Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lakshmi Chowk - The Heart of Lahore

Lahore has always been known as a warm, hospitable and entertaining city for centuries. Although, Lahore thrives and throbs in its every nook and corner, Lakshmi Chowk, situated on the cross roads of McLeod Road, Nisbat Road and Abbott Road, is one such place in Lahore which has not one but many facets that make it the heart of Lahore.
Lakshmi Chowk Map [Map: Google earth]
The place draws its name from the presence of the doubled storied Lakshmi Building [photo below], which is situated right on the cross roads as seen on the map above.

Lakshmi Building - watch its renovated look at the end of the post
I know Lakshmi Chowk very intimately, as for years I rode past the place in the double deckers of the Lahore Omnibus Service (LOS) during my school days. Since my house was located nearby on the McLeod Road, I also footed the place when going to watch a film as Abbott Road, an off shoot of McLeod Road from Lakshmi Chowk housed almost a dozen cinemas of Lahore.

Royal Park
In the early 20th century, when the films as entertaining media came to the then British India, Lahore became to be associated with the making of films as early as 1929 with the opening of the United Players' Studios on Ravi Road. And from then on, Lahore became an important film making centre with its many cinemas and film making studios, which were located in and around Lakshmi Chowk. Royal Park (pictured above and below) houses offices of major film distributors and producers of Lahore film industry.

Lakshmi Chowk has always been the focal point of Lahore’s film industry crowd. Even befoe the partition of British India in 1947, Lakshmi Chowk and Royal Park would throng with tongas and cars carrying film stars, film directors and producers in the evenings.

Indian superstars Pran, Muhammad Rafi, Om Parkash, Balraj Sani, Dev Anand and many less known artistes started their film careers from Lahore. Lakshmi Chowk was the hot spot for formal and informal film gatherings.All these actors later migrated to India in 1947.

Om Parkash who lived at Matti Chowk, Lohari Gate, always rented out a decorated tonga to Lakshmi Chowk every day. Pran lived in Qilla Gujjar Singh, half a kilometre away from Lakshmi Chowk. One day while standing at a pan shop in Lakshmi Chowk, he was picked up by Wali, a leading film director of the time, and offered him a role in his films. Wali wrote the address of Pancholi Studios (one of the most famous film studios of Lahore in Muslim Town) on the back of a cigarette pack, which brought Pran to the film industry.

There also was a hotel called King Circle at Lakshmi Chowk where film stars gathered. A bank has taken its place these days. 

I also have a long association with one once famous Aznic Studio, located just off the Lakshmi Chowk in the Royal Park on Abbott Road as seen in the photo above, which was our family photographer and many of our family portraits were shot by Aznic Studio. The Aznic Studio was the venue on 1 November 1967 when we five brothers accompanied by our parents had our group photograph on the eve of 25th wedding anniversary of our parent. This year if my parents were alive, they would have been celebrating their 75 wedding anniversary - but their life did not give them more time than what they had when they died in late 90s.

Rattan Cinema located just off the Lakshmi Chowk was once a thriving cinema of the area. Initially named Balwanti Rai Theater in the pre-partition days as seen below, the cinema screened some of the best films of the time. However, the almost demise of Lollywood has forced the closure of the cinema and now it awaits some buyer to convert into a commercial centre or to be used as stage shows.
Balwanti Rai Theater (Rattan Cinema) - 1940 [Photo: Project Lahore]

As I said before, almost a dozen cinemas were once located in the vicinity of the Lakshmi Chowk, mainly on the Abbott Road. I saw these cinemas mushrooming from my childhood. Some of the pre-partition cinemas included Rattan, Odeon, Nishat and one more (I have forgotten the name). Odeon cinema screened some of the best English films of the time, but later it started screening local films before being turned into a hotel.

Gulistan Cinema
The place where Gulistan cinema stands today housed a dilapidated building with lot of wild growth around it. In fact turning left from the intersection of Abbott and Montgomery Roads, it was a Dracula's place before Gulistan cinema ushered in a line of new cinemas. We five brothers when passing through the place would walk a little faster en route to watch a movie at Plaza cinema, lest Dracula came out of the haunted building and grab one of us.

