Dance Music Nai Laila Nia Majnu

Nai Laila Nia Majnu

Nai Laila Nia Majnu (New Laila New Majnu) is an Urdu film released in 1969.

Laila and Majnu is an old love story originating in Arabia but familiar around the world in the guise of Romeo and Juliet, Heer Ranjha, Sheerin Farhad and Tristan Isolde (and many many more).

This film, a second rung production, is a comedy that seeks to update the story of star-crossed lovers for the modern era. For an audience raised to place the tale of Laila and Majnu in some distant past the film’s premise was obviously a fun concept to play around with. Though I’ve not been able to trace a full version of the film on the internet it apparently did well at the box office, achieving the envied status of ‘superhit’.

The film’s music was composed/arranged by Tasadduq Hussain whose career was blessed with a number of hit movies and the President’s Pride of Performance Award for his contribution to music.

Dance Music is a title given to a lot of up-tempo rock n roll compositions in a lot of movies. And often times while they do feature some imagined form of rock n roll, most are not that ‘danceable’.   In this instance, however, Mr Hussain has hit the nail right on the head and come up with a true stomper.

A frenetic snap fest of snares and bongos kicks off the piece before quickly being pushed aside by a stuttering electric guitar riff that seems to be lifted directly from the most recent Ventures record. A slack-jawed voice sighs, “Nai Laila” and several bars later follows up with a shivery ‘Naya Majnu”.

Still roaring down the line like the Karachi Mail running late a number of instruments take short solos (sax, drums, a Dwayne Eddy guitar, some early electronic keyboards, sax again) before abandoning all resistance and giving way to the unrelenting electric guitar line.

What always amazes me is how musical directors like Hussain, M Ashraf, Tafo and Nisar Bazmi whose roots and training were either in the folk or classical music traditions were able to cotton on to the raw, urgent, sexual drive of American rock n roll so easily.  A lot of what was marketed as rock music in these films falls flat.  But when they got it right, such as in this piece or in Shankar Jaikisan’s Jaan Pehchaan Ho (Gumnaam) across the border in Bombay, they really got it!

There is nothing this rocker lacks in terms of sheer energy, dramatic tension or rebellion and stands up proud against most surf music of the era.

Have fun!

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Dil Dhadke Main Tujh Se Yeh Kaise Kahoon

anjuman

Anjuman (Anjuman) is an Urdu film released in 1970. It was a Platinum Jubilee ‘superhit’, with the public lining up at cinemas for 81 weeks straight to watch the show.

The film tells the story of Anjuman, a much-sought-after tawaaif (courtesan) who has caught the lustful eye of Nawab Wajahat Ali (Santosh Kumar). Anjuman (Rani) sadly is depressed and lovesick. She has no interest in the Nawab but under pressure from her mother strings the nobleman along to get access to his millions.

Meanwhile, Asif (Waheed Murad) the Nawab’s supposed younger brother has an unhealthy set of feelings for his sister-in-law, Nawab sahib’s wife,  played beautifully by Sahiba Khanum.  These feelings are eventually ( and thankfully) redirected to Nusrat (Deeba) an old childhood friend who has recently migrated from India.

The more he hangs out with Anjuman the more coldhearted Nawabsahib becomes towards his wife and one day his excuses of ‘working late’ are exposed as lies. He confesses his affection for Anjuman to his wife but tells her to put up and shut up, which, of course, she does.

Asif is sent on a mercy mission to the dancing girl’s house. In a pique of righteous rage he tells her to stay out of his family’s affairs and desist from seeing his elder brother, the Nawab. As soon as she lays eyes on the handsome Asif, Anjuman falls in love. She agrees to break things off with the Nawab (no biggie, she couldn’t stand the man anyway) on the condition that Asif replace him.

So much does Asif love his sister-in-law who is suffering because of this prickly situation he agrees. ‘At least I’ll save her marriage,’ he says to himself.

Asif becomes increasingly alienated from himself and his family and Nusrat and sinks into the bottle to soothe his conflicted feelings.  About two thirds of the way through the film you are hit with the depressing realisation that all the main characters are incredibly unhappy, either abandoned by those they love, stuck in torturous moral dilemmas or scorned by society.

