Cabaret Dance Music

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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.

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Agent Anwar (Kamal)

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).

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Mr Gul’s evil 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.

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Pakistan International Airlines international routes 1970.

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!

 

 

 

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Ay Bhai, Ay Mister, Kuch Soch Samajh Kar Baat Karo

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Seeta Maryam Margaret is an Urdu movie released in 1978. It racked up pretty good sales  and Silver Jubilee status on the back of a triple role played by legendary beauty, Rani.

One of the recurring trends in popular South Asian cinema is to title movies with multiple character names like John Jani Janandran; Ram aur Shyam and; Sita aur Geeta. For the most part these films are big hits because either you get a couple big name stars in the lead roles, such as in Amar Akbar, Anthony which starred Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor the three hottest leading men of the time (1977) or, a star gets to delight and confound by playing multiple look-alike roles.

Throughout the Golden Era of Pakistani film, certain producers got a lot of flack for being so-called plaigerists. The distance between the elevated comfortable place most critics live to the jerry-rigged, hot and industrially unsafe Lahore film studios is very great indeed, and while it is easy to condemn (some) Pakistani films for their heavy sampling of ideas, scripts and even sounds from their colleagues in Bombay, it does nothing more than give those of us who point fingers a warm, fuzzy feeling of faux superiority.

These guys were in business. They needed to churn out hits and box office bonanzas to satisfy their backers as much as any film maker in history. If the politicians wanted to build a thick commerical and cultural wall between the two countries, so be it. Pakistani producers were not about to let a bit of politics get in the way of making a buck. If audiences in India–who in all major respects  were essentially the same as Pakistani punters–were rushing to the cinema halls to see Amar, Akbar, Anthony, why not offer a slightly tweaked version called Akbar, Amar, Anthony  and see what happens?

You wouldn’t turn down a cool beer on a hot day,  so, why would you turn your back on the chance to cash in on a proven winning formula?

Eid-ul-Fitr, the happiest of Muslim holidays that marks the end of the month of  fasting, Ramzan, is also the traditional opening day for potential blockbusters.  In 1978,  Pakistanis had two big releases to choose from. The above mentioned Akbar, Amar, Anthony, starring Mustafa Qureishi, a Punjabi retread of India’s mega-hit Amar, Akbar, Anthony,  and an Urdu variant, clearly aimed at the female audience, titled Seeta, Maryam, Margaret.

Rani, the leading lady of the latter had been raised in an artistic environment.  Her father had been the dedicated chauffeur to the playwright Agha Hashar Kashmiri, a giant figure in South Asian theatre and cinema who, in the late 19th century got his start in adopting many of Shakespeare’s plays into a South Asian context including the script for the classic 1933 film Yahudi ki Ladki (The Jew’s Daughter) starring K.L. Saigal. Shortly before his death in 1935, Kashmiri moved to Lahore, then India’s and now Pakistan’s, centre of Urdu language, publishing and literature where he settled with his wife the marvellous and equally fabled artiste, ghazal singer Mukhtar Begum.

Though Kashmiri drew his last breath more than a decade before Rani was born, Mukhtar Begum sensed that the young girl, born Nasira, had that ‘something special’. And she should know.  Several years earlier, while working with her husband in Calcutta,  she came across another Punjabi belle named Allah Rakhi Wasai. Beautiful and blessed with a nightingale’s voice, the Begum took the youngster under her wing. She alerted a number of film producers and theatre directors, including her husband, to her protege who went on to scale the loftiest peaks of South Asian cinema as  actress and singer Noor Jehan.

Though Rani was as beautiful as Noor Jehan she struggled to carry a tune. But under Mukhtar‘s guidance (and one assumes, that of Mukhtar‘s younger sister, Farida Khanum, yet another icon of Pakistani music) the girl developed into a fine dancer. In later years the gossipy Lahore press would call her ‘the face that launched a thousand mujras’. 

Her beginnings in the film world, however, were more notable for flops and missteps than success. It wasn’t until 1967, playing across from dreamboat Waheed Murad in Devar Bhabhi (Brother-in-Law, Sister-in-Law), that Rani at last ‘clicked’ with the public. A fabulous run of hits followed, including some of the Golden Era’s most beloved and commercially successful films:  Behan Bhai (Brother Sister/1968), Anjuman (1970),  Umrao Jan Ada (1972) and Ik Gunah aur Sahi (One Sin More/1975).

Some say that just as it was through the support and tutelage of Mukhtar Begum that Rani got a foot into the glamour profession , it was her marriage to producer Hassan Tariq who sustained it. No doubt Tariq did cast her in some of his best movies from which she surely benefited, but that is only to take away from her own talent.  As noted she was a great dancer and when she had a role she believed in her acting was strong.

