Jiya More Lage Na

Bhool

Bhool (Forgetfulness) is an Urdu film released in November 1974.  A major success at the box office, Bhool ran for 52 weeks straight in Pakistan’s major center, Karachi, achieving coveted Golden Jubilee status.

1974 was just about the shining peak of the Urdu film industry. The mood in the country after a devastating decade of military rule, civil war and loss of half of the country’s territory to the new state of Bangladesh, was finally upbeat. A populist and very popular self acclaimed Islamic Socialist leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was the charismatic international face of Pakistan.   Public life was relaxed and tolerant. Rock bands like The Moonglows and Willie Po and the Boys had the young folks dancing, while Turkish belly dancers swayed and shimmied for the businessmen in the bars of Karachi’s finer establishments.

The movie industry was exploding as well. It was that golden time when talent and stars abounded. The early stars like Santosh Kumar, Sahiba Khanum, Neelo, Noor Jehan, Mohammad Ali and Talish were the revered elders and a whole slew of new comers such as Waheed Murad, Shahid, Shabnam and  later, Babra Sharif and Ghulam Mohiuddin brought a sparkling, relaxed and often irreverent attitude that perfectly matched the times to the screen.

Nadeem who headlined in Bhool along side his most prolific screen paramour,  Shabnam, was also pretty busy in 1974. He starred in 13 other films that year two of which were released on Christmas Day and 9 of which ran for at least 25 weeks (Silver Jubilee)!  He was the very definition of ‘hot’.

Shabnam, a Bengali beauty was married to music director Robin Ghosh, also from what was once known as East Pakistan. Nadeem had been part of their circle in Dhaka in the early 60s and it was there that he tried to get his initial break into the movies…as a playback singer. It was not to be. The young boy with the doe-y eyes and playful smile was made to be in front of the camera. The dream of being the next Mohammad Rafi was quietly abandoned.

In addition to a glittering cast of stars that included Babra Sharif and Afzal Ahmad (see previous post on International Gorillay) some very big names were involved off screen. Shamim Ara, starlet of the 50s and early 60s turned director was Bhool’s producer and S. Suleman handled the direction.  A respected talent Suleman’s  Gulfam (1961) is regarded  as one of the best Pakistani pictures of all time.  Throughout a long career, he developed a canny talent for making hit pictures that often starred his brother Darpan, focused on progressive social themes and portrayed powerful women characters.

Bhool falls into the category of ‘social drama’ that defined classic Urdu films. It is also evidence that Nadeem had not yet entirely reconciled himself to his decision to leave singing behind.  In at least 4 of the films 7 songs including the jazzed up thumri  Jiya More Lage Na (I Don’t Feel Like Living) which I share today, Nadeem is the lead vocalist.

The pace of this song is quick and the mood jovial.  A swell of strings provides the introduction and sets the stage for some Latin rhythms that quickly give way to a trumpet trio and a descending electric guitar run that signals  ‘spy master-cum-playboy’ approaching.

Robin Ghosh is fast turning into my favorite music director. Everything he does has class, be it a slow burning lover’s lament or a rocking party song like this. The way he is able to create excitement by combining modern pop sounds (slashing guitar, Hammond organ squelches), international flavours (Mexicali trumpets) and strings (silky then plucky) with a raucous call and response chorus is pure magic.  There is not a dull or lazy bar in this piece.  Indeed, the only downer is Nadeem himself. His voice wobbles like he can’t quite find the key.  Almost out of tune. And even when he hits his stride his voice comes out as flat and stiff as a cold chapati.

Still the song stands as a wonderful contribution and example of the genius of Robin Ghosh.

Dhamal Salle Allah

postergorilay2

International Gorillay (International Guerrillas) is a Punjabi movie released in 1990. One of Pakistani cinema’s  great cult pictures it was a huge hit with local audiences but got the kibosh from British authorities who temporarily banned it. Without a doubt, the movie ranks as one of the most bizarre entertainments in world cinema. Ever.

The film takes its inspiration from the rage that greeted the release of Salman Rushdie‘s novel The Satanic Verses across the Muslim world. In Islamabad (where I lived at the time) a public demonstration was fired upon by the police resulting in a number of deaths and the anger of the people reaching boiling point.

An international cabal of Hindus and Jews led by Salman Rushdie (Afzal Ahmad) is determined to wipe Islam off the face of the planet. Every Muslim must be murdered according to Rushdie’s right hand man Commander Batu Batu (Humayun Qureshi) who along with siblings Commander Jason aka JC (Jahanzeb) and Dolly (Babra Sharif) form the evil novelist’s inner security council.

Ex-cops Mustafa (Mustafa Qureishi) and Shagutta (Neeli) join up with Mustafa’s unemployed goonda brothers Javed (Javed Shiekh) and Ghulam (Ghulam Mohiudeen) after the Islamabad shooting and jet off to Rushdie’s private island (that looks suspiciously like Manila) to sever the writer’s head from his body. For the next two hours and 45 minutes the international guerrillas do battle with Rushdie’s forces and engage in a frenetic series of gun battles, bomb explosions, disguises (at one point the three pot bellied heroes fool Batu Batu and his henchmen by crashing a dance party dressed up as a trio of Batmen), heroic escapes, fist fights, rocket launchers, severed heads, spurting blood, hangings, multiple narrow escapes and high speed chases in cars, motorbikes and speed boats.