Eventually, though, things turn out ok. Sort of. When Anjuman refuses to see the Nawab anymore he realises the error of his ways and begs forgiveness from his wife. Asif has it out with his sister-in-law who accuses him of abandoning Nusrat. He lets Bhabi (sister in law) know of his deal with the devil, Anjuman. Bhabi confronts Anjuman and reveals that Asif is not her brother-in-law but in fact her son! ‘Take my husband if you must, but give me back my boy!’ Anjuman reluctantly agrees to release Asif from his vow but insists that she will dance at Asif and Nusrat’s wedding the following week.

With order restored to the feudal Universe the Big Day is marked with a wonderful dance by Anjuman. Just as the dance nears conclusion Anjuman collapses and dies at the feet of Asif. The final scene depicts Asif laying flowers at her tomb with hunched shoulders and a heavy heart.

The story may be full of moral quagmires, numerous loose ends and uncomfortable depictions of unchecked human desire but the music once again provides a degree of artistic ballast.

The tawaaif  film is a well-established sub-genre of South Asian cinema and is usually set in mid-19th century feudal Muslim India. In the case of Anjuman the location is contemporary 1960s Lahore which adds a hint of implausibility to the whole movie. Music director Nisar Bazmi does his best to cater to this split world by working in two idioms. In scenes involving Nawab sahib he creates the familiar haunting sarangi-based soundscape that such tawaaif movies employ. However, when Asif is in Anjuman’s company, he resorts to a more modern, ‘western’ sound led by non-traditional instruments like the guitar.

Dil Dhadke Main Tujh Se Yeh Kaise Kahoon (My Heart Races to Tell You) is a song Anjuman sings as she dances temptingly in front of grim Asif who has come to scold her.

It’s a delightful little song for a number of reasons. First, the twangy electric guitar intro would not be out of place on a Marty Robbins or Johnny Cash record. The country & western sound is so unexpected and refreshing at this point in what has turned out to be a heavy story you immediately perk up and find new energy to continue watching.

Second, it is a reminder of how connected the film culture of Lahore was with what was going on elsewhere in the world.  Sounds and musical styles from north America and other places were familiar to music directors in Pakistan and it is a testament to their creative talents that they could so quickly and naturally adapt these sounds to their own context.

Third, the smooth-as-polished-leather guitar playing is proof of just how talented the anonymous studio musicians in Lahore were. The string section too, is able to conjure a sound that is every bit as emotional and on point as Barry White‘s Love Unlimited Orchestra.

But in the end, it is the coquettish delivery of Runa Laila that makes the song so cool.  Laila was a Bengali girl raised in Karachi and grew up hearing the rock/pop music of Karachi’s then active nightclub scene as well as falling in love with the vocals of Ahmed Rushdie.

As soon as she burst on the scene in the 1966 film Hum Dono (We Two) she was recognized as an exceptional talent. In a few years she was a regular performer in India and the UK. She was one of Pakistan’s true pop stars and made well-received records of non-film music as well.

Her light and crisp voice is perfect for pop and upbeat music. Dil Dhadke is certainly one of my current favorites.

Anjuman

Aurton Apna Naam Bad Naam Na Karo

Aurat raj

Aurat Raj (Women’s Rule), a passionate, frenetic and highly subversive film about a hoary social issue, the place of women in society, is an Urdu movie released in 1979.

 

Made by one of Lollywood’s more intriguing characters, the comedian Rangeela (Mohammad Saeed Khan), Aurat Raj is a grand statement delivered in the form of bizarre slapstick. Every comedian knows it’s all in the timing. Sadly, Rangeela misjudged his. The film was released just as President General Zia ul Haq was imposing on the country a conservative social vision diametrically opposed to the film’s message. The film was a box office dud.

 

As the title suggests, Aurat Raj, imagines a world in which Pakistani women wear the pants (literally) and men are reduced to hapless marionettes with little purpose beyond fulfilling the passions of their female rulers.

 

Soofia (Rani) is married to a despicable, violent drunkard (Waheed Murad) who schemes about divorcing his wife all the more to go whoring with a different woman every night. Unexpectedly and inexplicably, Rani harnesses her inner tiger and leads a revolution of the oppressed. She rallies the female masses around the platform of ‘breaking the chains of thousands of years of mistreatment and repression by our supposed protectors’ and her Women’s Party ultimately wins a national election.

