Love in Europe is an Urdu film released in 1970. It fizzled out like a wet firecracker upon release but has a few features that if not entirely ‘redeeming’, make it, nearly 50 years after its release, kind of interesting.
The late 1960s and early 70s were exciting times. Though the streets and inner cities of America were filled with blood and smoke and violence, the cultural and social scene was blossoming like never before. While every value was being challenged, music, art, literature and film were breaking new barriers every day. The situation was replicated in London and across Europe.
Almost a quarter of a century had passed since India had been partitioned into two countries. In what was seeming like a process of political cell division, Pakistan was a couple of years away from splitting itself apart to create yet a the third country, Bangladesh. These were momentous and dramatic years. The Independence leaders had all been either assassinated or pushed aside by the likes of Indira Gandhi and Z.A. Bhutto. And youngsters in Karachi, Bombay and Lahore were primed to absorb the new age of rock ‘n roll, (the idea of) free sex and automation.
In the movie industry a new batch of directors, writers and actors were happy to move away from the tried (tired) and true retellings of traditional love epics like Laila Majnun or Heer Ranjha. Films began addressing corruption, inequality, and the role of Islam in public life. From the mid-1960s people began wondering: if it was ok for our fathers to separate from India why is it wrong to stop the Bengalis or Baluch from doing the same? And by the way, what has been the real impact of Partition on society?
The film industry, never seen by the politicians and generals as an essential part of the ‘national project’, enjoyed a sort of ‘under-the-radar’ existence that allowed it to say things and experiment with ideas in ways that would have landed traditional artists, writers, poets and singers in the clink.
Love in Europe in its own haphazard (but endearing) way embodies much of the exciting energy of a momentous period in Pakistani history: from the demise of Field Marshall Ayub Khan and the ruinous interregnum of General Yayha Khan beginning in 1969, to the rise and fall of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ten years later. A decade of disaster yes, but not without hope or optimism.
Love in Europe is a secret agent film a la mode the Agent Flint or Eurospy series. Handsome patriotic agents wired with the latest communication gadgets and oozing animal magnetism defeat gangs, or girohon in Urdu, of black-hearted villains who want nothing but to take over the world. Or at least do destroy a young country in a dangerous part of the world.
The paper thin plot line sees Agent Anwar, played by Raj Kapoor-doppelgänger, Kamal, lead the demure Lahori maiden-in-distress, Farida (Rozina) around several picturesque capitals of Europe in search of her long lost father. The man left Pakistan to make a better life overseas many years earlier but has been presumed dead until a visitor confirms that he is in fact alive and last seen in London.
Anwar’s real mission, given to him by instructions received in a transmitter embedded in his bling, is to break up a cabal of international terrorists led by the notorious Mr Gul (Ibrahim Nafees) assisted by his ravishing assistant (Tarana).
Their evil intentions are nothing less than the disruption of the government of the Pakistan which must have struck all involved in the picture as slightly ludicrous considering the country was then under the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up leadership of General Yahya Khan. The great leader is remembered as the man who’s commitment to his country and people was trumped only by his deep love of Black Dog Scotch and pretty women, many, the married wives of his hangers-on, and actresses, including the Iranian-born Tarana.
Official military reports detail how one night back in the day, Tarana was summoned by the General to his pad in Rawalpindi. When she arrived the security guards refused her entry. Only the intervention by the President of the Republic’s ADC allowed the tryst to be consummated. When, several hours later on her way home, the haughty Tarana, whose name translates as ‘song’, remarked to the security guards how their attitude had changed, a quick-witted solider replied, “Yes. When you arrived you were just Tarana. You now leave as quami tarana (national anthem)!”
Though Love in Europe is a wreck of a film–little more than a 2 hour advertisement for the national airline which flies the Anwar and Farida to all their glamorous destinations of London, Paris, Rome, Beirut, Venice, Geneva–it has a vibe at once kitsch and frantic. Locations are predictable (Eiffel Tower, Piccadilly, Mt. Blanc, gondolas) but the sets are gaudy, retro and ‘like wow, man’. And the music is all over the place.
Though the indomitable M Ashraf was the MD, the soundtrack, like the film itself, sizzles and fizzle, careens and slides all over the place. In casino scenes Montovani‘s classic Pink Panther theme is piped in with no attempt at interpretation. In travel scenes, soft strings and cool horns soothe and in several racy, club numbers the lyrics, melodies and beats seem to have been churned out by some space-age player piano. Which is not a compliment. Indeed, one wonders if Ashraf put any effort into the film at all, the score is so unremarkable.
The only mildly interesting musical interlude is Anwar and Farida’s first date. He takes her to a cabaret in some quarter of London where he drinks in and Farida looks uncomfortable with the racy, half-naked dancers just a few inches away from their table.
Once again, rather than spend any effort on trying to make the music in any way his own, Ashraf simply lets the tape roll as what seems like a klezmer or perhaps Slavic gypsy band plays a face paced trumpet-driven loop that comes to an end as sudden as its unexpected beginning. About the only thing you can about this clip is: the Central Board of Film Censors had different standards back in 1970.
As a film, Love in Europe has little to commend it. As a fun piece of ‘time pass’ that takes you back to a time when Pakistanis enjoyed swinging, its worth a visit.
Oh, and by the way. Anwar and Farida do find her father. But you’ll have to watch the film to find out how and where!