Bhar Do Jholi

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Bin Badal Barsaat (Rain Without Clouds) is an Urdu movie starring Mohammad Ali, Zeba, Shahid and Sangeeta released in March 1975. Running for 54 weeks in Karachi it attained coveted Golden Jubilee status.

The film takes its title from a 1963 Indian horror film but tells a story not of curses but of a couple’s struggle to produce and raise a family. Zarina (Zeba) and Judge Akbar Ali (Mohammad Ali) are hopeful that at last they might have a child after several years of trying unsuccessfully. Zarina is so upset by her apparent infertility she advises Akbar Ali to find a second wife if the situation continues.  “A wife that can’t produce a child is not worth anything,” she tells him.

A few months later Zarina does in fact deliver a healthy boy but through a series of twists of Fate, double crosses and colossal misreadings of the tea leaves the boy, Anwar, goes missing and ends up as a Pakistani Oliver Twist, cutting people’s pockets as part of a gang of beggars and prostitutes led by an obese and lecherous Fagin called Dada (Ilyas Kashmiri). Eventually, through yet more incredible strokes of luck,  tortured confessions and even torture itself, the family is reunited thanks to the efforts of the golden hearted dancing girl Gori, played by the stunning beauty, Sangeeta and her reformed pickpocket fiance Badhshah (Shahid).

Though this film was a big hit there is not much to recommend it as far as the storyline, script or acting goes. Once again it is some of the music and one performance that saves the day. Sangeeta‘s playful enactment of the good hearted but mistreated dancing girl Gori shows up all the leading big names. By comparison Mohammad Ali and Zeba seem to sleep walk through their parts.  A Karachi girl, Sangeeta got her start in 1971’s Yeh Aman (This Peace) but is perhaps best remembered for her work behind the camera as producer and director of such films as Society Girl, Nikah (Marriage) and Muthi Bhar Chawal (Fist Full of Rice).

In this film Sangeeta sticks to acting and dancing and leaves the direction to yet another woman, Zeenat, herself an actress whose track record went back to 1946 when she shared the screen with Noor Jehan in Hamjoli. After Partition Zeenat produced and directed half a dozen other films beginning with Khula Ja Sim Sim (1959). Her last appearance as director came in 1980 with Aap ki Khatir.  The story of Pakistan’s women directors and producers is one that needs to be explored and told.  Like so much else in Pakistan it comes a pleasant surprise that in country with such deep prohibitions against women working in the public sphere, and that too in such an industry as the movies, these women were able to martial the resources and withstand the severe social pressure to make so many films.

In the mid-1970s three giants of qawwali music were vying, sometimes bitterly, for top spot in listeners hearts. One one hand a raucous, dishevelled and brilliant upstart from Lahore, named Aziz Mian had sent shockwaves through polite society and the qawwali world with his hypnotic paeans to drunkenness and spiritual complaint.  Horrified and scandalised, the Karachi-based sibling duo Sabri Brothers represented the traditional, less ecstatic , devotional stream of qawwali. The Brothers and Mian traded barbs publicly, and in song, but all three sang their way to the bank, making fortunes through their cassettes and live concerts.

The music for Bin Badal Barsaat was composed by another woman, Shamim Nazli, sister of playback singer Mala. In a critical scene near the film’s denouement, Nazli inserts one of the Sabri Brothers‘ most popular songs Bhar do Jholi (Fill My Sack) to accompany a distraught Mohammad Ali who has gone to a shrine to pray for God’s forgiveness and mercy and the safe return of his son, Anwar.  The scene’s emotional tension is heightened by the qawwali beat,  acute lyrics and resounding voices of the Sabris who give a genuine qawwali performance rather than a rip-off filmi qawwali number.

Bin Badal Barsaat may not be top quality cinema but as a study of the role of women in Lollywood, both on and off the screen, it is a film well worth viewing.

 

 

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Hamare Paas Aao

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First Time appears to be an Urdu film produced  in the late 60s-mid 70s.  I’ve not been able to find any reference to it except for a few selections from the soundtrack.

