Miss Hippy is an Urdu film released in 1974. Though now almost forgotten, in its day it ran for 33 weeks and earned coveted Silver Jubilee status.
The cast of the film was strong for this story of intergenerational abuse, neglect and conflict. A wealthy, ‘ultra-modren’ family headed by Lollywood’s original power couple Santosh and Sabiha, play parents and guardian to the dynamic duo of the 1970s scene, Shabnam and Nadeem. The essential drama at the heart of the film was not new, but that the story was set within the context of the hippie movement with its potential for crazy characters and wild pop music is intriguing. Sadly, given ‘what could have been’, Miss Hippy is a bit of a dud.
Amjad (Santosh) is a brutish alcoholic who never hesitates to slap people around, including his wife Zarina (Sabiha) and daughter Bubbly. When he’s not making money Amjad likes to socialise with other modern people. The men drink heavily and make their wives squirm while they ogle dancing girls. His approach to parenting involves forcibly spoon-feeding Bubbly whiskey to make her sleep.
This is not a happy family. Bubbly runs away from home and grows up to be the drugged-out moll for an international hashish smuggling gang. Taking the name Shireen she flies the world doing deals and gathering European hippies to the gang of a ‘guru’ named Peshwa. When the gang is infiltrated by the police, Shireen (Shabnam) is arrested and forced to stand trial. But the sympathetic Inspector Nasir (Nadeem), who is her unrecognised cousin, convinces her to turn state’s evidence. She avoids prison and under the guidance of Nasir consents to reform her ways. He takes her home to meet his uncle and aunt (and her mother and father) Amjad and Zarina!
The plot twists and turns like the road to Murree, ramping up and then relieving the emotional tension time and again. Her attempt to go straight fails almost as soon as it begins and soon Bubbly/Shireen takes the stage name Miss Hippy and doubles as a high-priced call girl cum dancer. High powered but ultimately weak men fall at her knees which tragically ends in one being murdered and Miss Hippy going on trial a second time. But fear not! The judge is able to see the goodness deep within the murderess and releases her to happy middle class life and the loving maternal arms of Zarina.
Throughout the 60s and early 70s Pakistan was a major part of the London to Kathmandu ‘hippie trail’. My brothers and many of their friends travelled the route and I myself was set to do the same but a revolution in Iran happened and the flow of overland hippies was staunched.
1974 in Pakistan just about marks the high point of its secular, West-looking urban culture. The military had retreated to the barracks after 10 disastrous years in charge. The charismatic Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was promoting Pakistan as a world leader of a new political category he labelled Islamic Socialism. A huge casino was under construction in Karachi. Hopes of luring the spoiled princes of Arabia were high. Rock and roll bands played in the big city cabarets and hippies hung out on Clifton beach. Pakistan was hip. Even rockin’.
But as Miss Hippy demonstrates, not everyone was happy with what was going down. Director S. Suleman, the brother of Santosh Kumar, the film’s ugly patriarch, seems to hold dear the values of Pakistan’s first generation: a vague affection for the Muslim faith, traditional social structures and a preference for Eastern culture over modern Western influences. In addition to a family break-down story, Miss Hippy is a vehicle for Suleman to decry the growing secular and immoral foreign influences on Pakistani society. Throughout the film, Europeans are portrayed as interested in nothing but strumming guitars and smoking dope. To the extent they are in search of some illusive spiritual truth, they can be manipulated to do anything as long as they get free hashish. ‘Our culture and society is being corrupted by these hippies,’ an agitated Nasir tells Shireen when they first meet in Peshwa’s smuggling den by the sea.
Yet, while Suleman is scornful of the hippie lifestyle and ideals, he is most acidic in his criticism of those of his countrymen who embrace so-called ‘modern’ values, if not exactly the clothing and hairstyles of the hippies.
In several early scenes a character known as Prof. Hashim acts as an irritating oracle. He confesses that the ‘highest priority’ of his life is to come to hip dinner parties where the “women are rotten” and his male peers are high on Scotch. Though he claims to eschew drink himself his speech is slurred and his gait wobbly. Though an out and out hypocrite he sets a moralistic tone for the film by launching pointed and ironic barbs at Amjad and his circle. When he learns that Bubbly is at home and that Amjad has administered whiskey as sleeping tonic, he congratulates his friend. “You should be clapping and laughing with joy. You’re such wonderful parents. When this next generation of drunken children grow up I’ve no doubt they will be shining examples for Pakistan.” A little later he sidles up to Amjad who is pouring the drinks: “Ah, if it wasn’t for good Muslim like yourselves how would the Scotch industry survive?”
When Shireen tries to go straight and is taken home by Nasir, it is a self righteous Amjad who rejects her and kicks her back onto the street. There is no doubt in the audience’s mind that it is her father, not the hippies, who is the true villain in Shireen’s life. The so called normal, healthy, loving middle class family that Nasir has so eagerly promoted is shown to be as hollow as the lives of the hippies.
Miss Hippy is not untypical of many other Pakistani films of the Golden Age in that it is simultaneously horrified and fascinated by modern western culture. Though Nasir, Amjad and Prof. Hashim miss no opportunity to speechify about the corrupt and filthy hippies the film spends an awful lot of time focused on the sexy women and their guitar strumming men. If drugs are supposed to be ‘bad’, the film has no hesitation is showing scene after scene of hashish being smoked by Pakistanis as well as Europeans. Teen agers would find this stuff exciting.
One of my favorite music directors, Robin Ghosh, is responsible for the soundtrack. But with the exception of one or two songs there is not much here of interest. The best of the lot is Dam Dama Dam Mast which takes its inspiration from the 1971 R.D. Burman classic Dam Maro Dam. Though a clear ‘re-make’ of the Indian superhit it is no rip off. Whereas Burman infuses his song with an electric sizzle (that famous guitar riff, squawking Moog, the driving snare) that immediately connects the listener to the heavy rock music supposedly so loved by the hippies, Ghosh opts for a mellower approach. Bongo drums set the beat for a strummed acoustic guitar and a loping lazy rhythm. Groovy and languid is the mood. Much like you’d expect of a stoner’s evening. Several hippies sigh and let out long smoky exhales interrupted by a trio of Mexicali trumpets.
Nayyara Noor’s vocals are precise and operatic. She sings the opening lines
Pee ke zara dekho (smoke some and see)
Kaisa maza aayega (what fun it can be)
Diwana ban jayega (you’ll go wild)
Aajaa, arey aaa (Come on)
Har gham to rukh jayega (every worry will be gone)
A flute comes floating into the mix before being chased away by some urgent strums of a Spanish guitar. You can feel the violins lifting you off the ground for a second then you’re back on the dance floor swaying and inhaling yet more charas. There is all the time in the world. No one is going anywhere. This dance and high can last forever it seems.
Ghosh’s delightful, groovy sound is very different than Burman’s fast paced raucous anthem. Asha Bhosle’s singing in Dam Maro Dam though accomplished verges on shouting when compared to Noor’s restrained and unhurried vocals. It’s not that one is better than the other. Simply that both are wonderful and distinct imaginings of what a hippie music could sound like. Burman/Bhosle make you want to jump and party all night. Ghosh and Noor settle you in for the long haul.