Akhiyan Laryan Te Pyar Hoya

lahori-badshah

Lahori Badshah (Master of Lahore) is a Punjabi film released in July 1977.  It is considered a ‘superhit’ and achieved Platinum status, running for more than 75 consecutive weeks in cinemas in Lahore.

It would be two years yet before the release of Maula Jat the biggest grossing and probably best known film Pakistan has ever produced.  But the genre of rural-based, blood-drenched feudal soap operas, which Maula Jat epitomised was already a staple of Punjabi cinema. Though there are vast differences between American ‘westerns’ and this sort of Punjabi film, in some ways it is easier to get a grip on them if they are approached as a sort of South Asian cowboy movie.

The hero is a rugged and rough man driven to violence not by nature but by necessity, usually to right some deep moral transgression. A family’s honour has been besmirched by another clan. Outsiders are threatening a cultural code. A woman has been raped. Interestingly, religion, while often invoked as part of the moral universe is far less of a motivator for the hero’s action than a desire to protect Punjabi ‘culture’.  Defining exactly what that culture IS is another matter but it appears (to me) to be a melange of family honour, rural social order, land and masculinity.

Sultan Rahi, was, until his murder in 1996, the icon of Punjabi pictures. He’s the one pictured in the photo above. He starred in Maula Jat and countless other similar pictures in which he developed a very loud, brash mode of delivering his lines.  He did not hesitate to swing his gandasa (ax) to defend the ‘culture’ and inevitably would end up dripping in blood by the time the final credits rolled.

Noor Jehan, aka Madam or Malika Taranum (Queen of Melody), who sings today’s song is without dispute the single most important and influential figure in Pakistani cinema history.  She grew  up in an artistic environment, singing and acting in traveling shows with her sister.  After some musical training in Calcutta she made the move in the 1940s to Bombay and became an instant celluloid sweetheart. She was gorgeous, a good actor and was blessed with the most beautiful, evocative voice.  Indeed, she is regarded by all and sundry, even her peers in India as well as Pakistan, as the greatest female playback singer of all time.

She chose the more professionally challenging route of opting for Pakistan in 1947. Had she stayed on in India her fame and fortune would have been incalculable. But as a loyal Punjabi and a firm believer in the idea of a separate state for India’s Muslims, she ‘returned’ to an industry that was nearly out for the count.  But her spirit energised others and she was able to play a major role in reviving the Lahore movie making business. Though she was forced to quit acting–pressures from her husband–she made a mark as Pakistan’s first female film director and of course, graced hundreds of soundtracks with her versatile and powerful singing.

I have always found that Noor Jehan was in her element when sang in Punjabi rather than Urdu. In Punjabi she is absolutely one with the music, not just the rhythms and melodies but the lyrics as well. She inhabits her Punjabi songs in a way she doesn’t with Urdu. And while she was able to sing in any number of moods and styles the way she let loose in Punjabi feudal movies is spectacular.

Akhiyan Laryan Te Pyar Hoya is a right rocker. Driven by Punjabi beats, swelling strings and Madam’s equally heaving breast, the heavy breathing and flirtatious moans make this number a true piece of gold.  And when she’s not emoting her love she lets her voice burst forth without let in a typical Punjabi /rural style.  Like the flare of a trumpet there is a certain blast of sound that  hurtles forth out of her mouth which commands as much attention as a bloody gandasa. You know she means business!

Badshah

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Nain Kissi Se Milaye

qayamat

Qayamat (Judgement Day) is an Urdu movie released in 1978.

The film appears to have been a B-grade picture with no superstars. The leading lady Najma was referred to as a ‘known’, as opposed to ‘well-known’ artiste in her obituary. Her sister, on the other hand was Asha Posley, one of Pakistan’s most famous female actors in the years immediately following the 1947 Partition of India. Ghulam Mohiuddin, the male star had a better run in his career which spanned 400+  films from which he garnered a number of Nigar Awards (Pakistani Academy Awards).

The music of Qayamat  was composed by Khalil Ahmed, a veteran of the industry but again, nowhere as influential, prolific or creative as peers such as M Ashraf, Sohail Rana or Nisar Bazmi. Ahmed was born in Agra, India but migrated with his family to Pakistan in the wake of the 1947 upheavals surrounding Independence and the division of India into three bits.