In Seeta Maryam Margaret Rani had her hands full and the stage all to herself. A distressed woman abandons twin newborns on the streets of Lahore. Both are rescued by passersby: Bhagwan Das (Mohammad Ali) a poor Hindu and, Mr. Nameless (Talish) a wealthy Christian nightclub owner.  As Fate (and this particular narrative formula) would have it, Seeta the Hindu couple’s young daughter is identified as a changeling and her original mother and family cruelly rip Seeta away from the only family she’s known.  She is told her birthname is actually Maryam and her mother and uncle make it very clear that she is expected to be grateful for being rescued from the ‘idol worshippers’.

In the meantime, across town at the popular Blue Moon Club  the country’s finest men are led to financial ruin and reduced to wastrels by the hot dancer-cum-purveyor-of-the-feminine-arts Margaret. A tough, take-no-prisoners sort of girl Margaret seems happy to be pimped by her alcoholic father until she falls in love Maryam’s cousin, Rasheed (Faraz). Of course he rejects her because of her profession. But when a depressed and lonely Maryam discovers that Margaret is her identical twin she convinces the dancer to ‘switch’ places and finally find the love she has longed for all her life.

What makes this film rise above so many similar ones is Tariq’s attempt to expose the deep wounds and psychological scars of childhood neglect, abandonment and indeed,  abuse, on the individual as well as society at large. The film’s central device of uncertain and multiple identity, allows the director to confront not just the ambiguous nature of female identity and place in contemporary society but expose many of the culture’s still bitter, open wounds. From the legacy of Partition to religious hypocrisy and a booming class of out-of-touch elites. Pakistan too is found to be torn between families and faith and as confused about its true identity and place in the world as Seeta, Maryam and Margaret.

In the final interesting twist, it is Seeta/Maryam’s Hindu mother and wife of Bhagwan Das, played rather melodramatically by Deebo, who is held up as the true hero of the saga. ‘This woman who raised you and loved you even when she was forced by us to give you up, has through her faith and true love joined our broken hearts together. You are truly great,’ proclaims the girls’ uncle (Qavi) as the credits roll.

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The film’s soundtrack scored by the under appreciated A Hameed is thoroughly enjoyable. Every song not only advances and enhances the storyline but captures the mood appropriate to the scene. From an innocent and slightly sad Maryam who is exploring her lover for Rasheed, to the brazen lust and steely ambition of a hardshell Margaret. Musically, Hameed proves he’s just at home with rocking, sexy dance numbers to gentle love ballads.  Unlike the Tafo Brothers and M Ashraf whose creativity and bold sound experiments often kill the ambiance, Hameed was a master of taste and temperament.

 

Ay Bhai Ay Mister! Kuch Soch Samajh kar Baat Karo (Hey Bro! Hey Mister! Think a Little Before You Speak) is an upbeat, hummable melody. Sung by Ahmed Rushdi it seems innocuous enough except that it describes a horrific scene of Mr Nameless (Talish), pimping his beautiful daughter Margaret (who is actually, at this stage, a very depressed Maryam, having arranged for her twin to take on the person of Maryam to catch Rasheed!) by driving up the price of his drunken clients.

The two key musical elements employed by Hameed are percussion and strings.  Tabla, bongos and water drums are used really creatively and in perfect sync with lyric and rhythm to conjure the outer excitement of a mujra dance.  But the dark, beautifully orchestrated and performed strings bring out the dancer’s and scene’s haunting darkness.  Small combos and orchestras are commonplace in South Asian cinema music but rarely have they been used so evocatively and tellingly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mehkhane Mein Shaam Hui

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Tiger Gang, is an Urdu film released in 1974. Sadly, it failed to catch the imagination of Pakistanis and in the parlance of current political speak turned out to be a ‘Big Nothingburger’. In fact, it is only remembered today by a cult of B-Movie fans as an off beat addition to the work of a popular team of European-American actors and directors who made a bunch of James Bond and John Wayne swizzles in the 60s and 70s.

The film’s director, Harald Reinl, got his start in the movie world in Germany’s pre-Hitler interregnum. In the 1930s German audiences went nuts about a genre of movies known as bergfilme (mountain films) which in their ‘Hero vs. Nature’ action themes were akin to the American western. As a bit player and extra in some of these films Reinl worked alongside Hitler’s favourite cineaste, Leni Riefenstahl, and developed a life-long love of the action film if not the Fuhrer‘s politics.

Throughout a long career that saw him direct nearly 50 pictures–most with invigorating titles such as The Green Devils of Monte Cassino, Apache Gold  or No Gold for a Dead Diver— as well as gain an Oscar nomination  for his aliens-visit-the-earth documentary Chariot of the Gods (1970), Reinl also teamed up with American athlete/stuntman Brad Harris and Italian model-turned-actor Tony Kendall (Luciano Stella) to film the final instalment of a series of movies based on the prolific and popular Eurospy Kommisar X books by German pulp fictionist Paul Alfred Mueller.

Kendall and Harris were for a number of years the ‘Kings of Eurotrash’ movies. Playing FBI agent Tom Rowland (Harris) and private detective Joe Walker (Kendall) the duo made movies that relied on action, mateship, dumb humour, mild sexual titillation and heaps of references to the American western and British spy films they so happily ripped off.

