Make Love Not War

maut ke saudagar

Maut ke Saudagar (Merchants of Death) is an Urdu film released in 1976.

One of the challenges facing those of us who write bout Pakistani films is that of the many thousands that have been released over the years (over a 100 a year in the Golden Age of the 60s and early 70s) relatively few are publicly accessible on the internet or for purchase.  Many of the ones that are available suffer from horrible sound and vision making watching them an exercise in self-torture.

Maut ke Saudagar is in that vast category of films about which I can only conjecture information.  I’ve not been able to locate any reference to the film on any of the several excellent Lollywood-related sites on the net. And the authoritative text, Mushtaq Guzdar’s out of print book Pakistan Cinema: 1947-1997 also has no mention of the film.

But clearly, from the album cover of the soundtrack, such a film was made and at least a few of the songs from the soundtrack were released.  And while the song we highlight today is sung in Urdu and English, I can’t absolutely be sure the film was made in Urdu. Often Punjabi songs appear in Urdu films and vice versa.

So while much about this movie remains a mystery this particular track is a winner.

Nahid Akhtar and A Nayyar (?) sing a stoner’s duet that opens with a man taking a long toke and exclaiming

Kash pe kash lagao/ nashe mein dub jao

[Take hit after hit/lose yourself in the high]

Nahid echoes the final phrases of both lines before repeating them in a dreamy slur, one of her many artistic trademarks. A female falsetto chorus joins in as the lead singers toss the sexy title line back and forth.  The rest of the song’s lyrics are emblematic of the hippie generation: love everyone equally be they black or white; don’t let religion turn us into haters; respect for humanity.

The song sounds like classic M Ashraf or Tafo with its gurgling electronics, tasty guitar licks, and a general happy bounce. But the information I have (don’t rely on it) suggests the music is composed by Kamal Ahmed, an Indian immigrant (Gurgaon) who composed the scores for some classics like Basheera and Rangeela.

Sadly this little gem remains an enigma wrapped in a mystery.  But there is sparkle aplenty here!

Shola sa Badka Badka

Jasoos

Jasoos (Spy) is an Urdu film released in June 1977.

The film stars Sultan Rahi who holds a position not unlike that of Noor Jehan in the Pakistani film industry. Just as she was the undisputed Malika Tarannum (Empress of Melody), Sultan Rahi is by far the most recognized male face of Pakistani movies. Together both icons moved way beyond mere superstar status to that of exalted deities.

Rahi’s great fame started in the mid-70s and reached its most dizzy heights in the 80s when his face was visible on nearly every movie poster in nearly every town. Beginning as an anonymous extra, he graduated to short ‘fighting’ roles before gaining a few notices in the early 1960s as a character actor of some talent.

Though himself from an Urdu speaking Indian immigrant background, Rahi did most of his acting in Punjabi films. Indeed, the whole genre of so-called gandasa (long handled ax) movies which has dominated Punjabi filmdom since the late 70s, is built almost entirely upon the face and voice of Sultan Rahi.

Gandasa films are generally set in village Punjab and involve lots of blood letting, clannish revenge and sentimental references to the land of the five rivers. Action, fights and other displays of testosterone-driven aggression keep the lungi-clad, horse riding characters occupied and moving to a climatic gory end. Rahi made hundreds of such films and through them, his fortune. But he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his niche and expressed a deep longing to be given a challenging ‘real’ role.

Jasoos was made in 1977 and captures Rahi at a critical point in his career. His epic Maula Jat, which would forever change Pakistani movies, was still two years away. Rahi had made a number of Urdu movies before Maula Jatt but in the 17 remaining years of his life would appear in just 14 more. From 1979 on it was action, action, action and Punjabi, Punjabi, Punjabi. One can understand why he longed for that call that never came to play a more complex character.

Though Jasoos was an action thriller with a fair quota of guns, car chases and killing Rahi is given the space to explore a range of emotions that moved beyond righteous indignation. As Imran, the dashing head of a Private Detective agency, Rahi reveals a natural comedic touch as, he delivers genuine humour with understatement, facial expression and subtle body language.

Even more compelling is his interaction with leading lady, Mumtaz who plays Shama a simple country girl caught up in a web of intrigue. Rahi, sans wig and ax, was a ruggedly handsome hero. His winning smile, as well as an ability to flirt softened his action hero tendencies and made women’s hearts melt.   Though the film’s production was cheap and Iqbal Yusuf’s direction nothing to write home about, Rahi’s humane performance lifts Imran’s character out of the realm of caricature and holds the otherwise manic movie together.