By the early 1970s, Ahmed was making a name for himself in the new medium of television where he was the musical mastermind behind several shows, the most famous being Sangat which began its run in 1972. Those who worked with him recall someone who worked passionately but also very quickly. He’d sketch out a melody line and then get a Spanish guitar or harmonium player to fill it out. Soon percussion was included and a lovely melodious folk or pop tune emerged.

His favorite singer, and one for whom he often composed, was the great Ahmed Rushdi who sang for him in the 1965 blockbuster, Kaneez.  Though TV appears to have been his main area of activity he didn’t abandon film work altogether as today’s selection indicates.

Nain Kissi Se Milaye (Make Eyes at Someone) is a perfect example of Ahmed‘s adept pop style. This is a 3.5 minute, fast moving pop song with a wonderful hiccup-like beat which singer Nighat Akbar vocalises to great effect.  Synths were all the rage in Lahore at this time. They appear to have done the work of many dozens of instruments and eventually played a critical role in the disempowerment of thousands of lifetime musicians who depended on the film studios for their bread and butter.

In this song, a warm liquid electronic pulse complements a steady, snappy,  mid-pace drum beat that delivers a tightly wrapped little musical lolly. The tune is catchy, the singing is infectious and the only real complaint is that the fun is over just as we are hitting the dancefloor.

Qayamat

Kya Haseen Jism Hai

ek-gunah-aur-sahi

Ik Gunah aur Sahi (One Sin More) is an Urdu film released in 1975. It ran for 52 consecutive weeks in Karachi’s cinema halls achieving Golden Jubilee status.

The super hit film was  based on the controversial short story Mummy by Sa’adat Hasan Manto. Manto is considered one of the Urdu language’s best writers and is appreciated(for his concise prose and deprecated for his unabashed discussion of topics such as sexuality, which his peers found distasteful.

Mummy is a portrait of one Stella Jackson, an Anglo-Indian woman in Poona (Pune) who is painted in the shades of a madam/procuress for those connected with the film industry.  The story begins by attaching all the stereotypes of ‘loose’ Christian, Anglo-Indian (Eurasian) women to Stella: heavily made up to the point of ugliness, drinker, prostitute.  By the end of the story, however, Manto is less moralistic about Mummy and leaves the reader feeling a great deal of empathy and compassion for his character.

I’m really looking forward to watching this film to see how director Hassan Tariq (who also wrote the screenplay) handles the drama.  The film starred beauty queen/dancer Rani (Tariq’s ex-wife) and dashing leading man Mohammad Ali.  

The album cover of the soundtrack (above) is revealing on a couple of counts. First, the image of a modern young lady giving you a ‘come hither’ look next to a bottle of whiskey pretty much sums the storyline for the casual observer. The whiskey, Vat 69, was apparently the preferred poison of villains and vamps on both sides of the border. Watch any film made in Lahore or Mumbai from this era (60s-80s) and you’ll see Vat 69 in the clutches of some shady character or another.

The other interesting thing about this cover is the prominence given to the music director,  Nisar Bazmi.  Not every music director would be afforded such visibility and only those whose name would in its own right draw customers into the cinema or shop.  Bazmi, without a doubt was one of the few.

Originally from Maharashtra, Bazmi began his career in Bombay and until he left for Pakistan, the mentor to one of the greatest musical duos of Indian film, Laxmikant Pyarelal.  In Pakistan, he composed music for dozens of films in a wide range of styles from folk and classical to pop and rock.

Today’s song Kya Haseen Jism Hai (What a Beautiful Body You Have) is an ‘item number’ but without the usual disco/dance beats.  Rather Mehnaz delivers the mid-tempo number with huge pathos and sadness.  This the song of a woman who knows exactly what sort of world she is living in. A world of fleeting desires and pleasures where bodies are sold and traded for cash and cheap, hollow laughs. Through unrelentingly depressing lyrics and Mehnaz’s moody singing, the audience is treated to a cold critique of a certain class of cashed up Pakistanis who lived lives far removed from those of most of the audience.

