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.