I am Black Beauty

 

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Akbar Amar Anthony (Akbar Amar Anthony) is a Punjabi movie released in 1978. There is no information on how the public responded to it so we can safely assume it was a flop.

There is a long established tradition on the subcontinent to ‘borrow’ ideas, film titles, story lines, melodies, singing styles and singers from wherever they may be found. You can give this practice different names–cross fertilization; inspiration; plagarism; theft–but it is unlikely to stop. We may like to think that there are Hindi movies (India) and Urdu/Punjabi movies (Pakistan). Two distinct industries separated by that nasty political and oft-contested border.

But the reality is there is a South Asian style of movie making that happens to be produced in different languages and in different cities (Bombay, Calcutta, Lahore, Chennai). And the flow of ideas and people between these places goes back to the very beginning of cinema on the subcontinent. Punjabis went from Lahore to Calcutta and even America to learn the ropes. Some of Indian cinemas all time greats took their first steps in the studios in Lahore. Without talent that originated in what is now Pakistan, Hindi cinema would be shadow of what it is today. And Pakistani directors and producers have always looked to Bombay for the next big idea.

So when Indian audiences thrilled and laughed their way through the mega blockbuster Amar Akbar Anthony and made it the biggest grossing movie of 1977, prolific Pakistani director Haider Chowdhury saw the proverbial goose and golden egg. Tweak the title ever so slightly, bring in a big name star and lo ji, Golden Jubilee pukka garanti!

Alas, by the late 70s there was a new technology that had the middle classes all agog. The VHS was just beginning to disrupt the movie business in the same way the humble little cassette had the music industry about the same time. Indian movies, though officially banned in Pakistan, were available on pirated video tape from a mushrooming cottage industry of corner video shops.  Families were settling down night after night to watch Bombay’s latest offerings in the comfort of their own living rooms rather than make the trek to the neighborhood cinema.  By the time Akbar Amar Anthony was released in September 1978 most of the target audience had seen the original several times over.

And lets be honest, the Indian version starring Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Helen, Shabana Azmi and Pran was a tremendously fun film.  Clever story, good acting by a trio at the top of their game, good jokes, fantastic music and some hot dancing.  By comparison the local copy was as attractive as a cold plate of  congealed curry, hardly worth the two and a half hours and Rs 5 the poor working man had to part with for the pleasure.

The film begins interestingly enough. Three young brothers are separated at the time of Partition when mobs attack their loving home where they are celebrating a birthday party. One brother, Amar (Iqbal Hassan) is adopted by a Sikh family who are apparently on their way to India. Anthony (Mustafa Qureishi) is protected by a Christian priest who gives up his own son to placate the angry mob. Akbar (Asif Khan) remains with  his mother and blind sister.

Fast forward 30 years. Asif is struggling to get a job and is informed he has blood cancer. Amar is a village lout who spends his time beating up all comers (supposedly in a village right across the border). Anthony, hiding behind the guise of a priest, is a villainous gangster.

In a fit of rage Anthony kills his father and disposes of his body in one of Lahore’s canals. He is watched by Akbar who confronts him but Anthony persuades him to take the blame for the murder in exchange for Rs 100,000 which will be enough to get his sister’s eyes repaired. Anthony is also blackmailing Amar’s father and ends up killing him which brings the raging son across the border to confront the evil Christian.

To make a tedious story short the three men take turns trying to frame or kill each other until at last, bloodied and wounded they recall their family ties and collapse in front of their mother and sister as the call to prayer signals God is happy with the outcome.

The production is typical B-grade Punjabi which means cheap, hilariously unbelievable and violent. Though Iqbal Hassan is unable to produce any emotion or expression beyond ‘angry shouting man’ the rest of the cast try their best to make their characters slightly nuanced. Mustafa Qureishi as Anthony is the most accomplished thespian of the lot but his ridiculous wig and jeans make him appear like mutton dressed up as lamb (as the Aussies say).

Wajahat Attre also manages to produce several songs which serve as oases in an otherwise vast desert. Given the nature of the film–action, dishoom, biff and boff–the songs are mostly upbeat dance items in the rural Punjabi style.  In addition to the songs themselves Attre proves he’s got his finger on pulse with incidental music as well. As the action builds or a chase is on the soundtrack comes alive with some amazing organ playing that would make people like Jimmy Smith smile.

The scene is set by Anthony telling his henchmen that he wants some really special entertainment as he is inviting a foreign guest over for drinks. The guy on his left says ‘We’ve got it sorted boss. We have Black and White Beauty, tonight.”