Jasoos is the story of a mysterious black-hooded killer determined to get his hands on the Will of Seth Azam, (Changezi) a wealthy landlord. The Seth, sensing he is being targeted for murder, hands the Will over to Imran with instructions that he is to act as Executor in the event of his murder.

Sure enough, a few days later, the Seth is murdered, sending Imran on the trail of corrupt police, a conniving widow (Rozina) and her ‘helpful’ brother, the mysterious masked murderer, two thugs and a gang of female baddies led by a master of disguise (Ghulam Mohyideen). Along the way, he comes to the aid of and falls in love with young Shama (Mumtaz), a mountain lass who turns out to be the illegitimate daughter and sole beneficiary of Seth Azam’s many properties.

As the gangsters, female spies, and police chase Imran and Shama across northern Pakistan we are treated to some of the most unusual and unlikely of sub plots, such as pagans dancing in front of huge Easter Island-like statues chanting “Zambo! Zambo!”, and a nautanki performance in which actors who appear to be identical physical specimens of Imran and Shama do a snake charmer’s dance in which 8 women dressed in black, swivel and writhe on the ground like cobras! None of this advances the plot even a centimetre.

In the end, Imran rescues Shama who is bound to the tracks of a fast approaching mail train by hanging from the cattle catcher and scooping her out of danger at the last second. The gang of baddies are discovered to actually be a crack group of undercover police operatives and the widow’s brother is demasked as the murder!

Phew!

There are action films and then there is Jasoos.

The film’s soundtrack, by the enigmatically named Tafo is just as abrupt and weird as the plot. Tafo is in fact, a collective of musicians led by the ace tabla maestro Ustad Altaf Hussain Tafo Khan and his brother, Nisar Hussain on the accordion. Throughout the 70s, often in collaboration with M Ashraf, but also on their own, they contributed some of the liveliest, most diverse and innovative sounds in Pakistani films.

Tafo was/were early experimenters with electronic instruments, including drum machines, fuzz pedals and synthetic loops of sound. In several scenes such as the aforementioned “Zambo Zambo” tribal dance, they seem to have been given free reign to make up anything they wanted. The result is at both visually quaint and sonically bizarre but ultimately hilarious and immensely creative.

In Shola sa Badka Badka (Burning like a Flame), Tafo spend the first half of the song simply making one of the mysterious female spies, the striking Chakori, move to all sorts of electronic beats, squelches and sizzling electric guitar riffs. She jerks, twitches, lunges and writhes for a couple minutes as the musicians give vent to a full orchestra of canned sounds. The dance is provocative and at times channels a young Elvis Presley. It’s easy to see how Chakori caught Rahi’s eye and landed the female lead in Maula Jatt.

Both musicians and dancer seem eager to impress the producers with EVERY possible sound and move they can conjure. Accordions, blaring trumpets, catchy guitars and burbling fizzes of electricity keep Chakori pumping, shaking, writhing, sliding, twisting and shaking as a confused Imran watches from a balcony window and the master of disguise observes from behind the drapes.

The voice is that of Nahid Akhtar, the Multan girl with the galvanised vocal chords. Akhtar worked often with Tafo and M Ashraf, producing dozens of memorable songs throughout the racy 70s and into the conservative 80s. Her wide, open voice which crescendos like a silver cornet in a hot jazz ensemble is instantly recognisable. Combining the charisma of Noor Jehan with twice the gumption of Asha Bhosle and Usha Iyer combined, Nahid Akhtar owned the disco/saucy song genre like no one else before or since.

Jasoos may not have set Lahore aflame, but once again, the music, as well as an unexpected and pleasing performance by Sultan Rahi makes this a film worth checking out.

Dance Music Nai Laila Nia Majnu

Nai Laila Nia Majnu

Nai Laila Nia Majnu (New Laila New Majnu) is an Urdu film released in 1969.

Laila and Majnu is an old love story originating in Arabia but familiar around the world in the guise of Romeo and Juliet, Heer Ranjha, Sheerin Farhad and Tristan Isolde (and many many more).

