Shine from Bollywood to Beeston

Mir Bostan is well known in Beeston as a photographer,
film star and community activist. He’s packed a lot into his 99 years.

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For Beeston resident Mir Bostan, it seems anything is possible. His has been an extraordinary life, yet he speaks about his achievements in a very matter-of-fact way.

Born in Kashmir in 1921, Mir’s story takes us from film sets in Lahore to the streets of Beeston. He’s been a soldier, a steel worker, a photographer and a community leader. He took up arms at the time of Partition. He appeared in a film with Ava Gardner. And he played an instrumental part of setting up the Hamara Centre - which started as a small shop and is now a multipurpose community centre employing over 20 people.
Mir Bostan is 99-years-old and remains sanguine, even during the pandemic. When we spoke to him on the phone he seemed reluctant to even mention it, preferring to spend time enthusing about his passions for photography and for helping the community. Through it all he is positive and upbeat. As he puts it himself, “I love Pakistan and I love this country. I am very happy!”

I have done a lot of
things in my life!
I love people.
I loved Pakistan and
I love this country.

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What was your childhood like?
 
In those days we were very very poor. I grew up with my family. Two brothers and a sister. When I was a little bit older I joined the army.
 
When was that?
 
I joined in 1945. And partition happened a couple of years later. There was a lot of fighting. In 1947. Muslim people wanted freedom. Nehru was the prime minster of India – and he didn’t want to give Pakistan freedom. There was a broadcast on the radio. Nehru said Muslim people had nothing to worry about, one day they’ll get freedom. But the next morning there was bombing. I joined to get freedom. We set up an army of 1200 people. Kids running around, lots of fighting in the street. It was very sad. After the fighting was finished I just wanted to leave. Or have a holiday! So I left the army.
 
And where next?
I went to Karachi in Pakistan to look for a job. After a few years my sister’s husband told me to come to
the UK. He had been in the British Army, fighting in Japan. After the war the British Army asked him, what do you want, what can we give you to say thank you? He said, take me to England! So he came here. And he helped me to come too. This was in 1952. I came on the ship. It took 31 days.

Mr Bostan on location and in action

Shine from Bollywood to Beeston

Why Leeds?
 
My brother-in-law, his family had a warehouse on Roseville Road. And so I came here. I didn’t work in the warehouse. I got a job in a foundry. There used to be a steel foundry on Chadwick Street in Leeds 9. I started there in January 1952. Made tanks, everything connected with machinery. I worked there for 42 years and 6 months. I was a supervisor and we made the Scorpion Tank.
 
What was it like in Leeds?
 
I was born in a village in Kashmir. I’d never seen anything like this country before. It was a very difficult time. I couldn’t speak English. But my neighbours were beautiful! They invited me into their houses. At first I couldn’t say anything, just “yes” and nodded my head. They asked me about what life was like back home. And slowly I started to understand more. I’d learned my ABC in the army so that did help. The Leeds people were beautiful, nice children too. When I started in the foundry everyone came round and put a hand on my shoulder and they said, “You’re alright”

Shine from Bollywood to Beeston

Mr Bostan in his youth

Above: description

What was different about Leeds, compared to today?

 

We had ration cards. And we had no plastics – only metal. There were trams. You had to get coal to put the fire on. We used to cook curry over the fireplace. No gas cooker! When we finished work we’d have a bath in the tin bath. Warm the kettle on the fire, then water into the bath. Things were very difficult in those days but the people were very nice.

 

We heard you’re a film star?

 

I am very keen on photographing and filming. I did lots of films in Pakistan. I used to go down to the film sets – and they would throw me out! But I kept going back, more and more, until they started to give me parts. One was called The Man With No Shoes. Lots of other dramas too. I was an extra in a lot of films. In 1956 I was in a Hollywood film called Bhowani Junction. I took a little part in that.

Shine from Bollywood to Beeston

Mr Bostan before lockdown

How did that come about?
 
I was on holiday to Pakistan. I heard on the radio, they’re shooting a film in Lahore, called Bhowani Junction, they need many people, lots of Asian faces. So I went down to the set. The location in Lahore. They told us to make lots of noise.
 
Did you meet any of the film stars?

Ava Gardner was a beautiful lady. Very nice, very gentle. I was a little bit scared to meet her. They said don’t worry, just relax yourself, you’ll be alright. And she was very kind. And Stewart Granger was a very smart man. Very nice man.

Did you make films in this country?

I’ve been in films all my life. The latest film I took part in was Mischief Night in 2006. I played an imam. And I take photographs myself. 

When did you start taking photographs?

When I was in Karachi I had a small box camera. I used to sell pictures for a few pence. To make a living. When I came to Leeds I got a Polariod. Now my house is full of cameras, video equipment, 16mm projector, albums – everything. All over the place! I made a film in the foundry. It took about six months and I have over three hours of film. When I finished work in the foundry I started making wedding films. And made my own dramas too. 

What else did you do after you retired?

I spent lots of time with the Hamara Centre on Tempest Road in Beeston. In 1995 we had a shop there to support elderly people. And a few of us gave money to start the centre. £5 every week from our own pocket. We couldn’t get any more money. We used to bring older people there and talk to them. The centre was only a small shop at the time. And slowly, slowly it built up and now it is the Hamara Centre. Now it is run by Mr Farouk, the chairman. And I go there myself. Go on trips. And I make films and photographs for them to help with funding. We helped get a minibus, a 12 seater.

Why was it important for you to be an active part of the community?

I love to do voluntary work. I’ve been doing work for people for many years. In different elderly groups. I love to help people. When I was young myself we were very poor. So I always have the feeling that we should help others when we can.

Have you got any advice for people during the Covid-19 crisis?

Be good and love each other. God willing, you’ll be happy.

What do you feel looking back at your life?

I have done a lot of things in my life! I love people. I loved Pakistan and I love this country. I enjoy life here. English people have been very good and very nice. I don’t think I would have lived this long in Pakistan! I am very happy.

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