Yousuf Khan was born in 1929. He was the first actor in Pakistan to complete a Golden Jubilee in Lollywood. He may have started his career as a second lead but he became a force to reckon with as he matured as an actor. He worked extensively in films during the 50 years, starring in over 400 movies and making a name for himself first as a romantic hero of Urdu films, and later as an action hero in Punjabi and Pushto films.
Yousuf Khan belonged to a family that migrated to Pakistan after Partition. He believed that it was the bloodshed he witnessed during that time that made him a true Pakistani, and to love this country like no one else. He was very vocal against the airing of Indian films on television, the use of Indian singers in local films and the government’s decision regarding the removal of ban on the public screening of Indian films in cinemas throughout Pakistan. He was considered to be the most powerful and influential man in Lollywood, and his death on September 19 2009 due to heart failure can be termed as nothing short of a blow to the already ailing Pakistan’s film industry.
It was the love for Pakistan that made Yousuf Khan to choose a career in films. He was not supported by his family in his decision at first but he was adamant and vowed to make it big. He started his career in the newly formed Lahore film industry with Parwaaz (1954), eventually stopping work due to old age and health complications some five decades later.
At the time of his debut, Pakistan film industry was ruled by Sudhir, Aslam Pervez, Santosh Kumar and Darpan. Yousuf Khan had the good looks being a Pathan, and he had fair skin and charisma that drove the female fans crazy. He starred in Hasrat (1958) opposite Santosh; Laggan (1960) with Aslam Pervez; and Jawab Do (1974) with Darpan, during the initial days of his career. Films like Khamosh Raho (1964), Maan Baap (1966) and Taj Mahal made him popular.
His determination and persistence saw him in the lead role in 1973’s Ziddi, the film that not only got him the recognition he deserved but also the stardom that initially eluded him. The flick made him a front runner in Urdu films where he was usually cast as the second lead. With the passage of time Urdu films gave way to the gandasa culture, and Yousuf Khan was there to embrace it. He starred in numerous Punjabi flicks, the most famous during the ’70s and ’80s being Japani Guddi, Chann Puttar, Babul, Khatarnak, Sharif Badmash, Sohni Mahiwal and Allah Rakha. He survived the Sultan Rahi era by churning out his own hits.
Yousuf Khan still had presence in Urdu films such as Bharosa, Gharnata, Nagin, General Bakht Khan, Khuda Gawah and Umar Mukhtar. The last two saw him being paired with Nadeem in double-version films (Punjabi dubbed in Urdu) and even then he shone like the star he was. He shared a brilliant rapport with his co-stars be it his contemporaries Sudhir, Habib, Adeeb or junior colleagues like Mohammad Ali, Waheed Murad, Munawwar Zarif or even Sultan Rahi. He worked in many hit and flop films with Mohammad Ali such as Khamosh Raho (1964), Taj Mahal (1968), Dil-i-Betaab (1969), Phool aur Sholay (1976), Takrao (1978), Wadda Khan (1984) and Ghulami (1985). But it was his hit pairing with Sultan Rahi in Punjabi cinema that not only supported his career but also helped Rahi succeed as a leading action man. Together the two starred in over 20 films in 30 years including Susral (1962), Khoon da Darya (1973), Seedha Raasta (1974), Sharif Badmash (1975), Khooni (1975), Yaar da Sehra (1976), Yarana (1976) and Khuda Gawah (1993).
With Sultan Rahi’s untimely death, Punjabi cinema lost an icon in the ’90s, but Yousuf made re-surgence in the new millennium, playing the title role in Buddha Gujjar in an attempt at revival. His last film, Arrain da Kharak, wasn’t as successful as he had hoped it would be, but it was a befitting farewell by a self-made artiste. His performances in Sohni Mahiwal, Chann Veer, Bau Ji and Tere Ishq Nachaya are still regarded as top notch by an actor in Punjabi cinema, and it is for his collective work in mainstream cinema that he was conferred the Presidential Pride of Performance Award along with many other national awards.
Yousuf Khan lived and died on his own terms, like the lines of the famous song filmed on him: Zindagi ja chorr de peecha mera… (O life, leave me alone now) from the film Jawab Do. The lyrics: Aakhir main insaan hoon, patthar to nahin… (After all, I’m human and not hewn out of stone) tell his story.
Yousaf Khan died on 20 September, 2009 at the age of 80 in Lahore.