This film, a second rung production, is a comedy that seeks to update the story of star-crossed lovers for the modern era. For an audience raised to place the tale of Laila and Majnu in some distant past the film’s premise was obviously a fun concept to play around with. Though I’ve not been able to trace a full version of the film on the internet it apparently did well at the box office, achieving the envied status of ‘superhit’.

The film’s music was composed/arranged by Tasadduq Hussain whose career was blessed with a number of hit movies and the President’s Pride of Performance Award for his contribution to music.

Dance Music is a title given to a lot of up-tempo rock n roll compositions in a lot of movies. And often times while they do feature some imagined form of rock n roll, most are not that ‘danceable’.   In this instance, however, Mr Hussain has hit the nail right on the head and come up with a true stomper.

A frenetic snap fest of snares and bongos kicks off the piece before quickly being pushed aside by a stuttering electric guitar riff that seems to be lifted directly from the most recent Ventures record. A slack-jawed voice sighs, “Nai Laila” and several bars later follows up with a shivery ‘Naya Majnu”.

Still roaring down the line like the Karachi Mail running late a number of instruments take short solos (sax, drums, a Dwayne Eddy guitar, some early electronic keyboards, sax again) before abandoning all resistance and giving way to the unrelenting electric guitar line.

What always amazes me is how musical directors like Hussain, M Ashraf, Tafo and Nisar Bazmi whose roots and training were either in the folk or classical music traditions were able to cotton on to the raw, urgent, sexual drive of American rock n roll so easily.  A lot of what was marketed as rock music in these films falls flat.  But when they got it right, such as in this piece or in Shankar Jaikisan’s Jaan Pehchaan Ho (Gumnaam) across the border in Bombay, they really got it!

There is nothing this rocker lacks in terms of sheer energy, dramatic tension or rebellion and stands up proud against most surf music of the era.

Have fun!

Dil Dhadke Main Tujh Se Yeh Kaise Kahoon

anjuman

Anjuman (Anjuman) is an Urdu film released in 1970. It was a Platinum Jubilee ‘superhit’, with the public lining up at cinemas for 81 weeks straight to watch the show.

The film tells the story of Anjuman, a much-sought-after tawaaif (courtesan) who has caught the lustful eye of Nawab Wajahat Ali (Santosh Kumar). Anjuman (Rani) sadly is depressed and lovesick. She has no interest in the Nawab but under pressure from her mother strings the nobleman along to get access to his millions.

Meanwhile, Asif (Waheed Murad) the Nawab’s supposed younger brother has an unhealthy set of feelings for his sister-in-law, Nawab sahib’s wife,  played beautifully by Sahiba Khanum.  These feelings are eventually ( and thankfully) redirected to Nusrat (Deeba) an old childhood friend who has recently migrated from India.

The more he hangs out with Anjuman the more coldhearted Nawabsahib becomes towards his wife and one day his excuses of ‘working late’ are exposed as lies. He confesses his affection for Anjuman to his wife but tells her to put up and shut up, which, of course, she does.

Asif is sent on a mercy mission to the dancing girl’s house. In a pique of righteous rage he tells her to stay out of his family’s affairs and desist from seeing his elder brother, the Nawab. As soon as she lays eyes on the handsome Asif, Anjuman falls in love. She agrees to break things off with the Nawab (no biggie, she couldn’t stand the man anyway) on the condition that Asif replace him.

So much does Asif love his sister-in-law who is suffering because of this prickly situation he agrees. ‘At least I’ll save her marriage,’ he says to himself.

Asif becomes increasingly alienated from himself and his family and Nusrat and sinks into the bottle to soothe his conflicted feelings.  About two thirds of the way through the film you are hit with the depressing realisation that all the main characters are incredibly unhappy, either abandoned by those they love, stuck in torturous moral dilemmas or scorned by society.

Eventually, though, things turn out ok. Sort of. When Anjuman refuses to see the Nawab anymore he realises the error of his ways and begs forgiveness from his wife. Asif has it out with his sister-in-law who accuses him of abandoning Nusrat. He lets Bhabi (sister in law) know of his deal with the devil, Anjuman. Bhabi confronts Anjuman and reveals that Asif is not her brother-in-law but in fact her son! ‘Take my husband if you must, but give me back my boy!’ Anjuman reluctantly agrees to release Asif from his vow but insists that she will dance at Asif and Nusrat’s wedding the following week.