The Pakistani homeys never speak except to scream down the wrath of Allah on Rushdie and other kafirs. But eventually the resourceful Salman,  who personally beheads several assassins and forces one of his prisoners to listen to an audio book of The Satanic Verses appears to completely out manoeuvre them. But a desperate prayer leads to the conversion of Dolly and Jason who turn their guns on Rushdie.  The heavens open, lightning breaks the chains of the guerrillas and after slaughtering every one of Rushdie’s soldiers they have the little Satan in their grasp.  But before they can behead him three drones in the form of the Holy Quran float down from heaven and attack Rushdie with lasers until he explodes in a ball of fire.

The End!

As can be imagined music takes  a distant second place to the action this time.  The songs, such as they are, are nothing more than opportunities to demonstrate the moral depravity of Rushdie and enemies of Islam. Not surprisingly, M Ashraf  the most raucous of Pakistani music directors, gets the gig to compose the music. Assisted by his son Arshad  he comes up with one of the worst set of songs ever put to film. In all but one song Neeli or Babra jerk, swivel and moan to trashy unmelodic disco beats while heavily moustachioed men, horny and drunk, oggle them lecherously.

It is only in the final musical interlude in which the guerrillas appear to be conclusively trapped by Rushdie and Batu Batu that the mood switches.  Chained to crosses the defenders of Islam begin singing a naat in praise of Allah, the Prophet (PBUH) and the truth of Islam.

 

For the first time the music speaks. The singing is in tune, the instrumentation is majestic and appropriate to the occasion (which sees the sky filled with Arabic injunctions to praise God and Mohammad PBUH). In what to this point has been a ridiculous, bloody farce of a film, the song manages to introduce a modicum of respect for its purported subject, Islam.

But not for long.

Dolly is overcome by the power of the singing and converts to Islam. She can’t help but jiggle and prance with joy as Ashraf injects that most famous dhamal beat of all, Dam a Dam Mast Qalandar into the proceedings. The solemnity and dignity of the moment is shattered as Dolly sings and the four  mujahideen bang and shake their heads in the weirdest sort of cross dance since Monty Python‘s Life of Brian crucifixion scene.

International Gorillay rocks!

 

Us Bewafa ka Shahar Hai

shaheed 1

Shaheed (Martyr) is an Urdu movie released in 1962. Though it was a political movie about a third country it was well received by the public.

If I had to sum up the story in one sentence this would be it: an anti-Imperialist take on Lawrence of Arabia. Of course, the central character, Lawrence, is portrayed in a different light than the self proclaimed hero of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In Shaheed Lawrence (Talish) is a conniving, pith helmet-wearing, pipe-smoking European / Jewish oilman who plays off one faction of Arab tribesman against the other to wrangle a 100 year lease to extract oil from the motherland.  Laila, played by the young and gorgeous Musarrat Nazir, is Lawrence’s femme fatale, who after being ousted from the tribe for her flirtatious ways sets herself ablaze, razes the foreign interloper’s refinery to the ground and restores the pride of the Arabs. A loose woman is the martyr of the title.

Such radical ideas were what audiences expected of Khalil Qaiser, who along with a group of other creatives such as poets Habib Jalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, writer/director Riaz Shahid and actors Talish, Saqi and Allaudin (all of whom appear in Shaheed) produced a number of politically tinged and socially progressive films (Clerk, Zarqa, Khamosh Raho) throughout the 1960s.  Though the country for most of the decade was under the dictatorial hand of Field Marshall Ayub Khan, this group’s approach to social criticism broadly aligned with Ayub’s secular, forward looking, internationalist vision for Pakistan.  Sadly, just a few years after Shaheed was released  Qaiser was gunned down by unknown assailants at his home bringing one of Pakistani film’s most promising careers to a tragic and premature end.

Music director Rashid Attre who composed the soundtrack of Shaheed was also a part of Lahore’s radical clique and frequently got the call from Qaisar and Shahid.  A Punjabi from Amritsar Attre was a ‘Lollywood’ original contributing songs to films as early as 1942 (Mamta).  A dapper dresser who had a soft spot for three piece suits Attre drew regularly on his training in Hindustani classical music bringing raga-based melodies and light classical forms like thumri into his work.

He also sought to put his music to the lyrics of the best poets, be it Faiz or as in the case of Shaheed, Munir Niazi whose poem Us Bewafa ka Shahar Hai aur Hum Hain Dosto has become one of the most loved Pakistani film songs of all time.

Laila, the sexually bold heroine of the film (Musarrat Nazir), is a much sought after woman in Watan the Arab oasis community where Shaheed is set. But her own affection for the blacksmith Haris (Ejaz) remains unrequited. Haris, instead, is in love with the Jewish beauty Aaliya (Husna) who together rouse their somnolent tribesmen to rise up against Lawrence and the Europeans.