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Tom Rowland (Brad Harris) and Joe Walker (Tony Kendall)

After years of struggle and development, the late 60s saw the Pakistani film industry feeling confident. With movies from their main competitor, India, banned a large homegrown crop of actors, directors, writers and musicians had developed strong fan bases. The industry was making money at last.  Not surprisingly, Lahore and Karachi attracted would-be stars from surrounding countries and with its ‘wild west’ borderlands Pakistan appealed to European film makers looking for something new.

Mueller, with typical Teutonic efficiency, wrote more than 600 Kommisar X novels  but only 7 were turned into films with Tiger Gang drawing the series to a close.  Like so many films of this genre several versions were made in various languages (in this case German, Italian, English and Urdu) and in the available copy of the Urdu version several scenes slip (unintentionally) between Urdu to English leaving one to delight in Mohammad Ali’s American accent one moment and Brad Harris’s fluent Urdu the next!

 

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  [Posters for Italian and German versions of the film]

 

Rowland much to his grumpy annoyance is sent off to Karachi to try to find the illusive New York mafia don Frank Stefani who is running a large international drug smuggling operation across the Afghanistan border. Unexpectedly, Walker is also in town investigating the death of a friend’s husband and the two old colleagues once again team up.  Superintendent Ali (Mohammad Ali) of the Lahore Police department provides local intelligence while his lady friend (and in real life, wife) Shireen (Zeba) works as the secretary of one Professor Tavari (Ernst Fritz Fürbringer) who unbeknownst to everyone until the final 15 minutes of the movie is actually Frank Stefani.

In addition to the German and Italian cast and crew, the Pakistani version of  Tiger Gang brought in the skills of a new writer, Saleem Chisti, stunts coordinator, cameraman  and director/producer Iqbal Shehzad, brother of two Pakistani test cricketers. Shehzad, perhaps sensing that the local audience would require something more than a couple of goras beating up Pakistanis to create a hit, brought a clear middle-class sensibility to the effort. Whereas Rienl had been contracted to deliver another episode of a well-established action franchise, Shehzad saw an opportunity to make the film a bit more meaningful: an anti-narcotics family tragedy.

Chisti creates the character Hassan, played beautifully by Qavi, Shireen’s wayward brother.  A nice Muslim boy gone bad thanks to the heroin and hash that these hippies with loose clothes and looser morals are graphically depicted shooting up in cheap Karachi hotels. This central subplot of orphaned sibling love gives the audience a chance to have their heartstrings delicately plucked, not to mention create an occasion for music director Kamal Ahmed to pop in a few songs and dances of which Mehkane Mein Shaam Hui (Nightfall in the Tavern) is the pick of the bunch.

Sung by a young and prolific Runa Laila, (in addition to her film work, she made pop records, performed live and was a growing sensation in India) the song, performed by a sexy vamp (Nisho), is a medium paced number driven by accordion and jazzy organ.  Veteran poet Riaz ur Rahman Saghar’s lyrics of intoxication, nightfall, ‘parties’ and shocking glances suit the dual contexts of an upperclass dinner party as well as a dingy backstreet heroin den where Shireen goes to look for her troubled but beloved brother, Hassan.

Despite the best efforts of director, singer, composer, writer and actors Tiger Gang is never able to break free of its Eurospy action template. Though Zeba and Qavi turn in strong performances,  Mohammad Ali plods through proceedings with little of the grace he is remembered for.

Perhaps ‘Nothingburger’ is too harsh. Sukhi roti, anyone?

 

 

Sitaron Tum To So Jao

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Ishq-e-Laila (Laila’s Love) is a superhit Urdu movie released in 1957.

 

The Lahore-based film industry had struggled to get back on its feet after the cataclysmic events of 1947.  In the first years after the creation of Pakistan less than 10 films a year were released and most were undisputed flops.  But by the mid 1950s, however, a head of steam had built up. A growing galaxy of young actors–Santosh Kumar, Noor Jehan, Mussarat Nazir, Ilyas Kashmiri, Talish and Sahiba Khanum—were developing their fan bases while directors, writers and producers were beginning to explore deep and sometimes controversial social and political themes.

 

Ishq-e-Laila, one of the biggest hits of 1957, was a retelling of the ancient Arabian/Persian folk tale of Laila and Majnun. Traditional tragic love stories were producer Jagdish Anand’s long suit.  His first and indeed, the country’s first Golden Jubilee film was 1954’s Sassi which told the centuries old story of star crossed lovers Sassi and Pannun. The following year’s Sohni failed to click but Heer, a dramatization of Heer Ranjha, probably the most popular South Asian folk love tale, also from 1955, was a massive hit.

 

The story of Laila and Majnun has its roots in pre-Islamic Arabia but was really popularised by Nizami a Persian poet credited with giving the story complex, multidimensional characters, a plot and a narrative. From Turkey to Indonesia versions of the story have been a part of popular culture for centuries. India’s innovation to the story is, of course, the claim that Laila and Majnun are buried in Binjaur, Rajasthan where tombs and a shrine mark their love to this day.

