Wadah Karo Tum

bigdi naslein

Bigri Naslein (Spoiled Generations) is an Urdu film released in 1983 with a heavy hitting cast led by Mohammad Ali and Rani. It achieved Silver Jubilee status, so was quite popular with the punters.

 

Wadah karo tum (Promise Me), a song from the soundtrack, is one of those Pakistani film songs which exists like a bauble that has fallen off the Christmas tree and rolled under the sofa. It lays there hidden, completely disconnected from its source and reason for being. But when you pick it up long after Christmas Day you discover underneath the dust there is still a little shimmer and shine.

 

It’s a dainty little ditty and the closest thing to genuine ‘bubblegum’ I’ve heard in Pakistani film music. In this sappy love song full of heartfelt confessions and urgent demands lovers frolic under blue evening skies and birds chirp in the branches. All the while an intoxicating sonic atmosphere swirls around. You can almost see the unicorns and rainbows in the far meadow.

 

The song is the creation of Kemal Ahmed, a Bengali who drew upon the rich folk culture of his motherland and who preferred a soft, gentle approach to music composition. An approach that emphasized melody and texture over the lively rhythm and percussion championed by Punjabi colleagues such as Nazir Ali, who also contributed to Bigri Naslein.

 

The song itself is a near-perfect pop song. Ahmed creates an entirely credible six-minute world where love is spoken in sweet melodies, gently strummed guitars and the quicksilver sound of santoor descending the scales like a waterfall splashing down the side of a mountain. Into this perfect little world of puppy love, Ahmed injects a layered female chorus that sounds like a band of half-crazed angels.   The ladies’ voices envelop the entire piece with their non-syllabic singing but also repeatedly veer close to the edge of pleasantness with some raw and jagged wailing. At first, this is slightly disconcerting but in fact, it is the perfect antidote to such a saccharine confection. The tension created by the high-pitched choir pushing against the lush melody is spot on.

 

None of this is exceptional or unique. South Asian music directors of the Golden Age at their best were creative geniuses, fluent in multiple musical languages and supported by talented musicians who could play any number of Eastern and Western instruments. What makes Wadah karo tum a truly outstanding piece of puffery is the singer.

 

Less than 40 seconds into the song the opening two syllables of the lyric–‘wa’ ‘dah’–emerge from the background, whole, complete and polished. As if they have always existed and are coming from the very vortex of heaven. Is the singer a woman or a man? There is something familiar about this otherworldly voice but we struggle to put our finger on it.

It is not until the first verse, sung in a slightly lower register, that the penny drops: this is none other than the great ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali!

 

Ghulam Ali, who was rigorously trained in classical music by some of the tradition’s luminaries has spent his entire career devoted to interpreting the ghazal. Unlike most of his peers, including arguably the greatest ghazal singer of the past 50 years, Mehdi Hassan, who recorded hundreds of film songs, Ghulam Ali’s filmi output is relatively minor. Indeed, his best-loved film song, the ghazal, Chupke chupke raat din appeared in an Indian film Nikaah (1982).

 

So, to hear him in a Pakistani movie, singing an entirely disposable piece of filmi pop is akin to finding a small diamond at the bottom of the biriyani. Though the lyrics are inane Ali turns in a worthy performance. Indeed, his masterful breath work, subtle use of vibrato and deep feel for melody takes Wadah karo tum to an entirely new plane. From mere bubblegum to something ethereal. A genuine keeper.

This is  a genuine keeper.

 

Hello Hello Sayangku

Bandish

Bandish (Entanglement) is an Urdu movie that ran for more than 80 weeks between 1980-81. A co-production with Indonesia, Bandish starred the beautiful and talented Indonesian actress Diana Christina in a lead role opposite a bushy-haired Nadeem. The film, apparently, was a minor hit in Indonesia and back home it further strengthened the credentials of Nazrul Islam as one of Pakistan’s more respected and successful directors.

