Sitaron Tum To So Jao

ishqe laila

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.

 

 

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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.

 

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