 

In the world of rock ‘n roll  Eric Clapton’s iconic album Derek and the Dominos included two songs, Layla and I am Yours, which drew their inspiration and in the case of the latter, lyrics directly from Nizami’s  beloved 12th century version of the story.

 

Given the poor reception most films received in the early days of the Pakistani film industry it is perhaps not surprising that Anand struck gold with Sassi, Heer and Ishq-e- Laila. These were familiar stories that didn’t require audiences to stretch their imaginations to absorb new social or technological ideas. For most cinema-goers these were stories they had grown up with and possibly seen performed by travelling theatre troupes.  To see the characters come alive with natural human movement and feeling on a big screen would have been magical.

 

ish e lailaOne of the pleasures of watching this film, (and there are many, including a tour de force performance by comedian Nazar)  is we get to see the First Couple of Pakistani cinema work together.  Santosh Kumar plays Qais the ‘Majnun’, driven mad by his burning love for Laila (Sabiha Khanum), the volatile Bedouin chief’s ravishing daughter. Kumar and Khanum have a chemistry that is not only evident in the characters they play but also extended off the set.  In 1958 the two were married during the shooting of Anand’s next film, Hasrat, another major hit for Pakistan’s only Hindu producer.

 

The film’s status as a classic is in no small part due to its lavish soundtrack. There are films with lots of songs. And then there is Ishq-e-Laila.  Music director Safdar Hussain, originally from Lucknow,  who worked on many of Anand’s films somehow managed to come up with 19, yes 19, individual melodies for the beautiful lyrics of Qateel Shifai, who over time would develop into one of Pakistan’s most popular and respected lyricist poets. Many of the songs were hits of the day and remain well loved even today.

 

 

 

Sitaraon Tum To So Jao (Go to Sleep Oh Stars) is sung by Iqbal Bano.  Like all the other participants in this film the woman many consider to be the best female ghazal singer Pakistan has ever produced was at the very beginning of her career. She had emigrated to Pakistan from Delhi just 5 years earlier and had only recently come to the attention of the music world when she scored a big hit with Ulfat ki Nai Manzil ko Chala (Qatil, 1955).  Bano had her first official ghazal recital in the same year as she sang in Ishq-e-Laila. Though the diva sang in more than 70 films as her career developed she focused almost entirely on non-film ghazal work.

 

Even though Iqbal Bano “The Legend” was yet to emerge, her great ability to sing is evident in this short but lovely song. Laila is pining for Qais who her father has prohibited her from seeing. Like the young Sabiha on screen, Bano’s youthful  voice matches the need of the scene perfectly. Her voice is strong and perhaps just a little raw but you can also detect subtle signs of the iconic ‘warble’ that endeared her to her many millions of fans across the world.

 

 

Don’t Drink Darling

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Black Mail is an Urdu film released in 1985. In essence the movie was an Urdu version of a bloody Punjabi action film. The cast included the two great alpha males of Punjabi cinema, Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi and followed the essential fisticuff  and revolver driven story of violent revenge.

Ironically, black mail plays a rather insignificant part in the fast paced and goonda heavy plot line. Apparently, gangster Dara played wonderfully with a Clint Eastwood type sullen bravado by a blonde-wigged Mustafa Qureshi has blackmailed the despicable and amoral industrialist Sethji (Qavi) but its not clear. Both leads toss the word around from time to time but the real driving force in this game is greed and revenge with love coming in a distant third place.

Roshan (Ghulam Mohideen) was blinded as a young boy when an enraged Dara throws him against the wall after killing his sister who walked out on their engagement.  While walking in a park one day he is slapped by an angry lady doctor named Najma (Shehnaz) who doesn’t recognise that he is unable to see.  Tormented by guilt at her insensitive action she vows to fix Roshan’s eyes and give him sight at last.

In the meantime, and for most of the middle hour and a half of the film, Sultan Rahi who plays the good-hearted, rough speaking, matchstick-chewing goonda has a series of fights with Dara and his henchmen. When they are not fighting each other they take turns scaring the living daylights out of Sethji and eagerly grabbing the vast sums of money he throws their way in order to save his life.

In the end, Roshan’s operation is a success. But when he discovers that the murderer of his family is Dara, he puts his eyes to use to plot revenge rather than gaze longingly into the eyes of Najma. A tense, fast paced  final few minutes keeps you glued to your screen. Though a vital part of the story is missing from the YouTube version of the film we presume Dara and Roshan fight it out. But Dara manages to escape to the top of a water tower. Realising he is surrounded by police and can run no longer he throws himself off the tower to bring a rather gruesome curtain down on the show.

Black Mail is a bloke’s movie. The action centers around four angry and emotionally stunted men though Rahi does give his Robin Hood-esque character a certain charm with his broken Urdu, cowboy boots and his famous smirk.  More so than in many other Urdu movies the women play almost entirely facilitative roles. Nazli who once was the paramour of chubby comedian Nanna (and possibly the reason for his bloody suicide?) does nothing but dance and sing for Raja.  Even Shehnaz whose role as Dr. Najma is slightly more complex (but not much) appears only to drive the action forward and enable Roshan to exact his bitter revenge.  Most marginalised is Julia, (unknown) Dara’s girlfriend who appears just once and that to sing a song.

