Jo Bacha Tha Woh Lutane Ke Liye Aaye Hain

umrao jaan

Umrao Jan Ada (Umrao Jan Ada) is an Urdu film released in December 1972. It was a popular film achieving golden Jubilee Status (50 consecutive weeks) in cinemas in Karachi.

The story upon which the film is based is a classic of Urdu literature. Umrao Jan Ada is considered by some to be the first novel in the Urdu language and takes its title from the professional name of a famous dancer/courtesan (طوائف) who worked in the city of Lucknow. Mirza Hadi ‘Ruswa’, the author, apparently was acquainted with Umrao Jaan (though her historicity is not confirmed) and upon his request she narrated her story to him.  The book (which I read many years ago when I was studying Urdu as a graduate student) is told in the first person and tells how she was kidnapped, trafficked and rose to fame as a much-sought after female companion to the Nawabs of Awadh.

The novel which is full of tragedy and romance has inspired several films in Pakistan and India as well as a lavish Pakistani television series.  The 1981 Indian version starring Rekha is one of the peaks of creativity in Indian popular cinema. It’s music alone, composed by Khayyam with lyrics by Sharyar and sung mostly by Asha Bhosle, makes the film a classic. But Rekha’s acting and dancing were equally mesmerising. Director Muzaffar Ali led his team in accumulating 6 Filmfare Awards (sadly, though Rekha was nominated she did not win Best Actress) and the first Matri Shree Media Award for Best Picture 1982.

So, any other movie version of Umrao Jan has a very high bar to jump over.  And to be honest this Pakistani film does not hold up to Muzaffar Ali‘s stunning historical epic. But before it can be dismissed (and it should not be)  it is useful to highlight some of the things that really work here.

The first thing to remember is that the Pakistani version was released almost a decade before Ali’picture.  And in that sense, it is unfair to judge the former by the latter. Technology had advanced considerably in that time and Bombay always had larger budgets than Lahore.

It’s also difficult not to conclude that the 1981 Indian version of Umrao was influenced by this cross border film.  The Pakistani version does a good job of recreating the nawabi (noble) culture of Lucknow, especially its highly contrived social etiquette and deeply held values of honour, purity and class. Director Tariq Hassan (Ik Gunah Aur Sahi, Neend) does an excellent job of poking fun at the artifice, sycophancy and licentiousness that characterised a feudal culture on the verge of collapse.  His use of exaggerated hand gestures and incessant eulogising by hangers on at first seems over the top but you soon understand that this is deliberate mockery.

While Rani does an excellent job of portraying the deep emotional wounds as well as the steely determination of the kidnapped Ameeran (Umrao Jan’s given name) her dances are a faint shadow of what Rekha conjured. Is this, I wondered as I watched, an echo of the inherent discomfort Muslim society has with female dancers? Perhaps the choreographers were unfamiliar with traditional forms of dancing and unsure about how to direct her. Whatever the reason, this is one of the biggest weaknesses of the film.

The other principal actors, Shahid as Nawabzada Salim, Rangeela as Salim’s best mate, Talish as the conniving, dictatorial Nawabsahib and Nayyara Sultan as the dignified and aloof Khanum all contribute good performances. Shahid, in particular, is an engaging, somewhat spoiled and immature young nobleman. His smile and dimples are hard to resist and for my money he’s got one of the best ‘drunk’ faces ever seen, all glowering hard eyes and puffy cheeks.

Nisar Bazmi composed a sonically authentic and solid score built around the sarangi, the chief instrument of vocal accompaniment until the advent of the harmonium in the late 19th century. Saifuddin Saif, the respected poet and lyricist, wrote some memorable lyrics while Runa Laila handled most of the lead vocals. The more I listen to Runa’s singing the more I am impressed by its deep melodious core which while gorgeous, in this context does not quite match the raw emotion of an unhappy Umrao Jan.

Jo Bacha Tha Woh Lutane Ke Liye Aaye Hain (I’ve Come to Steal the Things That Remain) is the final song of the film and comes just a few minutes before the end.  After Salim marries and then cruelly discards Umrao, she swears never to meet him again. But Salim remains smitten and refuses to comply with his father’s demand that he marry his cousin Farzana.

Angry and frustrated, Nawabsahib (Talish) approaches Umrao and pleads with her to dance one final time for Salim at his house so that ‘he will remember you as you are –just a prostitute and not a wife’.  Though she has refused to see him, for the sake of their child and her desire to let Salim (Shahid) get on with his life, she agrees.

Bazmi correctly chooses Noor Jehan, by this time a seasoned 30 year veteran of films, rather than Runa, the responsibility of singing this dramatic, emotionally-intense song.

Jo bacha tha woh lutane ke liye aaye hain (I’ve come to steal the things that remain)

Aakhri geet sunane ke liye aaye hain (I’ve come to sing the final song)

Hum to mujrim ki tarah aaye hain (I’ve come here as if a criminal)

Kaun paiman-e-wafa thoda gaya (Who broke the faith?)

This first verse is sung directly to Salim who squirms uncomfortably with guilt and regret.  After each line Bazmi inserts a dark billow of strings that moves the melody up both the musical and emotional scale. Noor Jehan is virtually at the outer reaches of her soprano as the feeling builds and builds.

The next verse is addressed to her her young son who sits on the lap of Nawabsahib, not recognising his mother.

Dil ka har zakhm dikhane ke liye aaye hain (I’ve come to expose every wound of my heart).