After confessing but failing to gain the love of Haris Laila returns to her salon dejected and drunk.  In her stupor she gazes out over the silhouetted domes of Watan and begins her desolate lament

Us bewafa ka shahar hai aur hum hain dosto/Ashq-e-rawan ki nehar hai aur hum hain dosto
(There lies the city of the unfaithful one and here am I, friends
There flows the canal of moving reflections, and here am I, friends)

The song, which is built upon a gorgeous melody, sets the mood with a quiet acoustic intro before the glitzy twang of a Hawaiian guitar reveals Laila lying broken-hearted on the floor. As she staggers to her feet and sways in grief Laila pours her heart out before the silent city.

Tagged as the ‘second ‘Noor Jehan Naseem Begum was another Amritsari musician with a classical music background sings this sad song with grace and ease.  Trained in the art of singing by the great Mukhtar Begum, the young Naseem kicked off her career in 1956 and was the dominant female playback singer until Noor Jehan stopped acting and turned to singing full time. Attre and Naseem Begum with their shared background were a natural pair and worked together on many films.

Us Bewafa was an instant and enduring hit as was the film.  Shaheed won 9 Nigar Awards (Best Picture, Director, Female Singer, Music, Lyricist, Screenplay, Script, Actress, Supporting Actor) and remains one of the highpoints of Pakistani Urdu cinema.

 

 

 

Raat Bhar Neend Nahi Aati

ajnabi

Ajnabi (Stranger) is an Urdu film released in November 1975. Though it ran for 20 weeks it was a commercial stinker and thus, receives the ugly sobriquet, ‘flop’.

1975 delivered a bumper crop of films. A total of 112 were released that year and Pakistan was riding high.  The disastrous civil war which had seen the creation of Bangladesh (and the loss of 50% or more of the audience for Urdu films) was history. Zulfikar Bhutto, the charismatic Prime Minister was confident and supreme in his political power. The country was positioning itself as the leader of the Muslim bloc of countries. Just a year earlier Bhutto had hosted the 2nd Islamic Summit in Lahore.  The casinos and cabarets in Karachi’s hotels were frequented by the rich citizens/subjects of more conservative Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia. Alcohol flowed openly. Religious parties occupied the pesky margins of national life. The Army, chastened after its humiliating defeat in 1971, was licking its wounds back in the barracks.

So shining was this golden age.

Though Ajnabi had a gaggle of stars (Mohammad Ali, Deeba and new arrival, Babra Sharif) it was unable to excite. Director Ali Sufiyan ‘Afaqi‘ was in essence a writer and journalist with an impressive CV in newspapers, magazines and as a screen writer. Throughout his long career (he passed away in 2015) he was associated with a number of major Pakistani films, the most famous of which is probably Kaneez (Slave Girl, 1965) which he both produced and wrote.  But Ajnabi was considered worthy enough, along with two other Afaqi films, Aas and Saiqa,  to be selected to represent Pakistan in the illustrious Film Festival of Asia and Africa held in Tashkent, USSR (Uzbekistan) in 1976 (?).

The song Raat Bhar Neend Nahi Aati (I Can’t Sleep All Night) is the work of the music director Nisar Bazmi and playback singer Nayyara Noor. It’s nothing to get overly excited about but does possess a nice lilt.  The entire 3 and half minutes is wrapped in swirling silvery strings  infused with flutes that sound like birds chirping in a morning tree. Its a dreamy sort of song.  One of restless anxious love,

Raat bhar neend nahi ati hain

Chandni dil ko tard pati hain

Kya yeh hua/ kyon yeh hua

Bata deejeeye

Zara meri nafs dekh kar dawa deejeeye

[I can’t sleep the night through

the moonlight makes my heart quiver

what is happening/ why is this happening?

oh tell me please!

Check my pulse and give me some medicine]

Nayyara Noor was born into a Punjabi merchant family in Assam, on the far eastern flank of India in 1950. At the age of 7 or 8 her family, sans her father who stayed behind to settle the family business, moved to Lahore.  In the early 70s, just a few years before Ajnabi was released, Nayyara put the industry on notice by winning a Nigar Award for best singer in her very first movie Gharana (1973).  What followed was a sparkling career as a playback artist and respected ghazal singer. Her interpretations of Ghalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry are particularly special.

In Raat Bhar she gives a perfectly toned performance. Her singing and aspiration is light and coquettish. She captures the starry eyed rapture of the young love-struck girl to a T. As she sighs into the line about having her pulse checked we are instantly transported into the bedroom of a teenager gazing at the picture of her absent lover.

This is pure pop and as such is quite disposable. But like all pop music it has enough of that essential dam to keep you humming the melody for  days on end.

Well done I say. Well done.

 

 

Main Hun Dream Girl

 

Dream Girl

Dream Girl is an Urdu film released on July 4, 1986. It appears to have been a complete flop.