 

1980 was an interesting moment in Pakistani film. The country was reeling from the judicial murder of the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto and the country’s military leaders were grappling with the challenge (and opportunity) that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan presented. These violent events seemed to be reflected in the movies. The golden era of the Urdu ‘social’ film, a genre that presented a self-assured, upwardly mobile and stable society attached to a tolerant Islam, was fading fast. A cruder more bloody genre of Punjabi action movie epitomized by the likes of Wehshi Jatt (1975) and Maula Jatt (1979) was attracting working class, urban migrant, male punters. The core middle-class family audience elected to stay in and get their fix from TV.

 

Though they had a stable of bankable proven stars, producers of Urdu movies were searching for something fresh. Bandish is a good example of a successful response. By shooting overseas they were able to keep the celluloid dream alive. Singapore gave the film glamour. And in Indonesia film viewers discovered a tolerant, relaxed Muslim country that appeared to be upholding the very values many Pakistanis sensed were slipping away at home.

 

The story, based loosely on the Italian film, Sunflower, is an emotionally charged and ultimately sad story of the cruel constraints of love. Faisal (Nadeem) is a wealthy Pakistani man come to Indonesia to take over his father’s rubber estates. Through a boating accident he loses his memory, in particular of his marriage to air hostess, Shama (Shabnam) whom he had just married.

 

A local fisher girl, Juwita, (Diana Christina) nurses him back to health, falls in love, learns some Urdu and ultimately marries Faisal who remains oblivious to his previous commitment and life. Shama, meanwhile, lives a marginal, shamed existence in Pakistan, raising her son alone.

 

News arrives that Faisal is alive and well in Jakarta. Shama flies to Indonesia in the vain hope of reuniting. In her desperate search through Jakarta’s busy streets she loses her son and all her money. On the verge of mental breakdown she discovers that her son has been rescued from near death by an unwitting Faisal and Juwita. Though she recovers her son, Faisal’s inability to recognize his wife drives Shama to hysterical despair.

 

When he suffers a second knock to the head, Faisal’s memory returns. All three lead characters are by this stage frantic and tormented by the horrible hands Love has dealt them. Juwita sees her dream evaporate as Faisal chases after Shama who is devastated that Faisal has no memory of her. In the final tense moments of the film Shama is reconciled and agrees to share Faisal with Juwita. They go to announce the good news to Juwita at her coastal village only to discover the poor woman has taken her own life.

 

Unlike most Nadeem/ Shabnam films, Bandish has little humorous interplay. Together the pair had a chemistry that produced not just sparks but some wonderful comedic moments. In Bandish, lightheartedness is replaced with an oppressive sense of powerlessness. A cruel impersonal force, not humans are in control of the world. The second half of the film and especially the final scene is extremely dark, perhaps signaling the Director’s views on what was happening back home in Pakistan.

 

Robin Ghosh’s score is subtle and tasteful as always. He effectively creates a gentle East Asian sound throughout and in Hello Hello Sayangku (Hello Hello My Dear) he lifts a popular musical phrase from Indonesian/Malay dangdut music.

 

One of the great delights of Pakistani film music is the abundance of female playback singers. Unlike in India where Lata and Asha virtually owned the business, Pakistani films are filled with a variety of voices and singing styles. Nayyara Noor was born into a Punjabi family settled in Assam but migrated to Pakistan in the late 1950s. Though she sang for many years in countless films, Noor’s voice, which is characterized by a soft expression and suppleness, is excellently suited to ghazals and light numbers such as Sayangku.

 

For his part, A. Nayyar was the male voice of the late 70s and 80s filling the shoes of the icon Ahmed Rushdie who passed away in 1983. Unable to get the attention of Radio Pakistan, his first port of call, it was through TV that he came to the attention of music directors and landed his first opportunity in Bashist (1974) from which emerged the mega hit Yuhin din kat jaye

 

Sayangku is a tasty little confection which showcases Ghosh’s creative imagination beautifully. Built upon a folky strummed acoustic guitar with a mid-paced melody, Ghosh creates an imminently hummable tune that perfectly balances mood and sound. Accordion, Melodica, shenai, and flute all contribute specific textures that are wrapped up in lush strings (plucked and bowed) and spiced up with playful scatting by Nayyar and Noor. Taken together the sound is billowy and light just like the first love of Faisal and Juwita.