Out bounce two girls in slacks one of whom is darkened with blackface. As the music begins, they announce:

I am black beauty/Love me

I am white beauty/ See me

A stonefaced hippy strums his Stratocaster as the girls sway and shake their ample bodies teasingly in front of Anthony and his Vat 69 drinking buddy.  What starts as pretty standard ‘item number’ soon turns into something a bit more edgy.  After a couple of verses the camera zooms in on the girls’ lips as they pout and make kissing sounds. The hippy twangs his strings.  This is all just tantalising foreplay it turns out. Several verses later the camera zooms in again this time to catch the girls making the same sounds but this time their faces and lips virtually locked in on each other.

Though the sex act and nudity are taboo in Pakistani films, dance scenes are never shy about suggesting physical lust and love. But this blatant, completely unexpected nod to lesbian sex leaves the audience, if not Anthony, completely gobsmacked.

I am Black Beauty is further evidence that you never quite know what you’re going to get in a second rate Punjabi movie.

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Jiya More Lage Na

Bhool

Bhool (Forgetfulness) is an Urdu film released in November 1974.  A major success at the box office, Bhool ran for 52 weeks straight in Pakistan’s major center, Karachi, achieving coveted Golden Jubilee status.

1974 was just about the shining peak of the Urdu film industry. The mood in the country after a devastating decade of military rule, civil war and loss of half of the country’s territory to the new state of Bangladesh, was finally upbeat. A populist and very popular self acclaimed Islamic Socialist leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was the charismatic international face of Pakistan.   Public life was relaxed and tolerant. Rock bands like The Moonglows and Willie Po and the Boys had the young folks dancing, while Turkish belly dancers swayed and shimmied for the businessmen in the bars of Karachi’s finer establishments.

The movie industry was exploding as well. It was that golden time when talent and stars abounded. The early stars like Santosh Kumar, Sahiba Khanum, Neelo, Noor Jehan, Mohammad Ali and Talish were the revered elders and a whole slew of new comers such as Waheed Murad, Shahid, Shabnam and  later, Babra Sharif and Ghulam Mohiuddin brought a sparkling, relaxed and often irreverent attitude that perfectly matched the times to the screen.

Nadeem who headlined in Bhool along side his most prolific screen paramour,  Shabnam, was also pretty busy in 1974. He starred in 13 other films that year two of which were released on Christmas Day and 9 of which ran for at least 25 weeks (Silver Jubilee)!  He was the very definition of ‘hot’.

Shabnam, a Bengali beauty was married to music director Robin Ghosh, also from what was once known as East Pakistan. Nadeem had been part of their circle in Dhaka in the early 60s and it was there that he tried to get his initial break into the movies…as a playback singer. It was not to be. The young boy with the doe-y eyes and playful smile was made to be in front of the camera. The dream of being the next Mohammad Rafi was quietly abandoned.

In addition to a glittering cast of stars that included Babra Sharif and Afzal Ahmad (see previous post on International Gorillay) some very big names were involved off screen. Shamim Ara, starlet of the 50s and early 60s turned director was Bhool’s producer and S. Suleman handled the direction.  A respected talent Suleman’s  Gulfam (1961) is regarded  as one of the best Pakistani pictures of all time.  Throughout a long career, he developed a canny talent for making hit pictures that often starred his brother Darpan, focused on progressive social themes and portrayed powerful women characters.

Bhool falls into the category of ‘social drama’ that defined classic Urdu films. It is also evidence that Nadeem had not yet entirely reconciled himself to his decision to leave singing behind.  In at least 4 of the films 7 songs including the jazzed up thumri  Jiya More Lage Na (I Don’t Feel Like Living) which I share today, Nadeem is the lead vocalist.

The pace of this song is quick and the mood jovial.  A swell of strings provides the introduction and sets the stage for some Latin rhythms that quickly give way to a trumpet trio and a descending electric guitar run that signals  ‘spy master-cum-playboy’ approaching.

Robin Ghosh is fast turning into my favorite music director. Everything he does has class, be it a slow burning lover’s lament or a rocking party song like this. The way he is able to create excitement by combining modern pop sounds (slashing guitar, Hammond organ squelches), international flavours (Mexicali trumpets) and strings (silky then plucky) with a raucous call and response chorus is pure magic.  There is not a dull or lazy bar in this piece.  Indeed, the only downer is Nadeem himself. His voice wobbles like he can’t quite find the key.  Almost out of tune. And even when he hits his stride his voice comes out as flat and stiff as a cold chapati.

Still the song stands as a wonderful contribution and example of the genius of Robin Ghosh.

Dhamal Salle Allah

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International Gorillay (International Guerrillas) is a Punjabi movie released in 1990. One of Pakistani cinema’s  great cult pictures it was a huge hit with local audiences but got the kibosh from British authorities who temporarily banned it. Without a doubt, the movie ranks as one of the most bizarre entertainments in world cinema. Ever.