 

The film is worthy of attention for a couple of reasons. It is the product of the vivid and crazy imagination of director Saeed Ali Khan, who achieved in certain circles a cult status, not unlike that accorded to John Waters for several of his pictures, most notably the delightfully titled Haseena Atom Bomb (The Beauty Atom Bomb. (1990)).

 

Dream Girl is an example of the artist in development. While there is definitely vim and vigour aplenty in this film of a spoiled rich bitch cum karate chopping feminist crusader who has a change of heart and in the end uses her dance moves to bring down the heartless villain, Khan has clearly not been able to weave his myriad ideas together into a seamless tapestry. Characters crash into the story unannounced with backstories fully developed while the timeline jumps from present to the past without any visible adjustment in the characters’ garb or physical appearance. Atom Bomb was still 3 or 4 years away.

 

The second point of note in Dream Girl is that it is really a Pashto film. Though the dialogue is entirely in Urdu, the actors are all Pashtuns, including the giant of Frontier filmdom, Badar Munir. The lines are delivered fluently enough but are laced with the charming twang of the borderlands. Given that Pathans are the favorite butts of Pakistani jokes one wonders at Saeed Khan’s motivation?

 

But the biggest reason this spectacular clunker is worth a glance is for a couple of brilliant song and dance sequences, the best of which is Main Hun Dream Girl.

Main Hun Dream Girl (I am Dream Girl) is the perfect introduction to what distinguishes Pashto movies from all others: peppy big bodied girls in tight outfits generating a general ruckus.

 

Being the opening and the title track to the movie this song had to be something special. Run of the mill just wouldn’t do. And so it is. Bubbling with the fuzzy, slightly muddy electronic sound that made 80s pop music so forgettable we are treated to a Pakhtun-imagined Midsummer’s Night Dream. Dream Girl (Nadia Hassan) plays Queen Hippolyta decked out in a billowing wedding gown as troops of T-shirt and jeans-clad Amazons (hooris, perhaps) dance and frolic in the gardens! Sadly, the groom is nowhere to be seen. But Dream Girl’s karate teacher decked out in blue robes does pop up here and there, calling attention to herself by throwing her hands in the air for no apparent reason and to no affect.

Pashto movies are infamous for their provocative mujras and ‘come hither’ poses. Dream Girl does not really get into that scene but a repeating series of slinky snapshots of Dream Girl, which appear to have been manually cut and pasted, do hint at the sex that lies just below the surface. As do the many phallic shaped balloons.

 

If there are two words that describe this amazing hodge-podge of uninspired choreography (most of the moves imitate marching troops), slow motion gymnastics and general bedlam they are gay abandon. Everyone is having fun. There are no standards to uphold and no prizes to be won. Kemal Ahmad has come up with a catchy disco sound and a nameless singer croons out the lyrics as the Amazons romp it home and balloons waft in the breeze. There is nothing serious about this and that’s why it and Pashto movies, even when they are in Urdu, are so much fun.

Wadah Karo Tum

bigdi naslein

Bigri Naslein (Spoiled Generations) is an Urdu film released in 1983 with a heavy hitting cast led by Mohammad Ali and Rani. It achieved Silver Jubilee status, so was quite popular with the punters.

 

Wadah karo tum (Promise Me), a song from the soundtrack, is one of those Pakistani film songs which exists like a bauble that has fallen off the Christmas tree and rolled under the sofa. It lays there hidden, completely disconnected from its source and reason for being. But when you pick it up long after Christmas Day you discover underneath the dust there is still a little shimmer and shine.

 

It’s a dainty little ditty and the closest thing to genuine ‘bubblegum’ I’ve heard in Pakistani film music. In this sappy love song full of heartfelt confessions and urgent demands lovers frolic under blue evening skies and birds chirp in the branches. All the while an intoxicating sonic atmosphere swirls around. You can almost see the unicorns and rainbows in the far meadow.

 

The song is the creation of Kemal Ahmed, a Bengali who drew upon the rich folk culture of his motherland and who preferred a soft, gentle approach to music composition. An approach that emphasized melody and texture over the lively rhythm and percussion championed by Punjabi colleagues such as Nazir Ali, who also contributed to Bigri Naslein.

 

The song itself is a near-perfect pop song. Ahmed creates an entirely credible six-minute world where love is spoken in sweet melodies, gently strummed guitars and the quicksilver sound of santoor descending the scales like a waterfall splashing down the side of a mountain. Into this perfect little world of puppy love, Ahmed injects a layered female chorus that sounds like a band of half-crazed angels.   The ladies’ voices envelop the entire piece with their non-syllabic singing but also repeatedly veer close to the edge of pleasantness with some raw and jagged wailing. At first, this is slightly disconcerting but in fact, it is the perfect antidote to such a saccharine confection. The tension created by the high-pitched choir pushing against the lush melody is spot on.

 

None of this is exceptional or unique. South Asian music directors of the Golden Age at their best were creative geniuses, fluent in multiple musical languages and supported by talented musicians who could play any number of Eastern and Western instruments. What makes Wadah karo tum a truly outstanding piece of puffery is the singer.