Wazir Afzal was responsible for that soundtrack which includes a range of styles from straight ahead Pakistani folk-based songs to more westernised pop-like sounds. Based upon some of the titles and lyrics, as well as the album cover, the film’s storyline most likely revolves around a young woman’s struggle to lead a decent and dignified life. But along the way she is compelled to  play roles and work in places she would rather not. No doubt a handsome sharif (respectable) man falls in love with her, then discards her through some misunderstanding but in the end, returns to her and they live happily ever after.

Afzal, a relatively minor musical figure in Pakistani films, was influenced by the folk music of Eastern Punjab and the doab, the rich agricultural plains lying between the Ganges and Jumna rivers in India’s Uttar Pradesh state.  He regarded Lucknow’s Naushad Ali, one of India’s very greatest musical composers, as his hero.

Once when Noor Jehan did a tour of India, Naushad was in the audience and fell in love with the music of one of Afzal’s songs–Ja Aj to Mein Teri, Too Mera (from Yar Mastaney). He approached Madam with a handwritten note of appreciation which he requested her to give to Afzal upon her return to Pakistan. Afzal cherished the letter for the rest of his life often referring to the incident in interviews.

Humare Paas Aao (Come close to me) is of the genre known as filmi qawwali. Qawwali  is the uniquely South Asian form of Islamic ecstatic music made popular in the West over the past 25  years by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Aziz Mian and the Sabri Brothers.  It is a musical form that is traditionally performed in and around the shrines of Sufi saints and its language (Punjabi, Urdu or Persian) is almost always spiritual/inspirational in nature.

In the 70s and 80s a secular form of qawwali known as sharabi, emerged. Championed by the likes of Aziz Miansharabi qawwali extolled a more hedonistic approach to life and ecstasy centered around drinking and inebriation.  Despite extolling drunkenness, audiences still considered this form of qawwali to be serious and full of artistic merit. Indeed, performers like Mian sang traditional qawwali as well, seeing no contradiction between spiritual and corporeal inebriation.

Filmi qawwali , on the other hand, has always been as a frivolous thing.  The songs are inserted into the film for much the same purpose as any other musical number: to entertain and sometimes, to advance the plot. The performers are made out in stereotypical ‘Muslim’ garb (skull caps, loose shalwar / kameez) and sport beards.  The ‘party’ is full of men who keep time by clapping, as in traditional qawwali. Many times there is a religious or semi-religious context within which they perform but it is not unusual for the occasion to be totally secular and disconnected from any religious practice or sentiment.

As in the case of Hamare Paas Aao a filmi qawwalis a melange of themes and moods.  The song opens in much the same way a traditional qawwali does with some playful harmonium runs and an elongated introductory note by the qawwal. The first part focuses on a very serious subject indeed, judgment day.  The singer, enacting the voice of God, calls people to ‘come close to me’ in order to save their lives. But there is an unavoidable humor in the proceedings as well. Vowels and phrases are exaggerated and tones are suddenly dropped low with faux gravitas.  All in all you can’t help but feel they are taking the piss.

The lyrics lay out the sins that are going to be judged:  mixing water with milk; mixing kerosene in cooking oil; putting stones in the daal (lentils).  In short, cheating the poor common man.

Suddenly the beat changes and we hear a dandy singing about what a hero he is and how the ladies swoon when he walks by.  His beloved enters the fray with ‘cold sighs’ and invites him to ‘come close to me’.

And so it goes, by turns spiritual and then romantic and then back to spiritual. A typical piece of cinematic musical fluff. Which is not to say it is not a worthy little song.

There is some tremendous harmonium playing and the hand claps keep the song moving along nicely. The voice is that of Munir Hussain, a popular (but not hugely so) playback singer of the 50s and 60s.  Related to several well-known personalities, including the music director, Wajahat Attre, and with some training in classical music,  Hussain was often commissioned for songs that required a classical or traditional (as opposed to pop, rock, disco) feel. His versatility is on display in this song as he adopts several distinct voices from the raw qawwal to the smooth ‘hero’.

Come Close