Khotay Sikkay (Fake Coins) is an Urdu movie released in November 1981. It achieved Silver Jubilee status and ran for 34 straight weeks in Karachi.
The American cowboy movie with its themes of individual and national identity, has been an inspiration for many Indian films, such as the iconic Sholay (1975) and Dharmatma (1975) as well as more recently, the hilarious send-up of the gunfighter-comes-to-town genre, Quick Gun Murugan (2009).
In Pakistan you could argue that virtually the entire output of the Punjabi film industry and its one-of-a-kind superstar Sultan Rahi, is, in essence, a local interpretation of the Western.
The rugged rural landscapes of Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and its deserts, complete with old forts and remote villages, afford a spectacular backdrop for the elemental struggles of righteous, vengeful heroes against villainy and corruption.
Khotay Sikkay is another film that borrowed its title from an earlier Indian movie (Khote Sikke/1974) which starred India’s handsome cowboy-actor Feroz Khan.
The Pakistani movie was filmed on location and fielded an all-star cast led by the veteran Mohammad Ali and Lahori glamour puss Babra Sharif. Badar Munir, the single biggest name in Pashto movies, who made his reputation as a tough and rough ‘don’t give me any shit’ type of hero was also drafted in to give the otherwise urbane cast a certain rugged authenticity.
The musical players were equally stellar. M Ashraf, probably the greatest musical director of his era, led the effort supported by the voices of several outstanding artists including A Nayyar, Mehnaz, Nahid Akhtar and Akhlaq Ahmed.
There exists in Pakistan a whole genre of singing known as qaumi naghme (national songs) which are usually presented on TV shows in front of well-behaved middle-class studio audiences. These songs extol the virtues and positive aspects of the Pakistani state and encourage listeners to adopt high-minded ideals of tolerance, moderation, piety and loyalty. Almost every singer in Pakistan, including the very biggest names, has sung such songs. And even though they are musically rather drab affairs most singers claim to enjoy singing them.
Our featured track, Tum Kaun Ho, is one such patriotic duet. Performed by Nahid Akhtar and Shaukat Ali, it is a very interesting song indeed, if for no other reason than the number of cans of worms it begs one to open.
The title of the song means, Who Are You? a question Nahid Akhtar asks as if she were the Mother of the Nation.
‘Who are you/tell me dear/to which nation do you belong?’
Shaukat Ali is a popular singer from Lahore who covers a range of styles including ghazals and folk music but who shot to fame as a playback singer in Punjabi movies. He has won many awards including the highest arts prize, the President’s Pride of Performance award for his contributions to Pakistan musical culture.
His response to Nahid’s question comes first in the form of ‘I am a son of Punjab’. Ali sings mainly in Urdu in this verse but breaks into a few stanzas of Punjabi which include the cry ‘Bhaley! Bhaley!’ which is an instant signal to all listeners that this is a Punjabi singing.
Next Ali travels to Sindh where he invokes the desert Sufi spirit of the great mystic Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (where just this week 76 people were murdered by the thugs ISIS at his shrine in Sehwan) with a rousing chorus of ‘Dama dam mast Qalandar/Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar‘.
More verses follow. Short portraits relate ‘typical’ Baluch and Pashtun national characteristics which in the case of the latter, include, ‘guns are my toys!’
The song’s grand statement is delivered in the final 2 and a half minutes.
Yeh Sindhi, Punjabi, Baluchi/hain Angrez ki baten
(This Sindhi, Punjabi, Baluchi/ are just English words)
Kyon suboh mein bante rahein ho/insaano ke zaate
(Why do you divide yourselves among the provinces)
Ek kitab hai/ ek hai ummat
(A single holy book/ a single faith community)
Ek hai Ka’aba apna
(The single Ka’aba is ours)
Sab ka vaarish ek Mohammad/ Ek hai khuda apna
(Mohammad is all our inheritance/ The One God is ours)
Ek aazaan ke aage/jis ne sar ne jhukajayenge
(Our heads will bow in response to one call to prayer)
Allaaaah ho Akbar
(God is Great!)
Ma ke chaahe sau bete ho/ ek hi kahelayenge
(Our Mother’s hundred beloved sons/ will be called one)
Ma ki beton apni ma ko/suboh mein na banto
(Dear Mother’s sons/don’t divide your Mother into Provinces)
Quaid-e-Azam ka yeh gulshan nafratein na kato
(Don’t let hate destroy our Great Leader’s garden)
Na Sindhi na Punjabi na Pashto na Makrani
(We are neither Sindhi, nor Punjabi, nor Pashto, nor Makrani)
Pakistan mein rahne wale sab hain Pakistani
(All who live in Pakistan are all Pakistani)
The national anthem then plays as the song fades out.
Musically the piece is very satisfying. Ashraf keeps the music moving steadily at a medium pace throughout the first several verses. He skillfully introduces instruments such as rubab, sarinda and dhol that are particular to each region of Pakistan and, as mentioned above, inserts lines and phrases from some of the regional languages. Shaukat Ali’s voice is open and clear and confident which fits both the subject matter and intention perfectly.
But the tension is really ramped up in the final key verse as strings break through and swell majestically at the end of each couplet. Ali‘s voice responds by jumping up an octave. All the while the Punjabi affinity for rhythm is evident in the excited beating of tabla and dhol. The pace slackens dramatically and respectfully for the call to prayer but then picks up again until the national anthem draws the song to a dignified close. All in all, the song is an outstanding example of a qaumi naghma and one that is worthy of repeated listens even if more for its music than lyrics.
An analysis of the lyrics is something that must wait for another time and place. But suffice it to say they point to a number of issues–language, ethnicity, geography, faith, inclusion–that continue to challenge the world’s first confessional state 70 years after its birth.