After escaping narrowly yet again Dara comes home exhausted. ‘I’ve had such a terrible day,’ he tells Julia, ‘I just want to drown my sorrows.’

Julia protests and says, ‘No drinking. Tonight you’re going to talk to me.’

Gripped with a panic that all men can relate to, Dara swats her gentle hand away and gives a look that says, ‘You crazy, or what?’

Immediately, Julia hops up to sing and perform what can only be called a didactic item number.

Mast bhare yeh aanken/Jaisi hai warning

Don’t drink darling/don’t drink darling

Though its hard to square Julia’s desire to have a deep and meaningful talk with the her sexy gyrations her efforts do have the effect of calming the beast within Dara.

This song has received considerable coverage in the West in the past several years and its not hard to see why.  Music Director Kemal Ahmad has concocted a bubbly sound full of synths, congas and what sounds like a harpsichord.  Lyricist Taslim Fazli’s ploy of dropping in one English word at the end of several verses–warning, shining, morning–is both clever and humorous.  Nahid Akhtar of course, sings with a gusto and energy that more then compensates for the rather awkward and sometimes out of sync movements of Julia.

As the old saying goes, this song alone is worth the price of admission to Black Mail.

Thehra Hai Sama Hum Tum Hain Jahan

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Amber (Amber) is an Urdu movie released forty years ago in January 1978. With veteran director Nazrul Islam behind the camera and a gaggle of heavy hitting stars such as Mohammad Ali, Nadeem and the versatile Mumtaz, Amber zinged off like a rocket, running for an incredible 85 weeks at Karachi’s Koh-i-noor Cinema.

As with many Pakistani films it is hard to share the public’s madness for what today seems a run of the mill romcon with all the usual plotlines of inter-generational conflict, mistaken identities and parents struggling with drink and anger management issues.  Which is not to say Amber is a complete waste of time. Nadeem once again shows his comedic skills and Mumtaz manages to hold our attention with nary a twerk or breast boom.

Mohammad Ali, by now one of the older statesman of Pakistani movies, plays Ali, a rich man wound tighter than a maulvi’s mouth in Ramazan. His beloved wife dies in childbirth but Ali has little time for his son, Nadeem (Nadeem), The boy grows up to be a spendthrift playboy at University, always getting in and out of trouble with the help of his scheming best friend (Munawar Saeed).

All roads lead to marriage in Pakistani films and the heart of the movie is a farcical double-cross cum blackmail cum deception powerplay that has Nadeem tricking Amber (Mumtaz) and her family into thinking he’s a bawarchi (cook) which allows him to get close to the the beautiful Amber. The comedy is laid on thick as Ali, Amber, Nadeem grin, smack, drink and stumble their way through series of circumstances which get more tangled than one of Nadeem’s, the supposed cook, bowls of noodles.  But in the end, unsurprisingly, love prevails and Amber marries Nadeem making Ali happy in the autumn of his years.

Robin Ghosh is charged with the soundtrack which like the film itself doesn’t hold up as well as many of his other scores.  But the highlight, sung by Mehdi Hassan, is a desi cover of one of the most famous pop songs in the world.  In 1959 the Belgian folk legend Jacques Brel composed what he referred to as a ‘hymn to the cowardice of men’, Ne me quitte pas (Don’t Leave Me). The song’s doleful and slightly lethargic melody instantly caught on not just in the French-speaking world but across the entire globe. Versions of the song have been recorded in at least 26 languages including Afrikaans, West Frisian, Arabic and Slovene. In English alone 17 artists ranging from the country star Glen Campbell to the smoothest of all lounge singers Frank Sinatra have recorded If You Go Away, the Rod McKuen penned Anglo iteration.

Ne me quitte pas is often thought of as a love song but according to Brel it is nothing of the sort.  At the time of the composition Brel’s girlfriend became pregnant with his son. With what he termed masculine ‘cowardice’ Brel refused to take any responsibility for the child. His girlfriend threw him out and the song later came out of a bout of Brel‘s regret and remorse.

Interestingly, this backstory  is somewhat mirrored in Amber. The song, Thehra Hain Sama Hum Tum Jahan comes at the very beginning of the film, on the occasion of Ali’s suhag raat (marriage night).  As he falls into the arms of his young bride (Deeba) he sings of eternal love and never leaving her, she begins to tear up in a sort of premonition of disaster.  Several months later she dies whilst giving birth to their son Nadeem.

Ghosh doesn’t stray too far from the original melody though of course the words have changed to suit a different cotext.  The key feature of the song besides the golden nuanced voice of Mehdi Hassan is the lovely plaintive violin that drives the melody gently forward.

 

Zinda Rahen To Kis Ke Khatir

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Uf Yeh Beevian (Oh, These Wives!) is an Urdu film released in 1977 that  racked up more than 75 weeks in Karachi’s cinema halls to bag Diamond Jubilee status.