The film takes its inspiration from the rage that greeted the release of Salman Rushdie‘s novel The Satanic Verses across the Muslim world. In Islamabad (where I lived at the time) a public demonstration was fired upon by the police resulting in a number of deaths and the anger of the people reaching boiling point.

An international cabal of Hindus and Jews led by Salman Rushdie (Afzal Ahmad) is determined to wipe Islam off the face of the planet. Every Muslim must be murdered according to Rushdie’s right hand man Commander Batu Batu (Humayun Qureshi) who along with siblings Commander Jason aka JC (Jahanzeb) and Dolly (Babra Sharif) form the evil novelist’s inner security council.

Ex-cops Mustafa (Mustafa Qureishi) and Shagutta (Neeli) join up with Mustafa’s unemployed goonda brothers Javed (Javed Shiekh) and Ghulam (Ghulam Mohiudeen) after the Islamabad shooting and jet off to Rushdie’s private island (that looks suspiciously like Manila) to sever the writer’s head from his body. For the next two hours and 45 minutes the international guerrillas do battle with Rushdie’s forces and engage in a frenetic series of gun battles, bomb explosions, disguises (at one point the three pot bellied heroes fool Batu Batu and his henchmen by crashing a dance party dressed up as a trio of Batmen), heroic escapes, fist fights, rocket launchers, severed heads, spurting blood, hangings, multiple narrow escapes and high speed chases in cars, motorbikes and speed boats.

The Pakistani homeys never speak except to scream down the wrath of Allah on Rushdie and other kafirs. But eventually the resourceful Salman,  who personally beheads several assassins and forces one of his prisoners to listen to an audio book of The Satanic Verses appears to completely out manoeuvre them. But a desperate prayer leads to the conversion of Dolly and Jason who turn their guns on Rushdie.  The heavens open, lightning breaks the chains of the guerrillas and after slaughtering every one of Rushdie’s soldiers they have the little Satan in their grasp.  But before they can behead him three drones in the form of the Holy Quran float down from heaven and attack Rushdie with lasers until he explodes in a ball of fire.

The End!

As can be imagined music takes  a distant second place to the action this time.  The songs, such as they are, are nothing more than opportunities to demonstrate the moral depravity of Rushdie and enemies of Islam. Not surprisingly, M Ashraf  the most raucous of Pakistani music directors, gets the gig to compose the music. Assisted by his son Arshad  he comes up with one of the worst set of songs ever put to film. In all but one song Neeli or Babra jerk, swivel and moan to trashy unmelodic disco beats while heavily moustachioed men, horny and drunk, oggle them lecherously.

It is only in the final musical interlude in which the guerrillas appear to be conclusively trapped by Rushdie and Batu Batu that the mood switches.  Chained to crosses the defenders of Islam begin singing a naat in praise of Allah, the Prophet (PBUH) and the truth of Islam.

 

For the first time the music speaks. The singing is in tune, the instrumentation is majestic and appropriate to the occasion (which sees the sky filled with Arabic injunctions to praise God and Mohammad PBUH). In what to this point has been a ridiculous, bloody farce of a film, the song manages to introduce a modicum of respect for its purported subject, Islam.

But not for long.

Dolly is overcome by the power of the singing and converts to Islam. She can’t help but jiggle and prance with joy as Ashraf injects that most famous dhamal beat of all, Dam a Dam Mast Qalandar into the proceedings. The solemnity and dignity of the moment is shattered as Dolly sings and the four  mujahideen bang and shake their heads in the weirdest sort of cross dance since Monty Python‘s Life of Brian crucifixion scene.

International Gorillay rocks!

 

Raat Bhar Neend Nahi Aati

ajnabi

Ajnabi (Stranger) is an Urdu film released in November 1975. Though it ran for 20 weeks it was a commercial stinker and thus, receives the ugly sobriquet, ‘flop’.

1975 delivered a bumper crop of films. A total of 112 were released that year and Pakistan was riding high.  The disastrous civil war which had seen the creation of Bangladesh (and the loss of 50% or more of the audience for Urdu films) was history. Zulfikar Bhutto, the charismatic Prime Minister was confident and supreme in his political power. The country was positioning itself as the leader of the Muslim bloc of countries. Just a year earlier Bhutto had hosted the 2nd Islamic Summit in Lahore.  The casinos and cabarets in Karachi’s hotels were frequented by the rich citizens/subjects of more conservative Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia. Alcohol flowed openly. Religious parties occupied the pesky margins of national life. The Army, chastened after its humiliating defeat in 1971, was licking its wounds back in the barracks.

So shining was this golden age.