The music is understated, which as I said, is not what one would expect from a vamp’s nightclub solo .  Bazmi gets some excellent, soulful electric guitar licks out of his band of musicians and expertly increases the emotional tension by employing a small orchestra of strings but overall the music is composed in such a way as to give Mehnaz the space to do her moody interpretation of a very sad business.

VAT 69

All in all, top shelf stuff!

Yeh Mausam Hota Hai

miss-hongkong

Miss Hong Kong is an Urdu movie released in 1979.

The first in a series of ‘Miss’ films (Bangkok, Singapore, Istanbul, Colombo) this film starred Babra Sharif (if you don’t know by know, the biggest female star of the late 70s and 80s) in the title role. You can see her doing a jig with a couple of sailors on the album cover above.

While the films were not necessarily huge hits the series represent an important development in Pakistani cinema: the feminist film. Now let me immediately qualify that statement by confessing I do not mean this claim to stand up to academic rigour. I have not seen this film and  have no real idea what messages it does or does not send regarding women.

The reason I use the word feminist is more straightforward. The Miss series, as well as a whole raft of other films with titles such as Lady Commando and Lady Smuggler, are the work of Pakistan’s first successful female director, Shamim Ara.

Shamim Ara was not the first woman to direct a major commercial picture in Pakistan. This honour goes to Noor Jehan who directed herself in the Punjabi classic Chan Way  in 1951.  But it was a one-off job for Ms Jehan. It is widely understood that she was ably assisted by her husband, who agreed to go uncredited.

Ara, however, was well and truly in charge behind the camera in each of these films. Given the national and social context of Pakistan this is nothing to be sniffed at.  In an industry in which women were cast almost always as foils, victims, vamps and long suffering mothers to have them in leading roles, and in the case of Lady Smuggler and Lady Commando, in roles that directly confronted and challenged the notions of ‘good woman’, ‘villain’ and the male monopoly of power, money and violence, Ara’s work is almost revolutionary.

And remember, these pictures were not made in the ‘good old liberal days of Ayub Khan or Z.A. Bhutto’, but at the beginning of Zia ul-Haq’s campaign to Islamisize Pakistan. A campaign that severely restricted the participation of women in public life.

Once again the music composer is the prolific M Ashraf. The film, shot on location in Hong Kong, gives Ashraf space to experiment with sounds that sound vaguely Far Eastern, via electronic keyboards and flutes.

Yeh Mausam Hota Hai (This Season is Such) our selection for today is a gorgeous little melody. It is delivered straight-no-chaser with little innovation or experimentalism as far as instruments or beats are concerned. The sonic framework is classic north Indian filmi (tabla, acoustic guitars and soaring strings) with just a short interjection by a rather annoying synth in the early section.

The singers, two of Pakistan’s most respected artists, both of whose natural artistic element was the concert hall rather than the movie house, are Mehdi Hassan and Mehnaz.  Whenever I hear Mehdi sahib singing in films I have the feeling of driving a Maserati to the local dhaba to buy some keema naan.  Such a masterful creation being put to the most mundane use.

But alas, artists must eat too. Even if it is just keema naan.

For all of that, this is an infectious little tune; I’ve been humming it all day. I’m sure you will be too.

HongKong

Ding Dong Ding Dong

deewar

Deewar (Wall) is an Urdu film released in 1976. It achieved ‘flop’ status and sunk like a stone.

The film starred Babra Sharif who had debuted in films two years earlier. Though her dominance of the industry was still some years in the future she had received very good reviews, won a Special Nigar Award (Pakistan’s Academy Awards) and had starred in some very successful movies by this point.  Sadly, Deewar, in which she shared the limelight with Ghulam Mohiuddin, was a disaster.

The music was composed by M Ashraf and as such is always worth investigating. Ashraf loved to experiment with rhythms, styles and sounds.  One of his favorite signatures was a steely electric guitar riff such as the one that opens this number. It’s edgy, its liquid and when mixed with a snappy snare drum puts the listener on notice “You’re about to have some fun!”

You don’t need to see the film to know what is going on in this scene.  We are witnessing a wild dance party of hip people who are busy flirting and being silly.  The title of the song is repeated like a nonsense nursery rhyme by Ahmed Rushdi by way of welcoming Mehnaz who tells us the best thing in the world is L.O.V.E.

