Though the glory of actor-producer Sheikh Mukhtar now seems but a distant memory, there was a time when box offices would be mobbed by avid fans waiting eagerly to see him on the screen in his latest feature. Sheikh Mukhtar was born to a family hailing from Karachi in present-day Pakistan on 24 December 1914. His father was a railway police inspector stationed in Delhi. Living in old Delhi, the young Sheikh spent his childhood roaming the streets in Churi Walan Gali, Chandni Chowk.
Sheikh Mukhtar grew to be a strapping young man who was nearly 6’4” tall. His father nursed an ambition to see his son enrolled in the army or the police, but Sheikh’s passion was for Parsi theatre and nautanki, the popular forms of entertainment at the time. One of his neighbours joined a theatre company in Calcutta, and caught up in his love for theatre, Sheikh followed him there. Though he acquired a place in a theatre company as well, he met Mehboob Khan and quit in order to go to Mumbai with him.
Mehboob Khan launched Sheikh Mukhtar as a hero in his very first film, Ek Hi Raasta (1939). The audience received him so well that Mehboob went on to cast him in two consecutive films, Bahan (1941) and Roti (1942). Soon, offers started to pour in for Sheikh.
With the success he achieved over this decade, Sheikh Mukhtar decided to set up his own film company under the title Mukhtar Films. The first few features under this banner included Mangu (1954) and Mr Lambu (1956). Meanwhile, his daring exploits on the screen were drawing huge crowds. Entire theatres rang with cheers and whistles when his fight scenes began. His film Dada (1949) was a huge hit, and many filmmakers created scripts with him in mind, hoping to replicate its dazzling success.
In this phase, Sheikh Mukhtar appeared in a number of films under other banners as well, like Changez Khan (1957), Dr. Shaitan (1960), Quaidi No. 911 (1959) and Hum Sab Ustad Hain (1965). Impressed by the lavish scale of K. Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam (1960), Mukhtar decided to embark on a similar project of his own. With a star-studded cast including stalwarts like Meena Kumari, Pradeep Kumar and Sohrab Modi, he produced Noor Jehan (1967). His dream project turned out to be so ambitious that it drove him into debt, and when the film was released, it did not help him recover his investment.
Hounded by debtors, Sheikh Mukhtar left for Pakistan with the film reels of Noor Jehan and a few other films. He attempted to release Noor Jehan in Pakistan, but another producer filed a case against him. After a protracted legal battle, he was granted permission to release the film, but he would not live long enough to do so himself. Mental stress due to these tribulations caused his health to break down. While on his way from Lahore to Karachi, he suffered a cardiac arrest on his flight on 12 May 1980 and breathed his last. Only twelve days after his passing, Noor Jehan released in Pakistan and finally became the hit film its maker had imagined it would be.
Image Courtesy: IMDb