With order restored to the feudal Universe the Big Day is marked with a wonderful dance by Anjuman. Just as the dance nears conclusion Anjuman collapses and dies at the feet of Asif. The final scene depicts Asif laying flowers at her tomb with hunched shoulders and a heavy heart.

The story may be full of moral quagmires, numerous loose ends and uncomfortable depictions of unchecked human desire but the music once again provides a degree of artistic ballast.

The tawaaif  film is a well-established sub-genre of South Asian cinema and is usually set in mid-19th century feudal Muslim India. In the case of Anjuman the location is contemporary 1960s Lahore which adds a hint of implausibility to the whole movie. Music director Nisar Bazmi does his best to cater to this split world by working in two idioms. In scenes involving Nawab sahib he creates the familiar haunting sarangi-based soundscape that such tawaaif movies employ. However, when Asif is in Anjuman’s company, he resorts to a more modern, ‘western’ sound led by non-traditional instruments like the guitar.

Dil Dhadke Main Tujh Se Yeh Kaise Kahoon (My Heart Races to Tell You) is a song Anjuman sings as she dances temptingly in front of grim Asif who has come to scold her.

It’s a delightful little song for a number of reasons. First, the twangy electric guitar intro would not be out of place on a Marty Robbins or Johnny Cash record. The country & western sound is so unexpected and refreshing at this point in what has turned out to be a heavy story you immediately perk up and find new energy to continue watching.

Second, it is a reminder of how connected the film culture of Lahore was with what was going on elsewhere in the world.  Sounds and musical styles from north America and other places were familiar to music directors in Pakistan and it is a testament to their creative talents that they could so quickly and naturally adapt these sounds to their own context.

Third, the smooth-as-polished-leather guitar playing is proof of just how talented the anonymous studio musicians in Lahore were. The string section too, is able to conjure a sound that is every bit as emotional and on point as Barry White‘s Love Unlimited Orchestra.

But in the end, it is the coquettish delivery of Runa Laila that makes the song so cool.  Laila was a Bengali girl raised in Karachi and grew up hearing the rock/pop music of Karachi’s then active nightclub scene as well as falling in love with the vocals of Ahmed Rushdie.

As soon as she burst on the scene in the 1966 film Hum Dono (We Two) she was recognized as an exceptional talent. In a few years she was a regular performer in India and the UK. She was one of Pakistan’s true pop stars and made well-received records of non-film music as well.

Her light and crisp voice is perfect for pop and upbeat music. Dil Dhadke is certainly one of my current favorites.

Anjuman

Yes Meri No Teri

Cheeta Chalbaz

Cheeta Chaalbaaz (Crafty Cheetah) is a Punjabi film released in May 1978.

By the mid-70s Pakistan was one of the world’s most prolific film-producing countries holding steady at #4 on the league table.  In 1978 when this rather obscure feature was released the local film industry released 99 other films, not bad for a country (and industry) that had just a few years earlier been severed in half.

Punjabi films have always been popular in Punjab (duh!) and even enjoy some success with audiences in Karachi and elsewhere.  Indeed, while Urdu is the official national language and promoted by the government as the language of culture and education, in and around Lahore, Punjabi is the spoken vernacular.  During the Golden Age the film makers of Lahore  worked primarily to this Urdu speaking middle class and most of the biggest earners were Urdu social/family dramas.  But there has always existed  a second audience that prefers their entertainment in their mother tongue. Indeed, some of the biggest and most accomplished films, both commercially and artistically, have been Punjabi films: Heer Ranjha (1970), Kartar Singh (1959), Chanway (1951) and Maula Jat (1979) just to name several.

Cheetah Chaalbaaz was a non-starter. In the no-nonsense lingo of the movie world it was a flop.  Director Altaf Hussain was still some years away from his breakthrough hit Athra Puttar (1981) and indeed, Cheetah Chaalbaaz was one of 20 (!) failures in a row that he notched up on his way to success. It is a record that has yet to be broken. But it also speaks volumes of the persistence and passion of the man who went on in the 80s to direct some very successful Punjabi films including Mehndi (1985) and Laawaris (1983).

Aliya, a dancer/actress often cast as a vamp, was one of three big-name female stars in the film.  Sadly, her film career was stopped in its tracks when she hooked up with the aforementioned, Altaf Hussain.  As happened to Noor Jehan, Begum Akhtar (ghazal singer) and many other women artists, once the man got his girl the curtains came down on her career.  The stronger women, including the two just mentioned,  eventually dumped the guy and got back into the show. But even though she divorced Hussain, Aliya was never able to regain the momentum she had had before getting married.