 

Less than 40 seconds into the song the opening two syllables of the lyric–‘wa’ ‘dah’–emerge from the background, whole, complete and polished. As if they have always existed and are coming from the very vortex of heaven. Is the singer a woman or a man? There is something familiar about this otherworldly voice but we struggle to put our finger on it.

It is not until the first verse, sung in a slightly lower register, that the penny drops: this is none other than the great ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali!

 

Ghulam Ali, who was rigorously trained in classical music by some of the tradition’s luminaries has spent his entire career devoted to interpreting the ghazal. Unlike most of his peers, including arguably the greatest ghazal singer of the past 50 years, Mehdi Hassan, who recorded hundreds of film songs, Ghulam Ali’s filmi output is relatively minor. Indeed, his best-loved film song, the ghazal, Chupke chupke raat din appeared in an Indian film Nikaah (1982).

 

So, to hear him in a Pakistani movie, singing an entirely disposable piece of filmi pop is akin to finding a small diamond at the bottom of the biriyani. Though the lyrics are inane Ali turns in a worthy performance. Indeed, his masterful breath work, subtle use of vibrato and deep feel for melody takes Wadah karo tum to an entirely new plane. From mere bubblegum to something ethereal. A genuine keeper.

This is  a genuine keeper.

 

Hello Hello Sayangku

Bandish

Bandish (Entanglement) is an Urdu movie that ran for more than 80 weeks between 1980-81. A co-production with Indonesia, Bandish starred the beautiful and talented Indonesian actress Diana Christina in a lead role opposite a bushy-haired Nadeem. The film, apparently, was a minor hit in Indonesia and back home it further strengthened the credentials of Nazrul Islam as one of Pakistan’s more respected and successful directors.

 

1980 was an interesting moment in Pakistani film. The country was reeling from the judicial murder of the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto and the country’s military leaders were grappling with the challenge (and opportunity) that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan presented. These violent events seemed to be reflected in the movies. The golden era of the Urdu ‘social’ film, a genre that presented a self-assured, upwardly mobile and stable society attached to a tolerant Islam, was fading fast. A cruder more bloody genre of Punjabi action movie epitomized by the likes of Wehshi Jatt (1975) and Maula Jatt (1979) was attracting working class, urban migrant, male punters. The core middle-class family audience elected to stay in and get their fix from TV.

 

Though they had a stable of bankable proven stars, producers of Urdu movies were searching for something fresh. Bandish is a good example of a successful response. By shooting overseas they were able to keep the celluloid dream alive. Singapore gave the film glamour. And in Indonesia film viewers discovered a tolerant, relaxed Muslim country that appeared to be upholding the very values many Pakistanis sensed were slipping away at home.

 

The story, based loosely on the Italian film, Sunflower, is an emotionally charged and ultimately sad story of the cruel constraints of love. Faisal (Nadeem) is a wealthy Pakistani man come to Indonesia to take over his father’s rubber estates. Through a boating accident he loses his memory, in particular of his marriage to air hostess, Shama (Shabnam) whom he had just married.

 

A local fisher girl, Juwita, (Diana Christina) nurses him back to health, falls in love, learns some Urdu and ultimately marries Faisal who remains oblivious to his previous commitment and life. Shama, meanwhile, lives a marginal, shamed existence in Pakistan, raising her son alone.

 

News arrives that Faisal is alive and well in Jakarta. Shama flies to Indonesia in the vain hope of reuniting. In her desperate search through Jakarta’s busy streets she loses her son and all her money. On the verge of mental breakdown she discovers that her son has been rescued from near death by an unwitting Faisal and Juwita. Though she recovers her son, Faisal’s inability to recognize his wife drives Shama to hysterical despair.

 

When he suffers a second knock to the head, Faisal’s memory returns. All three lead characters are by this stage frantic and tormented by the horrible hands Love has dealt them. Juwita sees her dream evaporate as Faisal chases after Shama who is devastated that Faisal has no memory of her. In the final tense moments of the film Shama is reconciled and agrees to share Faisal with Juwita. They go to announce the good news to Juwita at her coastal village only to discover the poor woman has taken her own life.

 

Unlike most Nadeem/ Shabnam films, Bandish has little humorous interplay. Together the pair had a chemistry that produced not just sparks but some wonderful comedic moments. In Bandish, lightheartedness is replaced with an oppressive sense of powerlessness. A cruel impersonal force, not humans are in control of the world. The second half of the film and especially the final scene is extremely dark, perhaps signaling the Director’s views on what was happening back home in Pakistan.

 

Robin Ghosh’s score is subtle and tasteful as always. He effectively creates a gentle East Asian sound throughout and in Hello Hello Sayangku (Hello Hello My Dear) he lifts a popular musical phrase from Indonesian/Malay dangdut music.

 

One of the great delights of Pakistani film music is the abundance of female playback singers. Unlike in India where Lata and Asha virtually owned the business, Pakistani films are filled with a variety of voices and singing styles. Nayyara Noor was born into a Punjabi family settled in Assam but migrated to Pakistan in the late 1950s. Though she sang for many years in countless films, Noor’s voice, which is characterized by a soft expression and suppleness, is excellently suited to ghazals and light numbers such as Sayangku.