 

 

 

Teri Talash Main Sadiyon Se

aar paar

Aar Paar (Around Here) is an Urdu film released in March 1973.

It seems to have been a B-movie going by the name of the leading players: Nisho, Shahid and Husna, a beautiful actress who was never able to break out of her ‘supporting’ roles but who, nevertheless, is fondly remembered for her contribution to the movies.

As is so often the case, the soundtrack of this commercial flop, contains some real jewels. The filmi music scene was dominated, like in India, by a solid core group of superstar music directors (arranger/composers), singers and musicians. So powerful were their perceived abilities that even second and third rate films sought them out.  It appears that producers paid big money for these magical names as a kind of insurance policy: the film may end up a flop but if we include a song or two by Noor Jehan or Mehnaz maybe we can move a few lakh (hundred thousand) more tickets.

In 1973 there were no bigger names in Pakistani music than Noor Jehan and Mehdi Hassan. Indeed, if you had to do a quick shortlist of the top 5 singers of Pakistan  you would probably list these as Number 1 and 2.  [And if you extended that list to take in all of South Asia, most people would have both names in the Top Ten.]

Noor Jehan came up through stage acting and singing. At the time of Partition in 1947 she was an established actress with several major motion pictures to her credit and her singing voice has been deemed ‘the best of all time’ for female playback singers.

Mehdi Hassan emerged out of a different tradition. Born into a traditional Rajasthani musical home, his family moved to Pakistan soon after 1947.  Though classically trained Hassan’s professional career started by singing for Rafiq Anwar’s 1956 film Shikaar.  For the rest of his career his mellow, burnished voice provided hundreds of films with moments of elegance and grace.  In addition to films, Hassan built a reputation as one of the finest proponents of the ghazal and other semi-classical genres like thumri, dadra and geet.

Both singers contributed their formidable talents to Aar Paar but even so the film was unable to make an impression.  The musical director was another Big Name, M Ashraf, who in 1973 was just approaching the height of his own powers as a highly inventive and influential musical mind.

In Teri Talash Main Sadiyon Se (I’ve Been Searching for You for Centuries) they play a straight bat. Ashraf eschews flashy fusion of electric guitars and Moogs and avoids wild dance or disco beats. Rather,  the maddeningly short piece places Mehdi Hassan’s voice within a gorgeous light melody with traditional subcontinental instruments. As such the song is a throwback to an earlier time before Pakistani films went nuts about experimenting with Western sounds.

 

Enjoy this gentle, lilting paean to love from one of the greatest of South Asian vocalists.

Talash

Allah Allah Allah Haq Allah Hoo

Aadam

Yeh Aadam (This Adam) is a Punjabi movie released on April 11,1986.

I’ve not been able to locate any data about its success at the box office which is probably evidence of its being a flop.

 

The film starred the giant of Pakistani Punjabi cinema Sultan Rahi along with his erstwhile female co-star Asiya, who shared the honors with him in the 1979 super-duper-wooper hit Maula Jat.

 

Punjabi cinema was dominant in Lahore in the mid-80s. The golden era of Urdu language family social dramas that targeted the urban middle classes was waning fast. President General Zia ul Haq was nearly a decade into his political/social/moral crusade to clean up the Land of the Pure. After the advent of the VCR and rise of the small screen the film industry was struggling to justify its existence. Public life became constricted as families, and women especially, retreated (or felt compelled to stay) indoors. And if, as a filmmaker, you could not depict physical affection between men and women, and any sort of partying or dancing or general merriment was frowned on by censors, what remained to attract people to the movies?