But as the verse comes to a close the child breaks into tears and reaches out for Umrao who embraces him only to be grabbed away by a disgusted Salim.

Umrao’s tragic singing exposes the cruelty, hypocrisy and secrets of all the sharif (respectable) people in the room and with her work done she races from the house.

The print (like so many other Pakistani films) is dreadful but if you are to handle that slightly psychedelic constraint, this is a film definitely worth watching.

 

Jee Rahe Hain Hum Tanha

sharmiliee

Sharmilee (Shy) is an Urdu movie released in 1978.

The Indian film of the same name was a massive hit in the early 1970s. Huge, larger-than-life hand painted hoardings of Rakhee, the film’s main star,  lined the rainy streets of my hometown for months.  Though I never saw the film those posters remain a memory that is lodged forever in my mind.

The Pakistani version of the film starred two of the biggest names in the industry, Nadeem and Mumtaz and did not do too shabbily at the box office, itself.  It ran for 26 straight weeks thereby just qualifying for Golden Jubilee status.  Nadeem, born in southern India (Vijaywada) was THE male lead throughout the 1970s and 80s, mirroring in many ways the career of Amitabh Bachchan across the border in India.  Whereas the Big B exemplified  “The Angry Young Man”Nadeem brought a softer, less fiery but no less charismatic presence to the movies.  He is Pakistan’s most awarded male lead with 19 Nigar Awards for Best Actor.

The score for this film was developed by Karim Shahabuddin a musical director about which I’ve found almost nothing other than he was indeed a real person. It appears he was from the Eastern part of Pakistan, which in 1971 became the independent country, Bangladesh.

The singer of today’s selection, Jee Rahe Hain Hum Tunha (I am Living a Lonely Life) is another big name, A Nayyar. Born near Sahiwal (Punjab) into a Christian family, Arthur (he never used his Christian name as an artist) came onto the scene in the early 1970s. This was an era when the likes of Ahmed Rushdi, who seemed to get all the upbeat songs and Mehdi Hassan, the ghazal master who got the nod for most ‘sad’  songs dominated the playback scene. It seemed as if the ceiling was made not of mere glass but brick and mortar.

But Nayyar had a voice that reminded the listening public of Kishore Kumar, the Indian sensation, and after some work in television he was given his chance in movies with Bahisht (1974).  The impact was immediate.  Music directors and producers pegged him for more and more films, so much so that by the late 1970s his voice was heard almost as frequently as Rushdi’s.

Jee Rahe Hain Hum Tunha was performed first on a television show called Naghma, in which Nayyar sat on center stage surrounded by empty chairs. The atmospherics were deeply emotional and the song was lifted lock-stock-and-barrel for Sharmilee.

It is a lovely, moody song.  Shahabuddin composed a melody that sounds as if it is raga based (don’t ask me which one!) and creates a mood of solitude that allows the listener to focus fully on the lyrics and singing. Nayyar demonstrates the influence of Kishore sahib by smoothly letting several falsetto yodels slide throughout the piece, which along with a female chorus, adds emotional depth to the arrangement.  For his part the composer inserts brief  violin, bansuri and sitar solos that really burnish the overall composition.

A sad song that you’ll listen to a lot.

Tunha

Some Say I am a Sweety

korakaghaz

Kora Kaghaz (Blank Page) was an Urdu movie released in 1978.

Pakistan and India are arch rivals in every sphere of life: war, cricket, nationalistic governments and possession of Kashmir, to name just a few.  While you could say the Pakistani film industry was never large enough to be a serious rival to what has come to be known as Bollywood,  there was always plenty of artistic appropriation going on between both industries.

Pakistani singers crossed back and forth across borders having hits and fans in both countries.  Story ideas and plot lines were pinched without compunction from each other. The studios in Lahore and Karachi regularly remade mega-hit Indian films. By appending the same titles to their own creations they no doubt hoped to strike similar box-office gold as the originals.

Kora Kaghaz was the name of an Indian movie released in 1974 which itself was a remake of a Bengali film by the name of Saat Pake Bandha (1963).

The Pakistani version of the movie was a big hit. It ran continuously for  27 weeks in cinema halls in Karachi, attaining coveted Silver Jubilee status.

The film’s music was composed by Nazir Ali who was known primarily for his work in Punjabi films. Called by some the ‘master of rhythm’ his work covered the range of ‘fast’ ‘slow’, upbeat and ‘sad’ numbers including a number of ghazals that were made popular by Noor Jehan.

This song definitely qualifies as an ‘upbeat’ number.

Rhythm features from the outset with rapid fire drum rolls mixed with strummed acoustic guitars and the warm swells of a mellotron.  Nahid Akhtar then enters with some ‘la la la’ ing that flattens out in a typical Punjabi way by way of introduction to the opening line,  Some say I am a sweety!

The song is clearly an ‘item number’. A song sung by a vamp, usually to a rock n’ roll beat, in a disco or hotel cabaret.  Nahid Akhtar was the queen of ‘item numbers’ in the 70’s making her reputation as one of Pakistan’s best-loved, most prolific playback singers.  Her partnership with music director M Ashraf is particularly well remembered.

Some Say I am Sweety alternates between English and Urdu lyrics which are banal in both languages. But what the song lacks in lyricism it makes up for with a heady mix of instruments, sounds, and beats. Electic fuzz guitars, sizzling electronic keyboards, accordions, flutes and of course lots of snares and bongos.

Some say I am a sweety/ some say a queen of the beauty

I am alive/heart is beating/but my soul is hurting

 

Sweety