 

For his part, A. Nayyar was the male voice of the late 70s and 80s filling the shoes of the icon Ahmed Rushdie who passed away in 1983. Unable to get the attention of Radio Pakistan, his first port of call, it was through TV that he came to the attention of music directors and landed his first opportunity in Bashist (1974) from which emerged the mega hit Yuhin din kat jaye

 

Sayangku is a tasty little confection which showcases Ghosh’s creative imagination beautifully. Built upon a folky strummed acoustic guitar with a mid-paced melody, Ghosh creates an imminently hummable tune that perfectly balances mood and sound. Accordion, Melodica, shenai, and flute all contribute specific textures that are wrapped up in lush strings (plucked and bowed) and spiced up with playful scatting by Nayyar and Noor. Taken together the sound is billowy and light just like the first love of Faisal and Juwita.

 

 

 

Jo Bacha Tha Woh Lutane Ke Liye Aaye Hain

umrao jaan

Umrao Jan Ada (Umrao Jan Ada) is an Urdu film released in December 1972. It was a popular film achieving golden Jubilee Status (50 consecutive weeks) in cinemas in Karachi.

The story upon which the film is based is a classic of Urdu literature. Umrao Jan Ada is considered by some to be the first novel in the Urdu language and takes its title from the professional name of a famous dancer/courtesan (طوائف) who worked in the city of Lucknow. Mirza Hadi ‘Ruswa’, the author, apparently was acquainted with Umrao Jaan (though her historicity is not confirmed) and upon his request she narrated her story to him.  The book (which I read many years ago when I was studying Urdu as a graduate student) is told in the first person and tells how she was kidnapped, trafficked and rose to fame as a much-sought after female companion to the Nawabs of Awadh.

The novel which is full of tragedy and romance has inspired several films in Pakistan and India as well as a lavish Pakistani television series.  The 1981 Indian version starring Rekha is one of the peaks of creativity in Indian popular cinema. It’s music alone, composed by Khayyam with lyrics by Sharyar and sung mostly by Asha Bhosle, makes the film a classic. But Rekha’s acting and dancing were equally mesmerising. Director Muzaffar Ali led his team in accumulating 6 Filmfare Awards (sadly, though Rekha was nominated she did not win Best Actress) and the first Matri Shree Media Award for Best Picture 1982.

So, any other movie version of Umrao Jan has a very high bar to jump over.  And to be honest this Pakistani film does not hold up to Muzaffar Ali‘s stunning historical epic. But before it can be dismissed (and it should not be)  it is useful to highlight some of the things that really work here.

The first thing to remember is that the Pakistani version was released almost a decade before Ali’picture.  And in that sense, it is unfair to judge the former by the latter. Technology had advanced considerably in that time and Bombay always had larger budgets than Lahore.

It’s also difficult not to conclude that the 1981 Indian version of Umrao was influenced by this cross border film.  The Pakistani version does a good job of recreating the nawabi (noble) culture of Lucknow, especially its highly contrived social etiquette and deeply held values of honour, purity and class. Director Tariq Hassan (Ik Gunah Aur Sahi, Neend) does an excellent job of poking fun at the artifice, sycophancy and licentiousness that characterised a feudal culture on the verge of collapse.  His use of exaggerated hand gestures and incessant eulogising by hangers on at first seems over the top but you soon understand that this is deliberate mockery.

While Rani does an excellent job of portraying the deep emotional wounds as well as the steely determination of the kidnapped Ameeran (Umrao Jan’s given name) her dances are a faint shadow of what Rekha conjured. Is this, I wondered as I watched, an echo of the inherent discomfort Muslim society has with female dancers? Perhaps the choreographers were unfamiliar with traditional forms of dancing and unsure about how to direct her. Whatever the reason, this is one of the biggest weaknesses of the film.

The other principal actors, Shahid as Nawabzada Salim, Rangeela as Salim’s best mate, Talish as the conniving, dictatorial Nawabsahib and Nayyara Sultan as the dignified and aloof Khanum all contribute good performances. Shahid, in particular, is an engaging, somewhat spoiled and immature young nobleman. His smile and dimples are hard to resist and for my money he’s got one of the best ‘drunk’ faces ever seen, all glowering hard eyes and puffy cheeks.

Nisar Bazmi composed a sonically authentic and solid score built around the sarangi, the chief instrument of vocal accompaniment until the advent of the harmonium in the late 19th century. Saifuddin Saif, the respected poet and lyricist, wrote some memorable lyrics while Runa Laila handled most of the lead vocals. The more I listen to Runa’s singing the more I am impressed by its deep melodious core which while gorgeous, in this context does not quite match the raw emotion of an unhappy Umrao Jan.