 Playback honors for the film went to Nahid Akhtar and the music was composed by the famous Tafo. 

Given the pet name Tafo (also spelled Tafu and Tafoo) by his father, Altaf Hussain Khan (no relation to the director of this film) is one of the subcontinent’s great tabla masters.  A student of Ustad Mian Qadir Bakhsh the master of the Punjab gharana who also instructed Allah Rakha, accompanist of Ravi Shankar and father of Zakir Hussain,Tafo’ Khan, has accompanied all the great names of Pakistani classical and popular music and is recognised among his peers as an unsurpassed virtuoso.

In the 1970s,  Altaf Hussain along with his brother Nisar (accordion and keyboards) and later, his sons, made a name for themselves in the movies. Billed as the Tafo Brothers or more simply just Tafo the collective made exciting, edgy and eclectic music for both Urdu and Punjabi films. When not getting topline credit for their work they were often playing in the studio orchestras of other musical directors and worked closely with M Ashraf in particular.

Yes Meri No Teri (My Yes, Your No) is a title I have given to today’s song, as the only reference to it I’ve been able to find on the internet gives it the generic title of Dance Music.  Regardless of its true name, the song itself is completely wacky and wonderful. Not only does Tafo sample madly and widely he lifts one of South Asian film’s most iconic musical moments lock, stock and barrel.

Several electric guitars pulse out a beat as woozy, gurgling synths rise and fall like waves on the ocean before a tinny Hammond B3 riff that could be an outtake from The Doors Light My Fire sessions sets up the entry of the vocals.

R.D. Burman, India’s fabled musical director in the 1970s and 80s, made musical history with his song Duniya Mein Logon Ko Dokha Kabhi Ho Jaata Hai (Apna Desh, 1972) in which, in addition to singing, he vocalised a series of rhythmic grunts, groans and heavy breaths which became forever embedded in the national psyche.

In Yes Meri No Teri the very same ‘scat’ is inserted into the opening sequence by way of introducing the immortal lines sung by all time good sport Nahid Akhtar:

dil de gitar waje tau tau tau/ ik ik taar waje tau tau tau

(The guitar of the heart goes tau tau tau/ each and every string goes tau tau tau)

There is no shame in art. Not only does Tafo lift Burman‘s innovation but in the latter part of the song Akhtar slurs her vocals in a way that brings to mind the slightly inebriated singing style that Asha Bhosle used in her mega hit Dam Maro Dam (Take a Toke) from the 1971 movie (also scored by BurmanHare Krishna Hare Ram.

All in all Yes Meri No Teri, like the film, is no classic. But it is a good example of what some very talented musicians were doing to modernize Pakistani film music.  Tafo went on to score hundreds of films and many of his/their songs are rightly held in very high regard.  We will share more in the future.

But for now, tau tau tau!

YesNo

 

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.

 

 

Ae Roshniyon Ke Shahar Bata

Chingari

Chingari (Spark) is an Urdu film released in 1964.

As a commercial venture, Chingari, whose star-studded cast included Shamim Ara, Ejaz, Santosh Kumar, Deeba and Talish, was an average picture.  It didn’t sink like a stone to the bottom of the Ravi River but it didn’t exactly soar over the top of the Hindu Kush either.

But as is frequently the case many box office failures contain lots to be admired and treasured, and such is Chingari.

Khawaja Khursheed Anwar was the one-man force behind this film.  In addition to producing and directing the feature, he wrote the screenplay and composed the wonderful music.

Born into an educated, upper class Punjabi family from Mianwali (western Punjab), Khursheed Anwar followed in his father’s footsteps by studying the Law.  At Punjab University he was friends with the great Urdu poet/writer Faiz Ahmed Faiz with whom he shared a passion for literature and music.  Interestingly, at  college Faiz was more interested in music and Anwar in poetry!

Because he came from a family of means, Anwar sahib was able to pursue his passions rather than follow a legal career and by the late 1930s was employed as a program producer by All India Radio in both Lahore and Delhi stations.

AR Kardar,  one the pioneering figures in Lahore’s early movie industry, approached Anwar for music for the film Kudmai (1940, which he was producing in Bombay. Several of the songs immediately caught on with the public and further work and success followed in films such as Parekh and Parwana.