 

Insecure in her mandate, Soofia approaches some shady foreigners for a weapon that will overturn the gender tables. The arms dealers prepare and explode a smoke bomb which turns men into grotesque dupatta-covered minions. The women morph into uniformed, bellowing men who have no hesitation to fire their automatic rifles at any male who dares raise his voice against them.

 

Over the course of two hours the men are subjected to every crime (rape), abuse (beating), prejudice (pardah and lack of education) and humiliation (public dancing) imaginable by the once meek but now vengeful women of the country. Myriad sub-plots rise and fall like half-formed dreams but there is no doubt that the point of such nonsense is serious. Though the on-screen role reversal is farcical the film is successful in generating compassion and sympathy for women as well as disgust with ‘Patriarchy’.

 

Born in Afghanistan, by the 1950s Rangeela found himself in Lahore as a painter of billboards and avid bodybuilder. He got a lucky break when he was dragooned into filling in for a missing comic on set. His oversized head and skinny frame caught the imagination of the public and more roles followed.

 

A person who at first appeared to be a poorly educated Pashtun hick, in time turned out to be a cinematic renaissance man. Rangeela is considered not just one of Pakistani’s best comedians but was a leading man and an accomplished director. He displayed business acumen by establishing his own production house, sang songs as a playback singer and even composed music for some films!

 

With movies like Aurat Raj and the eponymous Rangeela (1970) in which he played a socially rejected cripple based on the hunchback of Notre Dame, Rangeela showed himself to be an auteur of some vision and courage, as well.

 

 

Throughout the film, Rangeela deploys music as a lively dramatic device. The election victory of the Women’s Party is secured largely due to a troupe of female qawwals who make the case against the men and their evil ways in song. A qawwali-like atmosphere is used again as Waheed Murad (the nasty husband) begs ‘women not to defame themselves by auctioning their men in public’.

 

(The singer of this particular song is one Nasreen Talib about whom very little information is available on the internet. I hope to have further details at some later stage.)

At various points in the film, music director Nazir Ali and Rangeela ‘sample’ other famous songs such as Amanat Ali’s elegiac Inshaji Utho and Lata’s Ae Mere Dil Kahin Aur Chal (Daag 1952). In keeping with the tenor of the film, these ‘serious’ or sentimental songs are used to great comedic affect, such as when after a major military operation that pitches a female army against the rebellious burqa-clad men, a shell shocked Rani is left standing alone in a devastated landscape. Suddenly, we hear Kishore Kumar singing Yeh Kya Hua Kaise Hua (Prem Nagar 1974) from an abandoned soldier’s radio!

 

But the most compelling use of music and song in Aurat Raj is the frequency with which the post-bomb men/ladies are made to dance for the pleasure of the women/men. Seeing macho matinee stars such as gandasa wielder Sultan Rahi and ‘Chocolate Hero’ Waheed Murad desperately shaking their hips and pumping their chests is not a pretty sight. At first hilarious, the spectacle soon becomes farcical and then vulgar. Before too long one cannot help but feel the weight of the humiliation that is heaped upon the head of the mujra dancer, who is more often than not a woman

 

Aurat Raj may be one of the strangest films ever conceived. And though its execution is haphazard it deserves recognition as a heartfelt attempt at social change. The film is noteworthy also as a fabulous testament to the unfettered artistic imagination of the one-of-a-kind Rangeela, Pakistan’s unlikely but original women’s rights activist.

Teri Talash Main Sadiyon Se

aar paar

Aar Paar (Around Here) is an Urdu film released in March 1973.

It seems to have been a B-movie going by the name of the leading players: Nisho, Shahid and Husna, a beautiful actress who was never able to break out of her ‘supporting’ roles but who, nevertheless, is fondly remembered for her contribution to the movies.

As is so often the case, the soundtrack of this commercial flop, contains some real jewels. The filmi music scene was dominated, like in India, by a solid core group of superstar music directors (arranger/composers), singers and musicians. So powerful were their perceived abilities that even second and third rate films sought them out.  It appears that producers paid big money for these magical names as a kind of insurance policy: the film may end up a flop but if we include a song or two by Noor Jehan or Mehnaz maybe we can move a few lakh (hundred thousand) more tickets.