Jo Bacha Tha Woh Lutane Ke Liye Aaye Hain (I’ve Come to Steal the Things That Remain) is the final song of the film and comes just a few minutes before the end.  After Salim marries and then cruelly discards Umrao, she swears never to meet him again. But Salim remains smitten and refuses to comply with his father’s demand that he marry his cousin Farzana.

Angry and frustrated, Nawabsahib (Talish) approaches Umrao and pleads with her to dance one final time for Salim at his house so that ‘he will remember you as you are –just a prostitute and not a wife’.  Though she has refused to see him, for the sake of their child and her desire to let Salim (Shahid) get on with his life, she agrees.

Bazmi correctly chooses Noor Jehan, by this time a seasoned 30 year veteran of films, rather than Runa, the responsibility of singing this dramatic, emotionally-intense song.

Jo bacha tha woh lutane ke liye aaye hain (I’ve come to steal the things that remain)

Aakhri geet sunane ke liye aaye hain (I’ve come to sing the final song)

Hum to mujrim ki tarah aaye hain (I’ve come here as if a criminal)

Kaun paiman-e-wafa thoda gaya (Who broke the faith?)

This first verse is sung directly to Salim who squirms uncomfortably with guilt and regret.  After each line Bazmi inserts a dark billow of strings that moves the melody up both the musical and emotional scale. Noor Jehan is virtually at the outer reaches of her soprano as the feeling builds and builds.

The next verse is addressed to her her young son who sits on the lap of Nawabsahib, not recognising his mother.

Dil ka har zakhm dikhane ke liye aaye hain (I’ve come to expose every wound of my heart).

But as the verse comes to a close the child breaks into tears and reaches out for Umrao who embraces him only to be grabbed away by a disgusted Salim.

Umrao’s tragic singing exposes the cruelty, hypocrisy and secrets of all the sharif (respectable) people in the room and with her work done she races from the house.

The print (like so many other Pakistani films) is dreadful but if you are to handle that slightly psychedelic constraint, this is a film definitely worth watching.

 

Make Love Not War

maut ke saudagar

Maut ke Saudagar (Merchants of Death) is an Urdu film released in 1976.

One of the challenges facing those of us who write bout Pakistani films is that of the many thousands that have been released over the years (over a 100 a year in the Golden Age of the 60s and early 70s) relatively few are publicly accessible on the internet or for purchase.  Many of the ones that are available suffer from horrible sound and vision making watching them an exercise in self-torture.

Maut ke Saudagar is in that vast category of films about which I can only conjecture information.  I’ve not been able to locate any reference to the film on any of the several excellent Lollywood-related sites on the net. And the authoritative text, Mushtaq Guzdar’s out of print book Pakistan Cinema: 1947-1997 also has no mention of the film.

But clearly, from the album cover of the soundtrack, such a film was made and at least a few of the songs from the soundtrack were released.  And while the song we highlight today is sung in Urdu and English, I can’t absolutely be sure the film was made in Urdu. Often Punjabi songs appear in Urdu films and vice versa.

So while much about this movie remains a mystery this particular track is a winner.

Nahid Akhtar and A Nayyar (?) sing a stoner’s duet that opens with a man taking a long toke and exclaiming

Kash pe kash lagao/ nashe mein dub jao

[Take hit after hit/lose yourself in the high]

Nahid echoes the final phrases of both lines before repeating them in a dreamy slur, one of her many artistic trademarks. A female falsetto chorus joins in as the lead singers toss the sexy title line back and forth.  The rest of the song’s lyrics are emblematic of the hippie generation: love everyone equally be they black or white; don’t let religion turn us into haters; respect for humanity.

The song sounds like classic M Ashraf or Tafo with its gurgling electronics, tasty guitar licks, and a general happy bounce. But the information I have (don’t rely on it) suggests the music is composed by Kamal Ahmed, an Indian immigrant (Gurgaon) who composed the scores for some classics like Basheera and Rangeela.

Sadly this little gem remains an enigma wrapped in a mystery.  But there is sparkle aplenty here!

Shola sa Badka Badka

Jasoos

Jasoos (Spy) is an Urdu film released in June 1977.

The film stars Sultan Rahi who holds a position not unlike that of Noor Jehan in the Pakistani film industry. Just as she was the undisputed Malika Tarannum (Empress of Melody), Sultan Rahi is by far the most recognized male face of Pakistani movies. Together both icons moved way beyond mere superstar status to that of exalted deities.

Rahi’s great fame started in the mid-70s and reached its most dizzy heights in the 80s when his face was visible on nearly every movie poster in nearly every town. Beginning as an anonymous extra, he graduated to short ‘fighting’ roles before gaining a few notices in the early 1960s as a character actor of some talent.

Though himself from an Urdu speaking Indian immigrant background, Rahi did most of his acting in Punjabi films. Indeed, the whole genre of so-called gandasa (long handled ax) movies which has dominated Punjabi filmdom since the late 70s, is built almost entirely upon the face and voice of Sultan Rahi.