1947 brought the Partition.  Anwar opted to return home to Lahore rather than stay on in what seemed at the time time to many Muslims, a hostile Hindu India.  The late 40s were hard years for cinema in Lahore but by 1949 Anwar was getting work and contributed music to Singhar.  From that point on he remained active in the film and music industries producing or composing music for such memorable films as Heer Ranjha (1970), Intezar (1959) and Ghoonghat (1962).

This film is not your run-of-the-mill romantic/family drama but something far more substantial. It is a dark study of Pakistan society in transition and what emerges is a grim picture indeed.

The film’s hero is a do-good, nosey, unctuous novelist named Nadeem (Ejaz) who is obsessed with the degradation of society. In order to get close up, all the better to dissect the flith and moral corruption, he masquerades as a taxi driver.  He uses this position to rescue fallen women (those who love dancing the twist and drinking booze) and return them home to their mothers and the safety of an honorable home.

The films’s message is that Pakistani society is being overrun by devilsh puppets in the form of loose lustful women obsessed with dancing drinking and fornicating.  The opening credit sequence pretty much sets the tone as the camera pans across movie posters, soft porn magazines and novels with titles like “Seductress” and “Lust”.

The men in the picture are amazingly weak specimens, either disabled or willing dupes of conniving women (with the exception of Nadeem, who is just a prat).  The women are intent on infecting society with their bad behaviour and even willing to murder in order to get their way. And in the end all the remains of the characters’ universe is deception, death and destruction.

I’ve not seen enough Anwar films to know whether this ultra-conservative take is genuinely held or simply the telling of a bleak tale, but on face value this is a very reactionary, fear-based work of art.

And yet, it is art. The acting is all of a high standard with Santosh Kumar as the blind musician Sajjad particularly well played.  The director’s love of art and culture is evident throughout in the central character’s chosen profession as well as that of the blind Sajjad,  but also in a hilarious gallery scene in which Nadeem and Shamsa (Deeba) discuss a piece of modern art: a double portrait of the classical singing duo Nazakhat  Ali and Salamat Ali.  

But of course, it is the music score that is most masterful. Every song is appropriate to the story line with sophisticated melodies and excellent deliveries by Salim Raza and Noor Jehan. Anwar switches between western jazz/surf music with repeated motifs whenever there is a scene or discussion of modern ‘culture’. Or malevolent intent! The music is never over powering or jarring but always adds an appropriate level of energy or tension.

The song for today itself is a masterpiece.

It opens with what must be some of the earliest ‘rock’ music picturised on South Asian film, a dance party in full swing at a dance school. A male voice commands the crowd of party goers to push back so as to make space for dancing. Then an acoustic guitar plucks out the melody line while handclaps keep time.  Strings swell up and give way to a lonely sax solo that creates an edgy, slightly tense atmosphere.

Nadeem exits the nightclub as the camera jumps from nightscape (blurry lights on city roads and flashing neon signs) to nightscape (a cinema house showing the Italian erotic picture ‘Women By Night’).

Mehdi Hassan, whose reserved style of singing is perfect for this scene, gives voice to Ejaz‘s anxiety.  “Oh tell me city of lights/why is this gathering of friends so filled with poison?” The be zaar hero stands in a torpor outside the nightclub where gyrating women are seen in silhouette. On the busy night streets other women parade without men and display the latest fashions on designer runways.

The song, sung in a jazzy minor key, creates a waking dream in which the wild sounds of the nightclub  breakthrough regularly to heighten the effect of the hero’s uncomfortable alienated vision.  Whereever he looks, in all four directions he sees nothing but drunkeness, promiscuity, poverty and pornography.

Ae roshiniyon ke shahar bata/be chaini hai be zaari hai

Badaani hai badkari hai/ tehzeeb nai chingari hai

Ek aag  nadi char tarf/ yeh kaisa macha hai/ shahar bata

[Oh city of lights tell me/ there is unease and emptiness

There is poverty there is bad deeds/ this new culture is a spark

a river of fire burns all around/how did this happen/ tell me, oh city]

Musically Anwar conjures a soundscape that intimately mirrors the noir nightscenes. He uses the guitar and sax to dramatic effect with both instruments contributing to the sense of angst. The guitar is plucked in a rhythm that hammers the brain and the sax seems to moans like a ghoul whenever it pushes its way in from the background.  In between bells and vibes keep everything bubbling and unstable.

