful combination of travelogue writing and history.”

Favourite Movie: Too many
Favourite Music: Pakistani and Indian film music of the ’40s, ’50s and early ’60s
Favourite Book: Too many

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