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!