South Asian film songs are often dismissed as a thousand ways to say I love you.  This song is strong evidence of the genre’s ability to express feelings far deeper and darker than mere romantic love. What Anwar and Mehdi Hassan have created is nothing short of a 5-minute dissection of  Pakistani culture captured at a mercurial moment of transformation.  It is a stunning but ultimately disturbing statement.

The final point of interest in this song is that we are treated to a glimpse of what Pakistan’s major cities looked like in the early 1960s.  A city where women roamed in sarees after dark and where cinemas showed cutting edge European movies and where the luxury hotels ruled the night with their glitzy foyers and nightclubs.

Akh Ladti Hai Jab Dildar Se

dil-nasheen

Dil Nasheen (Soulful) is an Urdu movie released in July 1975.

The film starred Nadeem and Shabnam, the undisputed dynamic duo of Urdu films whose antics and sexual frisson lit up screens throughout the  70s and 80s. Like Nadeem, who was the most decorated male actor in Pakistan, Shabnam (Dewdrop) garnered more Best Actress awards (13) than any of her female peers. Their combined presence in a film always gave the producer hope that he would recoup his investment.

Dil Nasheen was a big hit running for more than 30 weeks in the main cinema halls in Lahore and Karachi. The stars were both seasoned campaigners by this time. Shabnam, from a Hindu Bengali family, had begun her career in Dhaka, home to a small Bengali and (until 1971)Urdu language film hub.  It was in Dhaka that Shabnam first met her future co-star in the early 60s, as he tried to crack the industry as a playback singer.

The movie’s music was composed by M Ashraf, who after an initial successful phase of his career as partner to composer/arranger Manzoor, was by the early 70s getting a reputation as a brilliant ideas man on his own.  Ashraf loved playing around with western instruments, beats, phrases and melodies. Many of his compositions have found a second life in recent years as collectors and curators in the West have likened his fast-paced, ‘rockin and rollin’ compositions to those created by  R. D. Burman in India.

Akh Ladti Hai Jab Dildar Se (Eyes Fight With My Beloved When…)  opens with a perfect Ashraf sound confection. Within 30 seconds he has tipped his hat (probably unconsciously, but maybe not) to the rockabilly/early rock sound of Sun Studios. Jangling piano intro followed by a typical South Asian accordion solo followed by some rumbling Cash/Perkins-like guitar playing.

After one of the Moona Sisters–a 60s/70s girl/sibling act–sings the song’s first phrase our ears are tickled by some quick electric organ runs and a blazing guitar that would be at home in a Ventures show.   A few more lines–all pretty innoucous stuff about making eyes with your boyfriend–and still more instruments are brought in: trumpets, flutes and electronic keyboards.  In fact, it sounds as if a wedding band has wandered into the studio and each player is determined to outdo the other.

As the song progresses one gets the feeling that Ashraf doesn’t give a damn. Throw anything in there. Any beat, any sort of sound, any instrument (Harmonica? Sure. Accordion? Why not.) will do. It’s all a huge romper room of fun.  The singer and the lyrics are for the most part irritations, though near the end she does manage to throw in a few heavy sighs which mix nicely into the whirlpool of sound.

Finally, (and very sadly) the end is nigh and the trumpets and the electric guitar are in a dash to the finish line. Who can go faster and have the final say?  Of course, it is the guitar, Ashraf’s favorite child, that wins!

This is a blast!

Dil Nasheen

Nain Kissi Se Milaye

qayamat

Qayamat (Judgement Day) is an Urdu movie released in 1978.

The film appears to have been a B-grade picture with no superstars. The leading lady Najma was referred to as a ‘known’, as opposed to ‘well-known’ artiste in her obituary. Her sister, on the other hand was Asha Posley, one of Pakistan’s most famous female actors in the years immediately following the 1947 Partition of India. Ghulam Mohiuddin, the male star had a better run in his career which spanned 400+  films from which he garnered a number of Nigar Awards (Pakistani Academy Awards).

The music of Qayamat  was composed by Khalil Ahmed, a veteran of the industry but again, nowhere as influential, prolific or creative as peers such as M Ashraf, Sohail Rana or Nisar Bazmi. Ahmed was born in Agra, India but migrated with his family to Pakistan in the wake of the 1947 upheavals surrounding Independence and the division of India into three bits.