Gandasa films are generally set in village Punjab and involve lots of blood letting, clannish revenge and sentimental references to the land of the five rivers. Action, fights and other displays of testosterone-driven aggression keep the lungi-clad, horse riding characters occupied and moving to a climatic gory end. Rahi made hundreds of such films and through them, his fortune. But he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his niche and expressed a deep longing to be given a challenging ‘real’ role.

Jasoos was made in 1977 and captures Rahi at a critical point in his career. His epic Maula Jat, which would forever change Pakistani movies, was still two years away. Rahi had made a number of Urdu movies before Maula Jatt but in the 17 remaining years of his life would appear in just 14 more. From 1979 on it was action, action, action and Punjabi, Punjabi, Punjabi. One can understand why he longed for that call that never came to play a more complex character.

Though Jasoos was an action thriller with a fair quota of guns, car chases and killing Rahi is given the space to explore a range of emotions that moved beyond righteous indignation. As Imran, the dashing head of a Private Detective agency, Rahi reveals a natural comedic touch as, he delivers genuine humour with understatement, facial expression and subtle body language.

Even more compelling is his interaction with leading lady, Mumtaz who plays Shama a simple country girl caught up in a web of intrigue. Rahi, sans wig and ax, was a ruggedly handsome hero. His winning smile, as well as an ability to flirt softened his action hero tendencies and made women’s hearts melt.   Though the film’s production was cheap and Iqbal Yusuf’s direction nothing to write home about, Rahi’s humane performance lifts Imran’s character out of the realm of caricature and holds the otherwise manic movie together.

Jasoos is the story of a mysterious black-hooded killer determined to get his hands on the Will of Seth Azam, (Changezi) a wealthy landlord. The Seth, sensing he is being targeted for murder, hands the Will over to Imran with instructions that he is to act as Executor in the event of his murder.

Sure enough, a few days later, the Seth is murdered, sending Imran on the trail of corrupt police, a conniving widow (Rozina) and her ‘helpful’ brother, the mysterious masked murderer, two thugs and a gang of female baddies led by a master of disguise (Ghulam Mohyideen). Along the way, he comes to the aid of and falls in love with young Shama (Mumtaz), a mountain lass who turns out to be the illegitimate daughter and sole beneficiary of Seth Azam’s many properties.

As the gangsters, female spies, and police chase Imran and Shama across northern Pakistan we are treated to some of the most unusual and unlikely of sub plots, such as pagans dancing in front of huge Easter Island-like statues chanting “Zambo! Zambo!”, and a nautanki performance in which actors who appear to be identical physical specimens of Imran and Shama do a snake charmer’s dance in which 8 women dressed in black, swivel and writhe on the ground like cobras! None of this advances the plot even a centimetre.

In the end, Imran rescues Shama who is bound to the tracks of a fast approaching mail train by hanging from the cattle catcher and scooping her out of danger at the last second. The gang of baddies are discovered to actually be a crack group of undercover police operatives and the widow’s brother is demasked as the murder!

Phew!

There are action films and then there is Jasoos.

The film’s soundtrack, by the enigmatically named Tafo is just as abrupt and weird as the plot. Tafo is in fact, a collective of musicians led by the ace tabla maestro Ustad Altaf Hussain Tafo Khan and his brother, Nisar Hussain on the accordion. Throughout the 70s, often in collaboration with M Ashraf, but also on their own, they contributed some of the liveliest, most diverse and innovative sounds in Pakistani films.

Tafo was/were early experimenters with electronic instruments, including drum machines, fuzz pedals and synthetic loops of sound. In several scenes such as the aforementioned “Zambo Zambo” tribal dance, they seem to have been given free reign to make up anything they wanted. The result is at both visually quaint and sonically bizarre but ultimately hilarious and immensely creative.

In Shola sa Badka Badka (Burning like a Flame), Tafo spend the first half of the song simply making one of the mysterious female spies, the striking Chakori, move to all sorts of electronic beats, squelches and sizzling electric guitar riffs. She jerks, twitches, lunges and writhes for a couple minutes as the musicians give vent to a full orchestra of canned sounds. The dance is provocative and at times channels a young Elvis Presley. It’s easy to see how Chakori caught Rahi’s eye and landed the female lead in Maula Jatt.

Both musicians and dancer seem eager to impress the producers with EVERY possible sound and move they can conjure. Accordions, blaring trumpets, catchy guitars and burbling fizzes of electricity keep Chakori pumping, shaking, writhing, sliding, twisting and shaking as a confused Imran watches from a balcony window and the master of disguise observes from behind the drapes.

The voice is that of Nahid Akhtar, the Multan girl with the galvanised vocal chords. Akhtar worked often with Tafo and M Ashraf, producing dozens of memorable songs throughout the racy 70s and into the conservative 80s. Her wide, open voice which crescendos like a silver cornet in a hot jazz ensemble is instantly recognisable. Combining the charisma of Noor Jehan with twice the gumption of Asha Bhosle and Usha Iyer combined, Nahid Akhtar owned the disco/saucy song genre like no one else before or since.

Jasoos may not have set Lahore aflame, but once again, the music, as well as an unexpected and pleasing performance by Sultan Rahi makes this a film worth checking out.