In 1973 there were no bigger names in Pakistani music than Noor Jehan and Mehdi Hassan. Indeed, if you had to do a quick shortlist of the top 5 singers of Pakistan  you would probably list these as Number 1 and 2.  [And if you extended that list to take in all of South Asia, most people would have both names in the Top Ten.]

Noor Jehan came up through stage acting and singing. At the time of Partition in 1947 she was an established actress with several major motion pictures to her credit and her singing voice has been deemed ‘the best of all time’ for female playback singers.

Mehdi Hassan emerged out of a different tradition. Born into a traditional Rajasthani musical home, his family moved to Pakistan soon after 1947.  Though classically trained Hassan’s professional career started by singing for Rafiq Anwar’s 1956 film Shikaar.  For the rest of his career his mellow, burnished voice provided hundreds of films with moments of elegance and grace.  In addition to films, Hassan built a reputation as one of the finest proponents of the ghazal and other semi-classical genres like thumri, dadra and geet.

Both singers contributed their formidable talents to Aar Paar but even so the film was unable to make an impression.  The musical director was another Big Name, M Ashraf, who in 1973 was just approaching the height of his own powers as a highly inventive and influential musical mind.

In Teri Talash Main Sadiyon Se (I’ve Been Searching for You for Centuries) they play a straight bat. Ashraf eschews flashy fusion of electric guitars and Moogs and avoids wild dance or disco beats. Rather,  the maddeningly short piece places Mehdi Hassan’s voice within a gorgeous light melody with traditional subcontinental instruments. As such the song is a throwback to an earlier time before Pakistani films went nuts about experimenting with Western sounds.

 

Enjoy this gentle, lilting paean to love from one of the greatest of South Asian vocalists.

Talash

Allah Allah Allah Haq Allah Hoo

Aadam

Yeh Aadam (This Adam) is a Punjabi movie released on April 11,1986.

I’ve not been able to locate any data about its success at the box office which is probably evidence of its being a flop.

 

The film starred the giant of Pakistani Punjabi cinema Sultan Rahi along with his erstwhile female co-star Asiya, who shared the honors with him in the 1979 super-duper-wooper hit Maula Jat.

 

Punjabi cinema was dominant in Lahore in the mid-80s. The golden era of Urdu language family social dramas that targeted the urban middle classes was waning fast. President General Zia ul Haq was nearly a decade into his political/social/moral crusade to clean up the Land of the Pure. After the advent of the VCR and rise of the small screen the film industry was struggling to justify its existence. Public life became constricted as families, and women especially, retreated (or felt compelled to stay) indoors. And if, as a filmmaker, you could not depict physical affection between men and women, and any sort of partying or dancing or general merriment was frowned on by censors, what remained to attract people to the movies?

 

In keeping with the times—a war in Afghanistan, politically sponsored violence in major cities, rise of small arms and narcotics—Lollywood turned to other audiences and violence. Punjabi films such as Yeh Aadam extolled ‘traditional and rural’ values—clan loyalty, blood feuds, manliness—and drew upon the urban poor or migrant laborer markets. Sultan Rahi, Mustafa Qureshi, Chakori and Asiya were the top-billed names and would remain so until the Punjabi film market itself nearly died out in the mid-90s.

 

The music for Yeh Aadam was composed by Nazir Ali and M Javed and called upon the singing talents of the best in the industry: Noor Jehan, Shaukat Ali, Mehnaz and Masood Rana. Sometimes its the music that rescues a film from complete oblivion but not in this case. Nazir Ali was an accomplished veteran composer with a long string of hits to his credits, but M Javed, who is credited by EMI on the album label as the main composer, remains a mystery.

 

So if the film stunk (apparently) and no hits came out of the soundtrack (it seems) and the music director is a non-entity (based on quick searches on the internet) why are we highlighting the film?

 

The answer is simple: Alam Lohar. Without a doubt one of Pakistan’s–no, South Asia’s–most important folk artists, Alam Lohar presence in any film soundtrack is worthy of attention. Though he had passed on to the next world several years before Yeh Aadam was released there was no one who could sing this kind of song better.

 

Lohar was a natural singer who came up through the folk theatre (nautanki). His voice is raw and full of vigor if not exactly polished. But it was his charisma as a performer as much as for his voice that Pakistanis loved and continue to appreciate him.

