Warrant (Warrant) is a Punjabi movie released in 1976. It seems to have been a considerable hit.
This movie was difficult to watch. First of all Punjabi not being a language I fully understand, the flow of the plotline was hard to control. I spent a lot of time trying to identify one of the main characters, the falsely-accused murderer, Ejaz (Nadeem? No. Afzaal Ahmad? Possibly) which distracted me. Even by Punjabi movie standards the stunts, production, special effects and general standard of acting was abysmal. The producers seemed happy to toss every tried and true trick into the mix from doppelgangers, to good-hearted molls, from father and son confict, to bolshi child actors and numerous (unscary) car chases.
Ejaz is falsely accused of murdering an absent minded professor and is set to hang. In a jail break he accidently comes between an assassin’s bullet and a police officer who in a show of gratitude promises to save Ejaz from the gallows. This sets off a conflict with his father who is the DIG of police in Islamabad. ‘My duty is not family loyalty or sentiment,’ he rebukes his wife. ‘My son has broken the law by saving a condemned murderer.’ And so he issues a warrant for his son’s and Ejaz’s arrest.
What ensues are many fights, false disguises, near death experiences, tears and lorry loads of confusing plot twists, not to mention unexplained and sudden narrative shifts. In the end father corners son. Both are ready for what Fate has in store for them (certain death) but a last minute change of heart convinces dad that his son is in fact, a hero for bringing justice to Ejaz, his girlfriend and the Professor.
As bad as this movie is, it confirmed to me something I’ve come across in other Punjabi films, namely: there are certain instances in which dialogue in Punjabi is suspended in preference for Urdu. Lahore is of course the capital of Punjab and at the very heart of the Punjabi language heartland. Unlike Karachi where native Sindhis and Sindhi-speakers are a dwindling minority, Punjabi is the native and very active and lively tongue of 97% of Lahoris.
But since the middle of the 19th century Lahore has also been a, if not THE, major center for Urdu publishing and learning. Lahore and Pakistani movies have always had a dual linguistic identity. Both languages are spoken by most of the city’s residents (only the elite native Urdu speakers would not speak Punjabi) and many films were released separately in the different languages.
But as in a couple scenes in Warrant (a letter written to the court by Babur, the law-breaking cop played by Yousaf Khan, and in a comic interlude with a supposed scholar from Lucknow–an Urdu speaking city in India from which many Pakistani’s emigrated after Partition– also played by Khan) Urdu is frequently inserted into the script. As I watched these scenes I was struck by how seamlessly the actors and characters slip between the languages. It is not in the least clunky and is a perfect reflection of the reality of Lahore’s linguistic unique mileu.
The real reason for watching this film was the fabulous nightclub song sung by Noor Jehan, I’m Very Sorry.
This song shot into my consciousness with the release of the fabulous collection of Pakistani film songs released by Finders Keepers titled Sound of Wonder! (2009). The song composed by Kemal Ahmad one of Lollywood’s many Bengali artistes and sung by the immitable Noor Jehan is a classic ‘item number’ which in South Asian cinema is code for a sexy dance/musical interlude, often set in nightclub. There is usually some (often tenuous) connection with the plotline but really all eyes are on the swinging hips and heaving breasts of the vamp.
In this case Babur (disguised as a tribal sardar) goes undercover at the Star Club. Ejaz is in his regular civvies for some reason, as both are on the lam from the police. They are in the club because they hope to track down Hashim (Mustafa Qureishi) the film’s ultimate villain. This they are not able to do but their passions are aroused when one of his girls (Israt Chowdhry) takes the stage and begins to sing and sway.
A drum roll and cymbal crash signals the commencement of the action and after but a couple of hip shakes Ejaz is up on stage with her. Electronic synths bubble up nicely and then are overrun by slashing proto-Zeppelin guitar chords. Accordion ties the whole thing together before\ the girl slaps Ejaz off the stage, allowing her to emote:
I’m the blossom of a thousand desires/ whereever I go I make love.
I’m very sorry! I’m very sorry
What exactly she is sorry about is hard to make out (for me, anyway). Is she sorry that she is unable to satisfy Babur’s lust, which is clearly visible with his bouncing eyebrows and hurried rush to sit down before his manhood explodes? Or has she cottoned on to his scheme and letting him now that she regrets she is unable to lead him to Hashim?
Who knows? Who cares?
This is one of the best examples of a Pakistani item number ever put to film. The music is lively throughout as the already identified four elements of drum, synth, guitar and accordion sample every style imaginable from Sergio Leone way-out-west guitar rhythms to gondoleering accordion runs. Chowdhry’s costume is not as revealing as her counterparts in India would allow, but is flamboyant and colourful. Sufficient midriff is exposed so that when combined with the ulta-tight fitting hip-huggers and the dancer’s provactive moves, the desired effect is quickly achieved. Soft closeups of Chowdhry’s pretty face add a touch of glamour.
Warrant includes several other item numbers as well but this is the pick of the bunch. But take my advice. Watch the video. The rest of the movie is not worth the effort!