 

In keeping with the times—a war in Afghanistan, politically sponsored violence in major cities, rise of small arms and narcotics—Lollywood turned to other audiences and violence. Punjabi films such as Yeh Aadam extolled ‘traditional and rural’ values—clan loyalty, blood feuds, manliness—and drew upon the urban poor or migrant laborer markets. Sultan Rahi, Mustafa Qureshi, Chakori and Asiya were the top-billed names and would remain so until the Punjabi film market itself nearly died out in the mid-90s.

 

The music for Yeh Aadam was composed by Nazir Ali and M Javed and called upon the singing talents of the best in the industry: Noor Jehan, Shaukat Ali, Mehnaz and Masood Rana. Sometimes its the music that rescues a film from complete oblivion but not in this case. Nazir Ali was an accomplished veteran composer with a long string of hits to his credits, but M Javed, who is credited by EMI on the album label as the main composer, remains a mystery.

 

So if the film stunk (apparently) and no hits came out of the soundtrack (it seems) and the music director is a non-entity (based on quick searches on the internet) why are we highlighting the film?

 

The answer is simple: Alam Lohar. Without a doubt one of Pakistan’s–no, South Asia’s–most important folk artists, Alam Lohar presence in any film soundtrack is worthy of attention. Though he had passed on to the next world several years before Yeh Aadam was released there was no one who could sing this kind of song better.

 

Lohar was a natural singer who came up through the folk theatre (nautanki). His voice is raw and full of vigor if not exactly polished. But it was his charisma as a performer as much as for his voice that Pakistanis loved and continue to appreciate him.

 

Allah Allah Allah Haq Allah Hoo is a simple ‘Sufi’ song of the sort you’d hear around the mazar (tomb) of any Saint in rural Pakistan (or northern India for that matter). Though this version has been gussied up in the studio the basic folk elements are clearable audible: strong percussion, morchang (a local version of the jaw or jews harp) and simple lyrics.

 

The title of the song is a traditional Sufi chant (zikr); it is credited to one of Mohammad’s four companions, Abu Bakr and is associated with the Naqshbandi silsila (order) of Muslim mystics. It simply means Allah is Truth, Allah Is. In between this refrain Lohar inserts other short verses that refer to the Almighty’s other attributes and qualities such as his ‘glorious aura’ (shaan) and powerful throne (takht).

 

All in all this song is a wonderful little gem rescued from an otherwise barren and arid landscape.

AAAHAH

Main Walayat Kahnu Aa Gaya

playboy

Playboy (Playboy) is an Urdu film released in September 1978.  Filmed on location in the UK it was a blockbuster hit, running for more than 54 weeks in Karachi.

Nadeem was the movie’s headliner and in the absence of his usual matinee shadow Shabnam, he was supported by the up-and-coming starlet Babra Sharif.  Shamim Ara, the beautiful actress-turned-director, was behind the camera and M Ashraf, by this time the most in-demand music director in the industry, was in charge of the songs and music.

The film is on my ever-growing ‘To Watch’ list but in the meantime, here is a scathing review from one Pakistani critic who also makes the very Trumpesque claim that the film is among the POTUS’s favourites!  Alas, while we now  know that there is nothing so outlandish as to dismiss categorically about Herr Trump the only reference this scrivener could find to ‘Donald Trump + Playboy movie’ was that he did appear (graciously, fully clothed) in a soft porn film produced by Playboy magazine twenty years or so after Ms. Ara‘s film was thrilling audiences in Pakistan.

Main Walayat Kahnu Aa Gaya (I Have Come from Overseas)* one of the more enduring songs from the film is wonderfully sung, in Punjabi, by the full-throated Shaukat Ali. In the movie an obese Nanha, the public’s favourite film comedian of the era  does a rather blubbery exotic dance in various locations across London as a perplexed and bemused public tries to play along.