 

Allah Allah Allah Haq Allah Hoo is a simple ‘Sufi’ song of the sort you’d hear around the mazar (tomb) of any Saint in rural Pakistan (or northern India for that matter). Though this version has been gussied up in the studio the basic folk elements are clearable audible: strong percussion, morchang (a local version of the jaw or jews harp) and simple lyrics.

 

The title of the song is a traditional Sufi chant (zikr); it is credited to one of Mohammad’s four companions, Abu Bakr and is associated with the Naqshbandi silsila (order) of Muslim mystics. It simply means Allah is Truth, Allah Is. In between this refrain Lohar inserts other short verses that refer to the Almighty’s other attributes and qualities such as his ‘glorious aura’ (shaan) and powerful throne (takht).

 

All in all this song is a wonderful little gem rescued from an otherwise barren and arid landscape.

AAAHAH

Mujhe Dil se Na Bhulana

aina

Aaina (The Mirror) is an Urdu film released in March 1977. In total Aaina ran for 401 weeks–nearly 8 years–making it the longest running and biggest grossing Urdu film of all time. As such it is Pakistan’s only Crown Jubilee film.

 

Aaina is an interesting film for a number of reasons, none of which involve the plot. The story of love found, thwarted and regained is tired and predictable and forty years on makes one wonder what the fuss was all about. But move away from the narrative to the music, the direction and the acting and it is easy to see why audiences swarmed to the theatres week after week.

 

Though Lahore is considered the heartland of Pakistan’s film industry—hence the sobriquet ‘Lollywood’—the Punjabi capital was not the only city where movies were made. Karachi with its dramatic Arabian Sea backdrop, glitzy skyline and rich financiers was a natural magnet for filmmakers. And prior to the breakup of the country and the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, Dhaka, as well was growing into a production centre.

 

Though filmed in Karachi for the Urdu speaking audience, Aaina is in fact a Bengali blockbuster. The producer, director, music director, the two leading stars as well as one of the playback singers were all Bengali or had connections with the small but vibrant Dhaka-based film world.

 

Bengalis brought a different sensibility to film making which when done well film goers found refreshing and appealing. Aaina is a fine example of this. As a director, Nazarul Islam relished poking holes in social conventions. In Aaina he plays with the notion of the generation gap by turning it on its head. The wealthy, bridge playing, whisky drinking and status conscious older generation is depicted as the wayward and immoral generation. It is the young couple, played by Nadeem and Shabnam, who persevere in their love by invoking the established traditions of marriage, gender and decorum.

 

And it is the two leads who steal the show. Though Shabnam, a Bengali Hindu girl, was married to the film’s musical director, Robin Ghosh, it was the doe-eyed Nadeem who was her on-screen foil. For more than a decade the pair dominated the industry, each winning the most individual acting awards for their respective gender. In Aaina the chemistry between them is immediate, genuine and infectious. They were at the peak of their careers and filled the screen as a single and singular presence. Without a doubt it is this presence that made the film so successful.

 

But the music is also noteworthy. Robin Ghosh, the film’s musical director was a Christian who had an extensive knowledge of and exposure to western music that he used to great effect throughout his career. His soundtracks, including Aaina, are marked by a luscious sound that is sophisticated, elegant and wonderfully imaginative. Indeed, in one rather dreadful scene drunken party goers dance woozily to a sizzling James Brown R&B track which saves the entire episode from sinking into farce.

 

The key song of the film, Mujhe Dil se Na Bhulana (Don’t Ever Forget Me) is presented four different times in the film, each sung by a different artist or combination of artists. On each occasion Ghosh sets the song, which has a lovely hummable melody, in a distinct emotional context. To create the atmosphere he uses different instruments, arranges the song variously and works with different lyrics. The effect, rather than being repetitious, is that the soulfulness of the score and the film is enriched and enhanced.

 

Ghosh drew on the rich, melodious folk traditions of Bengal which has a completely different sound than the percussion driven Punjabi folk or raga based compositions employed by his peers in West Pakistan. Nazarul Islam also won praise for allowing Mehdi Hassan’s version of the song to stand on its own, without the lyrics being lip synced by the actor on screen.

 

 

In this version Ghosh uses the voices of Mehnaz, daughter of the noted soz khwan Kajjan Begum, and the rising Bengali pop singer Alamgir to deliver the goods.

Aaina