From this point on we are off to the races.  Manic accordion solos swirl around repeated choruses of Ding Dong Ding Dong, an early Moog keeps the bass line bubbling while that electric guitar makes strategic stabs into the sound-osphere.

This track is not exactly an ‘item number’ and should rightly be classified as a dance or disco song. And as the whole concept of co-educational partying and dancing is deemed to be a Western innovation it is important for lyrics, at least in part, to be sung in English. And so about 2 and a half minutes into the proceedings Ashraf changes things up by incorporating the melody lines of the famous Punjabi ditty Balle Balle. Instead of shouting Balle Balle (Punjabi for ‘hooray’, from the Persian word, baleh meaning ‘yes’) the English words, hello hello are substituted.

Hello Hello/ You know it is I love you

I will sing with you, my sweety

And I die with you/Hello Hello I miss you

Hello Hello/ You know it is I love you

Ahmed Rushdi was a regular partner of M Ashraf and the most successful male playback singer of the era. He modeled his singing style on that of Mohammad Rafi which is especially noticeable on more subdued tracks.  But Rushdi was an expert rocker as well. He could sing with gusto and as he demonstrates here could make suitably lusty grunts when required.

As for Mehnaz, she turns in a very credible somewhat raunchy performance which matches the mood perfectly. Mehnaz was from a famous music family (her mother was Kajjan Begum) whose reputation was made with a light classical repertoire of ghazal, dadra and thumri.  Songs such as this inane piece must have made her squeamish, but if so, she hides it very well.

The last part of the song is a riot of English love banter which sort of brings the song to a shambolic climax 6 minutes later.

Ding Dong

 

Dama Dam Allah Hoo

mohabbat-aur-majboori

Mohabbat Aur Majboori (Love and Compulsion) is an Urdu film released in September 1981.

The film appears not to have made many waves or at least not for very long.  Clearly a story of conflicted and unrequited love, the headline star is the beautiful Babra Sharif who plays a sophisticated Pakistani-British expat who returns home and family.  She is met by relatives and driven to the mazar of Sain Baba in the mountains of Kashmir, where the first song of the film, Dama Dam Allah Hoo is heard.

The song is performed by Mehdi Hassan who needs no introduction to most readers. Arguably the best male ‘light classical’ singer of his generation and popular not just in Pakistan, but in India as well as the South Asian diaspora, Hassan is best remembered for his non-film repertoire of ghazals.  His voice is instantly recognisable for its smooth timbre and understated delivery.  He infused each song with a natural unhurried dignity, which is calming and luscious at the same time.

Sufi shrines (mazar) are an important part of the cultural and geographic landscape in Pakistan.  They are visited regularly by seekers of all faiths who come to pray, rest, socialise and seek boons from the charged energy of the Saint that encompasses the surrounding area.  Women come to seek the birth of children.  Men seek the Saint’s help for business success. And in the film, Babra Sharif has come with an unspoken desire for love.

The concept of ishq (Love) is central to the Sufi message.  The Almighty is approached in the form of the Beloved.  The individual seeker is the Lover who wants to drown and lose his sense of self (diwana) in the Love of God.  The line between divine love (Ishq) and romantic love (Mohabbat) is a thin one, especially in the popular imagination.  And shrines are considered to be places where earthly relationships can be sourced or repaired.

This version of the sort of song Sufi sains (wandering minstrels/mystics) would perform at a mazar is lovely, if not exactly inspiring.  The rougher ecstatic edges of the real deal have been polished for the middle-class audiences the filmmakers are targeting. Mehdi Hassan’s voice was never designed to sing jubilant spiritual chants and seems slightly out of place in the context of religious and ritual intensity.

The title of the song, as well as its repeated refrain Dama Dam Allah Hoo, references the Sindhi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s mazar in Sehwan. The chant/hymn Dama Dam Mast Qalandar, is the single most famous line in South Asian mystical music and instantly associates the listener with  Qalandar and the Sehwan shrine.

I selected this song mainly because of the awful events that have transpired in Sehwan in the past few days.  In a time like this  Mehdi Hassan’s  subdued rendition is just the sort of balm we all require.