S. Suleman, a director who seemed to have a knack for producing hit movies, began his career playing the young version of Dilip Kumar’s character in 1948’s popular Mela. After migrating to Pakistan with his brothers who included the matinée idols Santosh Kumar and Darpan, Suleman established a reputation as a socially conscious and sensitive director.  Many of his films such as Lori (Lullaby) and Baji were praised and appreciated for their progressive social messages.  They were also popular. Baji, which starred both of Suleman’s brothers,  attracted 5 Nigar Awards including the coveted Best Picture Award in 1963.

Suleman was not one to sit on his laurels.  Conscious of the tendency among his peers to rely on formulas and plagiarizing movies from across the border he deliberately set out to try new things. Comedy proved to be the new frontier he was looking for and throughout the 1960s and 70s he created several well regarded and fondly remembered comic films like Uf Yeh Beevian.

An outrageous early scene which depicts what can only be called a home invasion by a group of clap happy dancers not withstanding,Uf Yeh Beevian begins as a standard middle class social drama. Zahid (Shahid) is informed by his auntie with whom he lives, that arrangements have been made for his engagement to a lovely girl, Nadira (Shabnam) from Lahore. But when they return from the airport trouble is already brewing. Nadira is modern and liberated but rude, entitled and agressive. Zahid and his aunt are horrified and beg  her to leave.

Similar disasters unfold when Zahid pays a visit to Lahore and discovers that Nadira is now a panch waqt namazi (prays 5 times a day) and ultra conservative Islamic girl. Zahid is totally confused until Nadira confesses that she’s been testing him and that in fact she loves him and hopes he will marry her.  Delighted and relieved Zahid does exactly that and they set the wedding date for after Nadira’s return from Nairobi where she goes to visit family. Tragically, Zahid reads of a plane crashing near Nairobi killing all aboard. Nadira is assumed dead and Zahid sinks into a depression and upon the advice of a friend takes up drinking whisky to drown his grief.

Concerned family and friends arrange another marriage for Zahid with a feisty controlling girl named Najma (Najma) who manages to make Zahid forget Nadira. One day out of the blue, however, Nadira inexplicably appears in Zahid’s house, healthy and ready to pick up where she left off before flying to Nairobi. What follows for the rest of the film is Zahid running between Nadira and Najma in ever more ridiculous circumstances. Shahid most known as a romantic lead reveals an easy way with comedic material and plays the exasperated and increasingly exhausted husband with aplomb. Both wives soon cotton on to the deception and in their own turns express their anger by using their legs and fists on poor Zahid.

At this point one may be tempted to note a hint of the progressive social commentary S Suleman loved so much: women are standing up for their rights and refusing to be belittled by the patriarchy that permits men to enjoy multiple women. But one would be wrong. For very quickly the film resolves the drama in a most reactionary way.  Zahid’s driver (Lehri) explains to the angry wives that his boss had kept his double marriage secret because ‘he didn’t want to hurt your feelings. He loves you both.’  When they hear this Nadira and Najma join forces and voices (they speak the same lines in unison) and rescue Zahid who is ready to leap to his death from the top of a building.  “We will all live together in the same house,” they assure Zahid and enjoy a final group hug as the films rolls to farcical end.

Zinda Rahein to Kis ki Khatir (For Whom Should I Stay Alive?) is the best song of this otherwise silly movie.  Zahid is reeling from Nadira’s apparent death in the plane crash and with his alcoholic friend Mushtaq takes to the bottle at a Islamabad club.  The music composed by M Ashraf is modern enough for dancing but sufficiently low key to match the mood of a desperately sad Zahid.  Mehdi Hassan gives Agha Hassan Imtisal’s down beat lyrics a suitably melancholy tone. Actor, singer and lyricist work together to make a poignant and moving moment the highlight of the film.

 

 

 

 

Ae Mere Anokhe Hamrahi

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Aakhri Station (Last Station) is an Urdu film released in December 1965. Based on the Urdu short story Pagli by the ‘feminist’ writer Hajra Masroor the film was a labour of love by the popular poet ‘Suroor’ Barakankvi, who produced, directed, scripted and wrote the songs for the movie.

Aakhri Station is prime example of East Pakistani film making: literary, socially conscious and proudly Bengali. Set against the backdrop of a large industrial project in rural Bengal the story centers on the romance of Jamil (Haroon) an honest engineer who is framed by corrupt contractors and Fawzia (Rani) the Station Master’s daughter. Shabnam, who in the 70s would go on to be Pakistan’s most beloved actress, plays Jamila a mad woman who lives on the platform of the station. Though she has few lines Shabnam delivers a memorable performance full of understated pathos.  Her character represents and reflects the cruelty and corruption that permeates every society, even a young and hopeful one such as 1960s East Pakistan. It is tempting but probably unfair to read a political message into the story, of how powerful Urdu speaking outsiders have raped an innocent beautiful Bengali woman and abandoned her on the margins of society.