However, this once busy road with many cinemas like the Metroploe, Mehfil and Mubarak is losing its charm. Mehfil and Mubarak cinemas have since long bid farewell to movies and have become venues for cheap stage shows.

Pre Partition Ishwar Das building, now known as Newage building, located on McLeod Road just short of Lakshmi Chowk
Besides film makers' offices and the cinema houses, Lakshmi Chowk is a hub of traditional eateries of Lahore. In front of ex-Odeon cinema, there is a line of eateries offering skewered chicken, Harisa, Murgh Chanay and Tuka Tuk. Many are of the view that the term 'Tuka Tuk' originated from these eateries of Lakshmi Chowk. 

Baghdadi Haleem
However, the best thing to eat here is the Shahi Murgh Chanay (a heavily oiled and spiced curry of chick peas and chicken), which one can only enjoy if eaten fresh at the eatery with oven fresh bread. Whenever I go to Lahore, I try my best to visit the place at least once to eat Shahi Murgh Chanay. As for Baghdadi Haleem, pictured above, I wonder if the people of Baghdad ate Haleem - but this eatery surely attracts crowds interested in Haleem.
Beside traditional eateries, air conditioned restaurants like Lasani (above)and Tabaq(below) provide a pleasing sitting environment even in scorching heat of Lahore. Tabaq was the first eatery of Lahore that came up with the idea of broast chicken in special broast machines. From then on, the name Tabaq has become synonymous with broast chicken all over.
Dry fruits seller at Abbott Road
 Renovated Lakshmi Building as of today Photo: One Pakistan
Lakshmi Chowk houses old buildings dating pre-partion days and needed to be preserved in their original form. However, lately there has been an effort to 'renovate' and face uplift these buildings, as seen above, with gaudy colours and with complete disregard to the age of these building. The so called uplift seems completely out of place and the facade of buildings, specially that of the Lakshmi and Newage buildings has become an eye sour rather than the once elegance these buildings had.

There has also been attempts to demolish these buildings by their owners and erect new plazas. It was after strong public reaction that such attempts were blocked for buildings which have been placed under the conservation rules to preserve the historical heritage of Lahore.
Another landmark just off the Lakshmi Chowk on Nisbat Road is the famous Dyal Singh College (above) and Dyal Singh Library (below). The college and library were established as two separate trusts in 1898 according to Sardar Dyal Singh Majitha's will, who was a great humanitarian and lover of education and donated all his assets for the propagation of education.

Although, even today Lakshmi Chowk is a major centre of Lahore film industry, it is losing its glamour with the almost demise of the Lollywood. Now a few offices of film producers and distributors remain and it is seldom that actors and actresses visit the area to meet producers and directors. However, sometimes they are seen eating at some eatery around Lakshmi Chowk.

Photos Attribution: All photos above, except where explicitly attributed, are the property of Tahir Iqbal. Tahir is an avid photographer with keen eye to capture the street scenes and life of ordinary people. I have already shared his photos in a number of posts earlier posted at Jaho Jalal.

Google Earth 
Posts composed of Tahir's Photos:
If you like Jaho Jalal, please follow us on Facebook


zeroboy said...

Unknown said...

This is a wonderful essay on Lahore's film industry. My grandfather (Hindu) had financed a film before Partition and had even managed to rescue some reels of the film after Partition and take them with him to India. The film survived other catastrophes but was never released. Since my father's family lived in Sevak Ram Mansions on Nisbat Road I realize now how close they were to the film center. I love learning as much as I can about old pre-Partition Lahore. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Does anyone possess visuals of AIR Lahore from pre partition times when it was housed at Sir Fazle Khan's bungalow at Simla Pahari .... Would like to see how Simla Pahari looked then ... Was that some hillock ...Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I'm not sure whether this post is written by him
as no one else know such detailed about my trouble.
You are incredible! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This piece of writing is genuinely a pleasant one it assists
new net viewers, who are wishing in favor of blogging.

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your
excellent post. Also, I have shared your web site in my social