Dama Dam

 

Tum Kaun Ho

khotay-sikay

Khotay Sikkay (Fake Coins) is an Urdu movie released in November 1981.  It achieved Silver Jubilee status and ran for 34 straight weeks in Karachi.

The American cowboy movie with its themes of individual and national identity, has been an inspiration for many Indian films, such as the iconic Sholay (1975) and Dharmatma (1975) as well as more recently, the hilarious send-up of the gunfighter-comes-to-town genre, Quick Gun Murugan (2009).

In Pakistan you could argue that virtually the entire output of the Punjabi film industry and its one-of-a-kind superstar Sultan Rahi, is, in essence, a local interpretation of the Western.

The rugged rural landscapes of Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and its deserts, complete with old forts and remote villages, afford a spectacular backdrop for the elemental struggles of righteous, vengeful heroes against villainy and corruption.

Khotay Sikkay is another film that borrowed its title from an earlier Indian movie (Khote Sikke/1974) which starred India’s handsome cowboy-actor Feroz Khan.

The Pakistani movie was filmed on location and fielded an all-star cast led by the veteran Mohammad Ali and Lahori glamour puss Babra Sharif.  Badar Munir, the single biggest name in Pashto movies, who made his reputation as a tough and rough ‘don’t give me any shit’ type of hero was also drafted in to give the otherwise urbane cast a certain rugged authenticity.

The musical players were equally stellar.  M Ashraf, probably the greatest musical director of his era,  led the effort supported by the voices of several outstanding artists including A Nayyar, Mehnaz, Nahid Akhtar and Akhlaq Ahmed.

There exists in Pakistan a whole genre of singing known as qaumi naghme (national songs) which are usually presented on TV shows in front of well-behaved middle-class studio audiences. These songs extol the virtues and positive aspects of the Pakistani state and encourage listeners to adopt high-minded ideals of tolerance, moderation, piety and loyalty.  Almost every singer in Pakistan, including the very biggest names, has sung such songs. And even though they are musically rather drab affairs most singers claim to enjoy singing them.

Our featured track, Tum Kaun Ho, is one such patriotic duet. Performed by Nahid Akhtar and Shaukat Ali, it is a very interesting song indeed, if for no other reason than the number of cans of worms it begs one to open.

The title of the song means, Who Are You? a question Nahid Akhtar asks as if she were the Mother of the Nation.

‘Who are you/tell me dear/to which nation do you belong?’

Shaukat Ali is a popular singer from Lahore who covers a range of styles including ghazals and folk music but who shot to fame as a playback singer in Punjabi movies. He has won many awards including the highest arts prize, the President’s Pride of Performance award for his contributions to Pakistan musical culture.

His response to Nahid’s question comes first in the form of ‘I am a son of Punjab’. Ali sings mainly in Urdu in this verse but  breaks into a few stanzas of Punjabi which include the cry ‘Bhaley! Bhaley!’ which is an instant signal to all listeners that this is a Punjabi singing.

Next Ali travels to Sindh where he invokes the desert Sufi spirit of the great mystic Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (where just this week 76 people were murdered by the thugs ISIS at his shrine in Sehwan) with a rousing chorus of ‘Dama dam mast Qalandar/Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar‘.

More verses follow. Short portraits relate ‘typical’ Baluch and Pashtun national characteristics which in the case of the latter, include, ‘guns are my toys!’

The song’s grand statement is delivered in the final 2 and a half minutes.

Yeh Sindhi, Punjabi, Baluchi/hain Angrez ki baten

(This Sindhi, Punjabi, Baluchi/ are just English words)

Kyon suboh mein bante rahein ho/insaano ke zaate

(Why do you divide yourselves among the provinces)

Ek kitab hai/ ek  hai ummat

(A single holy book/ a single faith community)

Ek hai Ka’aba apna

(The single Ka’aba is ours)

Sab ka vaarish ek  Mohammad/ Ek hai khuda apna

(Mohammad is all our inheritance/ The One God is ours)

Ek aazaan ke aage/jis ne sar ne jhukajayenge

(Our heads will bow in response to one call to prayer)

Allaaaah ho Akbar

(God is Great!)