‘Suroor’ Barabankvi a writer/poet from the Urdu heartland of Lucknow had attended several mushairas (poetry recitals) in Dhaka in the early 1950s. Like many others he found himself so captured by the artistic atmosphere in the city that when he was offered the job of heading up the Anjuman-e-Taraqqi-e-Urdu (Society for the Advancement of Urdu) in Dhaka he officially migrated to Pakistan.  In addition to editing a literary magazine Barabankvi turned his hand to script and song writing for the small film industry that began to emerge in Dhaka in the late 1950s.

Though he is best remembered for his lyrics and poems he did produce three films one of which is the underrated Aakhri Station. He enlisted the services of another Renaissance man, Khan Ataur Rehman to set his lyrics to music. Rehman was from a well off family and on track to become a doctor until he dropped out of med school in the hope of becoming a playback singer.  Unfortunately, he was rounded up by a relative at the railway station as he waited for a train to take him to Bombay.  But undeterred he made a second escape a few months later and succeeded in making it to Bombay where he slept on the footpaths as he looked for work. Sensing the prospects were better in Karachi he moved to that city and then to Europe before returning home to Dhaka in 1956 where he starred in the famous ‘art’ movie Jago Hua Savera.

Rehman’s score for Aakhri Station oozes with the warm, genteel, folky feelings that so characterise Bengali music.

Ae Mere Anokhe Hamrahi (Oh, My One of a Kind Travelling Companion) is a little gem of a song, melodious and simple. Sung by Bashir Ahmad another Bengali with an impressive pedigree–he was a student of both Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan–the song is the point at which Jamil first expresses his love for Fawzia.  Bashir Ahmad had a bouyant tenor voice that was not dissimilar to that of Ahmed Rushdi whom he clearly admired. After the 1971 Civil War which resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh Ahmad took his chances in West Pakistan but Rushdi was at his zenith.  He found it difficult to interest music directors in a voice that sounded so like the number 1 playback singer. In 1975 he returned to the east where he continued to write and sing in the fast growing Bangladeshi film industry. In 2003 he won the Best Male Playback Singer Award.

 

 

Bhar Do Jholi

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Bin Badal Barsaat (Rain Without Clouds) is an Urdu movie starring Mohammad Ali, Zeba, Shahid and Sangeeta released in March 1975. Running for 54 weeks in Karachi it attained coveted Golden Jubilee status.

The film takes its title from a 1963 Indian horror film but tells a story not of curses but of a couple’s struggle to produce and raise a family. Zarina (Zeba) and Judge Akbar Ali (Mohammad Ali) are hopeful that at last they might have a child after several years of trying unsuccessfully. Zarina is so upset by her apparent infertility she advises Akbar Ali to find a second wife if the situation continues.  “A wife that can’t produce a child is not worth anything,” she tells him.

A few months later Zarina does in fact deliver a healthy boy but through a series of twists of Fate, double crosses and colossal misreadings of the tea leaves the boy, Anwar, goes missing and ends up as a Pakistani Oliver Twist, cutting people’s pockets as part of a gang of beggars and prostitutes led by an obese and lecherous Fagin called Dada (Ilyas Kashmiri). Eventually, through yet more incredible strokes of luck,  tortured confessions and even torture itself, the family is reunited thanks to the efforts of the golden hearted dancing girl Gori, played by the stunning beauty, Sangeeta and her reformed pickpocket fiance Badhshah (Shahid).

Though this film was a big hit there is not much to recommend it as far as the storyline, script or acting goes. Once again it is some of the music and one performance that saves the day. Sangeeta‘s playful enactment of the good hearted but mistreated dancing girl Gori shows up all the leading big names. By comparison Mohammad Ali and Zeba seem to sleep walk through their parts.  A Karachi girl, Sangeeta got her start in 1971’s Yeh Aman (This Peace) but is perhaps best remembered for her work behind the camera as producer and director of such films as Society Girl, Nikah (Marriage) and Muthi Bhar Chawal (Fist Full of Rice).

In this film Sangeeta sticks to acting and dancing and leaves the direction to yet another woman, Zeenat, herself an actress whose track record went back to 1946 when she shared the screen with Noor Jehan in Hamjoli. After Partition Zeenat produced and directed half a dozen other films beginning with Khula Ja Sim Sim (1959). Her last appearance as director came in 1980 with Aap ki Khatir.  The story of Pakistan’s women directors and producers is one that needs to be explored and told.  Like so much else in Pakistan it comes a pleasant surprise that in country with such deep prohibitions against women working in the public sphere, and that too in such an industry as the movies, these women were able to martial the resources and withstand the severe social pressure to make so many films.

In the mid-1970s three giants of qawwali music were vying, sometimes bitterly, for top spot in listeners hearts. One one hand a raucous, dishevelled and brilliant upstart from Lahore, named Aziz Mian had sent shockwaves through polite society and the qawwali world with his hypnotic paeans to drunkenness and spiritual complaint.  Horrified and scandalised, the Karachi-based sibling duo Sabri Brothers represented the traditional, less ecstatic , devotional stream of qawwali. The Brothers and Mian traded barbs publicly, and in song, but all three sang their way to the bank, making fortunes through their cassettes and live concerts.

