Lahore is Lahore: Episode 6

Jama Masjid, Lahore

In this episode we move the story forward to its main location and the source of the name Lollywood: Lahore.   

To tell the full story of this legendary city would require a podcast of its own. Dozens of books have been written about the city over the years (some of which you can find references to below). Its history stretches beyond time and is chocker block with tales and legends. Some of the grandest historical and mythical names are associated with Lahore. In the time of the British Raj, Lahore was one of the half dozen most important cities of the subcontinent.  So naturally, one little episode cannot do the city justice. But obviously, Lahore’s rich history will be referenced throughout the rest of the podcast. And hopefully in that way we will add some colour and nuance and detail to the very basic historic sketch I provide in this episode.    

In this episode I’ve chosen to dwell mainly on the history of Lahore during the one hundred year period between 1849 and 1947. The period when Lahore became a vibrant colonial city and the birthplace of the Pakistani movie industry.  

Rama, Sita with son Kush and Lav

The origins of Lahore stretch back to one of the two foundational epics of India, the Ramayana. It is said that the two sons of Rama and Sita, Kush and Lav founded the cities of Kasur and Lahore. In fact, there is a still a shrine to Lav in the Lahore Fort!

Despite its hoary Hindu roots, and being described as early as 300 BCE by the Greek historian Megasthenes as a place ‘of great culture and charm’, Lahore’s greatest glory was experienced when it was the capital of various Muslim sultanates and states. Throughout the medieval period when northern India was ruled by a succession of ethnic Turkish rulers who promoted a heavily Persianised culture, Lahore was a city of prime strategic, commercial and cultural significance.

During the time of the Mughals, Lahore was often the capital of the realm and really became a major Indian city. The famous tale of Anarkali, the Persian beauty who had an illicit relationship with Prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir) is the legend most closely associated with the city.

Anarkali’s tomb was turned into Lahore’s first Anglican church, St. James, in 1850s and marks the spot from which the colonial city, home to Lollywood, grew up. Though the legend is not historical it has inspired many films, including a film made in Lahore in 1958 starring Noor Jehan and Sudhir.

The Sikhs, led by the very talented Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ruled Punjab for much of the 18th and early 19th from Lahore. They didn’t destroy the city but they didn’t exactly keep it up, so when the British took possession of Punjab in 1849, the area around the old walled city was pretty much in ruins.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh

As soon the British took over they began building on a new European style city and promoted it and developed it into the premier city in Northwest India. Lahore was famous not just for its history and stunning architecture but as a center for Urdu language publishing, study, education, communication. It was a massive railway junction and the biggest city between Istanbul and Delhi.

1930s Lahore

It was a city that was connected to the world and that attracted the brightest minds of North India. Known as a political hot spot, it also was the region’s main cultural center. With a wealthy middle class and an educated population it was no surprise that a movie-making industry should emerge.

Laxmi Chowk

Where McLeod Road crosses Abbott Road is Laxmi Chowk, the center of the Pakistani movie industry since it got started in the 1920s. Today it remains an important part of the industry and it history.

This episode provides an introduction to the city with the aim of demonstrating what a vibrant and vital city Lahore was in the colonial period.

Just some of the key references I used in preparing this episode are listed below.

Talbot, Ian and Kamran, Tahir, (2016) Colonial Lahore: A History of the City and Beyond, Hurst. An excellent survey of Lahore during the colonial period (1849-1947). Main argument is that Lahore was very well connected to the rest of India prior to the arrival of British and though it appeared ancient to the British, it was a lively and dynamic city that saw a rebirth under the Raj.

Suvarova, Anna, (2012) Lahore: Topophilia of Space and Place, Oxford University Press. An amazing book that explores Lahore through the lens of topophilia, the strong sense of place, which often becomes mixed with the sense of cultural identity among certain people and a love of certain aspects of such a place. Endlessly fascinating with a great chapter on the Anarkali legend and other similar stories from around the world.

Mir, Farina, (2010) The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab, University of California Press. Excellent resource for understanding the British policy towards Urdu and against Punjabi. A central theme that further episodes will explore.

Neville, Pran (1998) Lahore: A Sentimental Journey, HarperCollins India. A passionate recollection of a childhood and youth spent in Lahore prior to Partition.

Bakhle, Janaki, (2005) Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition, Oxford University Press. A provocative account of the development of modern national culture in India using classical music as a case study. Janaki Bakhle demonstrates how the emergence of an “Indian” cultural tradition reflected colonial and exclusionary practices, particularly the exclusion of Muslims by the Brahmanic elite, which occurred despite the fact that Muslims were the major practitioners of the Indian music that was installed as a “Hindu” national tradition. This book lays bare how a nation’s imaginings–from politics to culture–reflect rather than transform societal divisions.

NAIR, N. (2009). Bhagat Singh as ‘Satyagrahi’: The Limits to Non-violence in Late Colonial India. Modern Asian Studies, 43(3), 649–681.

Désoulières, A. (n.d.). Historical Fiction and Style: The Case of Anarkali


A list of movies made about Anarkali in both Pakistan and India.

  • Anarkali. (1928/Bombay) R. S. Choudhury [silent]
  • The Loves of a Mughal Princess. (1928/Lahore) Prafullla Roy and Charu Roy [silent]
  • Anarkali. (1935/Bombay) R.S. Choudhury [Hindi]
  • Anarkali. (1953/Bombay) Nandlal Jaswantlal [Hindi]
  • Anarkali. (1955/Madras) Vedantam Raghavaiah [Telugu]
  • Anarkali. (1958/Lahore) Kemal Anwar Pasha [Urdu]
  • Mughal-e-Azam (1960/Bombay) K. Asif [Hindi]
  • Anarkali. (1966/Alleppey) Kunchako [Malayalam]
  • Akbar, Saleem, Anarkali. (1978/Hyderabad) Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao [Telugu]
  • Anarkali. (2013/Hyderabad) P.N. Rai [Telugu]
  • Anarkali. (2015/Kerala) Sachy [Malayalam]
  • Dastan-e-Mohabbat: Salim Anarkali (2018) Anirudh Pathak [Hindi]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s