“I was born in 1939, I think,” he says.
Dressed in Khaki pants and a shirt of the same color, Ali Jan, the oldest standing employee at Pakistan’s oldest film studios – The Evernew Studios – is all smiles. Born in Abbottabad, Ali Jan has always been into football. He quit studying after Matriculation when he was hardly 16 years old and started playing football. During one of his team’s matches against Pakistan Air Force, Ali Jan put on a stellar performance by scoring three goals. The then Air Marshal Asghar Khan witnessed his performance first hand and offered him to work for the PAF, as a car mechanic at the Chaklala Airbase, Rawalpindi.
This was back in 1956.
Little did he know that his acquaintance with the men in PAF will soon bring him to Lahore and ultimately to the hub of Pakistan’s film industry – The Evernew Studios.
“There used to be an angraiz wing commander at the Chaklala Airbase. He always admired me. Before going back to England, he told me that he would always be happy to help if I ever needed anything. I wrote him a letter one day and he consequently asked me to come to England.
He promised to take care of my accommodation and comfort during my stay. At that point in time, I had been working as a car mechanic for six years. I made several excuses about my injured knees, left my job and set out for Lahore. I packed my bags, bought a ticket for England and reached the Railway station. There were two people at the station who were discussing about apnay mulk mein reh ke koi kuch nai kar skta tou woh kahin ja kar bhi kuch nahi kar sakta.
I felt immense shame about my plans to move to England.
I gathered my bags and went back to my apartment in Old Lahore, near GPO. I had to rethink my whole life.”
Ali Jan eventually rented a small shop and established a workshop on his own which, unfortunately, he had to close down after a few years because the landlord wanted him out.
One of his customers, Mr. Bashir, the legal adviser to the late Agha Gul, the founder of the Evernew Studios, introduced him to Mr. Agha Gul and told him that Ali wanted to act.
For one whole year, Ali Jan kept roaming around the Evernew studios in search of a passion and eventually expressed his desire to work in the recordings department.
Ali then became a cameraman because he got tired of his position at the recording studio.
From there on up until 2003, he worked as a camera man and witnessed Pakistani film industry go through an intense process of evolution, first hand.
The evolution has been such that Evernew Studios, today, is not even a reflection of what it was during its glory days
With our ever changing interests and increasing technology, film directors now prefer to shoot outdoors. The only customers that Evernew ever gets are mostly there for shooting commercials.
The six huge floors are almost always empty and the once jam-packed studios where Pakistanis would gather in the 80’s to catch a glimpse of their favorite movie stars are now desolate.
Ali Jan reminisces about the time when everything was simple and he ended up making Pakistan’s first movie camera crane in one night.
“The heroine of the film was of a short height (“just like you,” he said while pointing at me and let out a tiny laugh) so the director wanted me to record constantly moving shots. I perceived the idea of my desired crane in my head, drew it on a paper and asked our carpenter to help me. We ended up making one before dawn.
Everyone was skeptical about its performance but it did super well.
Main ne apni zindagi main aise bohat kam kiye hain,” he exclaimed.
Currently working as the General Manager, Evernew Studios, Ali Jan keeps going back to the time when Evernew would be brimming with people. When films like Choorian were made at the studios and when everything was simple.
“Agha sahib kae itne ehsan hain mujh par, main kabhi is jaga ko chor hee nai sakta,” said Ali Jan and got up to give me a tour of what was once the home of the bustling Pakistani cinema.