The music for Bin Badal Barsaat was composed by another woman, Shamim Nazli, sister of playback singer Mala. In a critical scene near the film’s denouement, Nazli inserts one of the Sabri Brothers‘ most popular songs Bhar do Jholi (Fill My Sack) to accompany a distraught Mohammad Ali who has gone to a shrine to pray for God’s forgiveness and mercy and the safe return of his son, Anwar.  The scene’s emotional tension is heightened by the qawwali beat,  acute lyrics and resounding voices of the Sabris who give a genuine qawwali performance rather than a rip-off filmi qawwali number.

Bin Badal Barsaat may not be top quality cinema but as a study of the role of women in Lollywood, both on and off the screen, it is a film well worth viewing.

 

 

Mera Laung Gawacha

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Dulari (Darling) is a Punjabi movie released in 1987.

The movie was a big hit even though the omnipresent Lala of Punjabi action Sultan Rahi played second fiddle to the big hearted and big hipped Anjuman who works overtime in a double role as sisters Salma and the eponymous Dulari.

Throughout the 1980s, when Punjabi films truly dominated Pakistani cinema, there was no bigger female star in the firmament than Anjuman. Along with leading men Rahi  and Mustafa Qureshi and the silver toned singer, Noor Jehan, Ms. Anjuman was part of the golden  formula that made Punjabi action movies so lucrative.   With audiences abandoning Urdu films in droves producers discovered that if they merely shuffled characters, story lines and  subplots like a pack of well worn cards they could still fill the cinema halls.  As long as Anjuman, Sultan and Mustafa were involved it didn’t matter that the stories were tired, familiar and stale. The trio had that mysterious thing called ‘Star Power’ and of course, no one came close to the presence of Noor Jehan when it came to playback singing.

Anjuman, the granddaughter of the last Nawab of Bahawalpur, began her performing life as as a dancer.  On the recommendation of 60s starlet Zeba who caught her act the young, southern Punjabi kudi (lass) had her initial turns in several Urdu features that the public ignored before striking gold in 1979 with Waadey ke Zanjeer (Chains of Promises) alongside the dreamy Waheed Murad. It has often been noted that it was Anjuman’s raw sex appeal that drew and grew her audience.  No doubt her ample bosom and thunder thighs whose movements she synchronised to dramatic effect in perfectly timed jerks and jolts called thumkas were risque. And during that most dire of decades, the 80s, you took your titillation wherever and however you could get it.

But Anjuman was much more than a Multani nautch girl as Dulari magnificently demonstrates. Director Haider Chowdhary, a prolific veteran of Punjabi film,  gave his leading lady an expansive canvas on which to work. As twin sisters Salma and Dulari Anjuman was able to channel the conservative, demure sharif ladki  as well as give full vent to her inner social rebel.  In the latter guise, as Dulari, Anjuman fills the screen with a presence that is simply magnetic. She swaggers and preens in outrageous get up (slim-fit jeans with rolled cuffs; gaudy head gear; sparkling evening frocks with puffy shoulder pads) but doesn’t miss a beat in dishing up sharp tongued retorts or pushing every available social button.  Dulari fearlessly spits her paan (betel nut) into the face of a village big shot, takes unsuspecting  strangers to the cleaners and uses her fists and feet with as much skill and effect as Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.   She is a wonder to behold!

Very early on in the show after Dulari thoroughly fleeces an anxious motorist of all his cash the police decide to take action. In a frantic chase through the streets of Lahore Dulari is able to duck into the city’s premier concert hall the Alhamra Arts Centre where she takes the stage.

Mera Laung Gawacha (I’ve Lost my Nose Ring) opens with a series of Anjuman‘s famous thumke and close shots of her ankles and bangled-wrists. She then proceeds to entertain the audience with a highly stylised folk dance complete with wonderful cardboard bullocks and mango trees.  The dancing is good but nothing extraordinary and certainly not as accomplished as the acting that is to come.

What really makes this song a standout (and what made it one of the biggest hits of the  80s) is the singing of Musarrat Nazir. A leading lady in her own right in the 50s and 60s with many outstanding films to her credit Nazir ‘retired’ from acting in 1965 after marriage.  For years she passed the time in Canada but returned to Lahore in the early 80s looking to revive a public career. She found instant and frequent work as a singer on TV which was able to show off her statuesque form and sparkling eyes to great effect. But after some rather embarrassing public episodes involving the imbibing of alcohol she was ‘repatriated’ by her husband back to suburbia.

The song itself is a traditional Punjabi wedding song and Musarrat’s rendition was already immensely popular when it was picked up for Dulari. Musarrat fills the tune with crisp phrasing and ample coquetry; the music complements with lilting flutes, snappy rubab runs and fine Punjabi percussion including a frenetic dholak solo.

All in all Dulari and Mera Laung Gawacha are excellent examples of the (often overlooked) charms of Punjabi movies.