Ma ke chaahe sau bete ho/ ek hi kahelayenge

(Our Mother’s hundred beloved sons/ will be called one)

Ma ki beton apni ma ko/suboh mein na banto

(Dear Mother’s sons/don’t divide your Mother into Provinces)

Quaid-e-Azam ka yeh gulshan nafratein na kato

(Don’t let hate destroy our Great Leader’s garden)

Na Sindhi na Punjabi na Pashto na Makrani

(We are neither Sindhi, nor Punjabi, nor Pashto, nor Makrani)

Pakistan mein rahne wale sab hain Pakistani

(All who live in Pakistan are all Pakistani)

The national anthem then plays as the song fades out.

Musically the piece is very satisfying. Ashraf keeps the music moving steadily at a medium pace throughout the first several verses.  He skillfully introduces instruments such as rubab, sarinda and dhol that are particular to each region of Pakistan and, as mentioned above, inserts lines and phrases from some of the regional languages. Shaukat Ali’s voice is open and clear and confident which fits both the subject matter and intention perfectly.

But the tension is really ramped up in the final key verse as strings break through and swell majestically at the end of each couplet.  Ali‘s voice responds by jumping up an octave. All the while the Punjabi affinity for rhythm is evident in the excited beating of tabla and dhol. The pace slackens dramatically and respectfully for the call to prayer but then picks up again until the national anthem draws the song to a dignified close.   All in all, the song is an outstanding example of a qaumi naghma and one that is worthy of repeated listens even if more for its music than lyrics.

An analysis of the lyrics is something that must wait for another time and place. But suffice it to say they point to a number of issues–language, ethnicity, geography, faith, inclusion–that continue to challenge the world’s first confessional state 70 years after its birth.

Tum Kaun Ho

Some Say I am a Sweety

korakaghaz

Kora Kaghaz (Blank Page) was an Urdu movie released in 1978.

Pakistan and India are arch rivals in every sphere of life: war, cricket, nationalistic governments and possession of Kashmir, to name just a few.  While you could say the Pakistani film industry was never large enough to be a serious rival to what has come to be known as Bollywood,  there was always plenty of artistic appropriation going on between both industries.

Pakistani singers crossed back and forth across borders having hits and fans in both countries.  Story ideas and plot lines were pinched without compunction from each other. The studios in Lahore and Karachi regularly remade mega-hit Indian films. By appending the same titles to their own creations they no doubt hoped to strike similar box-office gold as the originals.

Kora Kaghaz was the name of an Indian movie released in 1974 which itself was a remake of a Bengali film by the name of Saat Pake Bandha (1963).

The Pakistani version of the movie was a big hit. It ran continuously for  27 weeks in cinema halls in Karachi, attaining coveted Silver Jubilee status.

The film’s music was composed by Nazir Ali who was known primarily for his work in Punjabi films. Called by some the ‘master of rhythm’ his work covered the range of ‘fast’ ‘slow’, upbeat and ‘sad’ numbers including a number of ghazals that were made popular by Noor Jehan.

This song definitely qualifies as an ‘upbeat’ number.

Rhythm features from the outset with rapid fire drum rolls mixed with strummed acoustic guitars and the warm swells of a mellotron.  Nahid Akhtar then enters with some ‘la la la’ ing that flattens out in a typical Punjabi way by way of introduction to the opening line,  Some say I am a sweety!

The song is clearly an ‘item number’. A song sung by a vamp, usually to a rock n’ roll beat, in a disco or hotel cabaret.  Nahid Akhtar was the queen of ‘item numbers’ in the 70’s making her reputation as one of Pakistan’s best-loved, most prolific playback singers.  Her partnership with music director M Ashraf is particularly well remembered.

Some Say I am Sweety alternates between English and Urdu lyrics which are banal in both languages. But what the song lacks in lyricism it makes up for with a heady mix of instruments, sounds, and beats. Electic fuzz guitars, sizzling electronic keyboards, accordions, flutes and of course lots of snares and bongos.

Some say I am a sweety/ some say a queen of the beauty

I am alive/heart is beating/but my soul is hurting

 

Sweety