By the early 1970s, Ahmed was making a name for himself in the new medium of television where he was the musical mastermind behind several shows, the most famous being Sangat which began its run in 1972. Those who worked with him recall someone who worked passionately but also very quickly. He’d sketch out a melody line and then get a Spanish guitar or harmonium player to fill it out. Soon percussion was included and a lovely melodious folk or pop tune emerged.

His favorite singer, and one for whom he often composed, was the great Ahmed Rushdi who sang for him in the 1965 blockbuster, Kaneez.  Though TV appears to have been his main area of activity he didn’t abandon film work altogether as today’s selection indicates.

Nain Kissi Se Milaye (Make Eyes at Someone) is a perfect example of Ahmed‘s adept pop style. This is a 3.5 minute, fast moving pop song with a wonderful hiccup-like beat which singer Nighat Akbar vocalises to great effect.  Synths were all the rage in Lahore at this time. They appear to have done the work of many dozens of instruments and eventually played a critical role in the disempowerment of thousands of lifetime musicians who depended on the film studios for their bread and butter.

In this song, a warm liquid electronic pulse complements a steady, snappy,  mid-pace drum beat that delivers a tightly wrapped little musical lolly. The tune is catchy, the singing is infectious and the only real complaint is that the fun is over just as we are hitting the dancefloor.

Qayamat

Kya Haseen Jism Hai

ek-gunah-aur-sahi

Ik Gunah aur Sahi (One Sin More) is an Urdu film released in 1975. It ran for 52 consecutive weeks in Karachi’s cinema halls achieving Golden Jubilee status.

The super hit film was  based on the controversial short story Mummy by Sa’adat Hasan Manto. Manto is considered one of the Urdu language’s best writers and is appreciated(for his concise prose and deprecated for his unabashed discussion of topics such as sexuality, which his peers found distasteful.

Mummy is a portrait of one Stella Jackson, an Anglo-Indian woman in Poona (Pune) who is painted in the shades of a madam/procuress for those connected with the film industry.  The story begins by attaching all the stereotypes of ‘loose’ Christian, Anglo-Indian (Eurasian) women to Stella: heavily made up to the point of ugliness, drinker, prostitute.  By the end of the story, however, Manto is less moralistic about Mummy and leaves the reader feeling a great deal of empathy and compassion for his character.

I’m really looking forward to watching this film to see how director Hassan Tariq (who also wrote the screenplay) handles the drama.  The film starred beauty queen/dancer Rani (Tariq’s ex-wife) and dashing leading man Mohammad Ali.  

The album cover of the soundtrack (above) is revealing on a couple of counts. First, the image of a modern young lady giving you a ‘come hither’ look next to a bottle of whiskey pretty much sums the storyline for the casual observer. The whiskey, Vat 69, was apparently the preferred poison of villains and vamps on both sides of the border. Watch any film made in Lahore or Mumbai from this era (60s-80s) and you’ll see Vat 69 in the clutches of some shady character or another.

The other interesting thing about this cover is the prominence given to the music director,  Nisar Bazmi.  Not every music director would be afforded such visibility and only those whose name would in its own right draw customers into the cinema or shop.  Bazmi, without a doubt was one of the few.

Originally from Maharashtra, Bazmi began his career in Bombay and until he left for Pakistan, the mentor to one of the greatest musical duos of Indian film, Laxmikant Pyarelal.  In Pakistan, he composed music for dozens of films in a wide range of styles from folk and classical to pop and rock.

Today’s song Kya Haseen Jism Hai (What a Beautiful Body You Have) is an ‘item number’ but without the usual disco/dance beats.  Rather Mehnaz delivers the mid-tempo number with huge pathos and sadness.  This the song of a woman who knows exactly what sort of world she is living in. A world of fleeting desires and pleasures where bodies are sold and traded for cash and cheap, hollow laughs. Through unrelentingly depressing lyrics and Mehnaz’s moody singing, the audience is treated to a cold critique of a certain class of cashed up Pakistanis who lived lives far removed from those of most of the audience.

The music is understated, which as I said, is not what one would expect from a vamp’s nightclub solo .  Bazmi gets some excellent, soulful electric guitar licks out of his band of musicians and expertly increases the emotional tension by employing a small orchestra of strings but overall the music is composed in such a way as to give Mehnaz the space to do her moody interpretation of a very sad business.

VAT 69

All in all, top shelf stuff!