The lyrics appear to be (at least in part) a dialogue about the virtues, vices and strange ways of living in the white man’s world.  But you don’t have to know Punjabi to enjoy this song.  The whole thing is driven by powerful Punjabi percussion and a hypnotic snake charmer’s been (gourd pipe) which tries to smooth out the rather awkward hip shakes of goofy Nanha. But the real star of the music is what is picturised as an electric guitar but in actually sounds like an electrified sarod or rubab.  The instrument gives the song an urgent electric edge and does a beautiful job of bridging the multiple contextual gaps of tradition and modern, village and urban, East and West.

Though he keeps the synths and wailing guitars out of this number Ashraf still manages to create a real rocker; one that is worth repeated listenings whether or not you have the patience to watch the entire movie or not.

 

Walayat

 

 

*I’m not a Punjabi speaker so this is my guess at the title.

 

 

Akhiyan Laryan Te Pyar Hoya

lahori-badshah

Lahori Badshah (Master of Lahore) is a Punjabi film released in July 1977.  It is considered a ‘superhit’ and achieved Platinum status, running for more than 75 consecutive weeks in cinemas in Lahore.

It would be two years yet before the release of Maula Jat the biggest grossing and probably best known film Pakistan has ever produced.  But the genre of rural-based, blood-drenched feudal soap operas, which Maula Jat epitomised was already a staple of Punjabi cinema. Though there are vast differences between American ‘westerns’ and this sort of Punjabi film, in some ways it is easier to get a grip on them if they are approached as a sort of South Asian cowboy movie.

The hero is a rugged and rough man driven to violence not by nature but by necessity, usually to right some deep moral transgression. A family’s honour has been besmirched by another clan. Outsiders are threatening a cultural code. A woman has been raped. Interestingly, religion, while often invoked as part of the moral universe is far less of a motivator for the hero’s action than a desire to protect Punjabi ‘culture’.  Defining exactly what that culture IS is another matter but it appears (to me) to be a melange of family honour, rural social order, land and masculinity.

Sultan Rahi, was, until his murder in 1996, the icon of Punjabi pictures. He’s the one pictured in the photo above. He starred in Maula Jat and countless other similar pictures in which he developed a very loud, brash mode of delivering his lines.  He did not hesitate to swing his gandasa (ax) to defend the ‘culture’ and inevitably would end up dripping in blood by the time the final credits rolled.

Noor Jehan, aka Madam or Malika Taranum (Queen of Melody), who sings today’s song is without dispute the single most important and influential figure in Pakistani cinema history.  She grew  up in an artistic environment, singing and acting in traveling shows with her sister.  After some musical training in Calcutta she made the move in the 1940s to Bombay and became an instant celluloid sweetheart. She was gorgeous, a good actor and was blessed with the most beautiful, evocative voice.  Indeed, she is regarded by all and sundry, even her peers in India as well as Pakistan, as the greatest female playback singer of all time.

She chose the more professionally challenging route of opting for Pakistan in 1947. Had she stayed on in India her fame and fortune would have been incalculable. But as a loyal Punjabi and a firm believer in the idea of a separate state for India’s Muslims, she ‘returned’ to an industry that was nearly out for the count.  But her spirit energised others and she was able to play a major role in reviving the Lahore movie making business. Though she was forced to quit acting–pressures from her husband–she made a mark as Pakistan’s first female film director and of course, graced hundreds of soundtracks with her versatile and powerful singing.

I have always found that Noor Jehan was in her element when sang in Punjabi rather than Urdu. In Punjabi she is absolutely one with the music, not just the rhythms and melodies but the lyrics as well. She inhabits her Punjabi songs in a way she doesn’t with Urdu. And while she was able to sing in any number of moods and styles the way she let loose in Punjabi feudal movies is spectacular.

Akhiyan Laryan Te Pyar Hoya is a right rocker. Driven by Punjabi beats, swelling strings and Madam’s equally heaving breast, the heavy breathing and flirtatious moans make this number a true piece of gold.  And when she’s not emoting her love she lets her voice burst forth without let in a typical Punjabi /rural style.  Like the flare of a trumpet there is a certain blast of sound that  hurtles forth out of her mouth which commands as much attention as a bloody gandasa. You know she means business!

Badshah

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