Though Ajnabi had a gaggle of stars (Mohammad Ali, Deeba and new arrival, Babra Sharif) it was unable to excite. Director Ali Sufiyan ‘Afaqi‘ was in essence a writer and journalist with an impressive CV in newspapers, magazines and as a screen writer. Throughout his long career (he passed away in 2015) he was associated with a number of major Pakistani films, the most famous of which is probably Kaneez (Slave Girl, 1965) which he both produced and wrote.  But Ajnabi was considered worthy enough, along with two other Afaqi films, Aas and Saiqa,  to be selected to represent Pakistan in the illustrious Film Festival of Asia and Africa held in Tashkent, USSR (Uzbekistan) in 1976 (?).

The song Raat Bhar Neend Nahi Aati (I Can’t Sleep All Night) is the work of the music director Nisar Bazmi and playback singer Nayyara Noor. It’s nothing to get overly excited about but does possess a nice lilt.  The entire 3 and half minutes is wrapped in swirling silvery strings  infused with flutes that sound like birds chirping in a morning tree. Its a dreamy sort of song.  One of restless anxious love,

Raat bhar neend nahi ati hain

Chandni dil ko tard pati hain

Kya yeh hua/ kyon yeh hua

Bata deejeeye

Zara meri nafs dekh kar dawa deejeeye

[I can’t sleep the night through

the moonlight makes my heart quiver

what is happening/ why is this happening?

oh tell me please!

Check my pulse and give me some medicine]

Nayyara Noor was born into a Punjabi merchant family in Assam, on the far eastern flank of India in 1950. At the age of 7 or 8 her family, sans her father who stayed behind to settle the family business, moved to Lahore.  In the early 70s, just a few years before Ajnabi was released, Nayyara put the industry on notice by winning a Nigar Award for best singer in her very first movie Gharana (1973).  What followed was a sparkling career as a playback artist and respected ghazal singer. Her interpretations of Ghalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry are particularly special.

In Raat Bhar she gives a perfectly toned performance. Her singing and aspiration is light and coquettish. She captures the starry eyed rapture of the young love-struck girl to a T. As she sighs into the line about having her pulse checked we are instantly transported into the bedroom of a teenager gazing at the picture of her absent lover.

This is pure pop and as such is quite disposable. But like all pop music it has enough of that essential dam to keep you humming the melody for  days on end.

Well done I say. Well done.

 

 

Main Hun Dream Girl

 

Dream Girl

Dream Girl is an Urdu film released on July 4, 1986. It appears to have been a complete flop.

 

The film is worthy of attention for a couple of reasons. It is the product of the vivid and crazy imagination of director Saeed Ali Khan, who achieved in certain circles a cult status, not unlike that accorded to John Waters for several of his pictures, most notably the delightfully titled Haseena Atom Bomb (The Beauty Atom Bomb. (1990)).

 

Dream Girl is an example of the artist in development. While there is definitely vim and vigour aplenty in this film of a spoiled rich bitch cum karate chopping feminist crusader who has a change of heart and in the end uses her dance moves to bring down the heartless villain, Khan has clearly not been able to weave his myriad ideas together into a seamless tapestry. Characters crash into the story unannounced with backstories fully developed while the timeline jumps from present to the past without any visible adjustment in the characters’ garb or physical appearance. Atom Bomb was still 3 or 4 years away.

 

The second point of note in Dream Girl is that it is really a Pashto film. Though the dialogue is entirely in Urdu, the actors are all Pashtuns, including the giant of Frontier filmdom, Badar Munir. The lines are delivered fluently enough but are laced with the charming twang of the borderlands. Given that Pathans are the favorite butts of Pakistani jokes one wonders at Saeed Khan’s motivation?

 

But the biggest reason this spectacular clunker is worth a glance is for a couple of brilliant song and dance sequences, the best of which is Main Hun Dream Girl.

Main Hun Dream Girl (I am Dream Girl) is the perfect introduction to what distinguishes Pashto movies from all others: peppy big bodied girls in tight outfits generating a general ruckus.

 

Being the opening and the title track to the movie this song had to be something special. Run of the mill just wouldn’t do. And so it is. Bubbling with the fuzzy, slightly muddy electronic sound that made 80s pop music so forgettable we are treated to a Pakhtun-imagined Midsummer’s Night Dream. Dream Girl (Nadia Hassan) plays Queen Hippolyta decked out in a billowing wedding gown as troops of T-shirt and jeans-clad Amazons (hooris, perhaps) dance and frolic in the gardens! Sadly, the groom is nowhere to be seen. But Dream Girl’s karate teacher decked out in blue robes does pop up here and there, calling attention to herself by throwing her hands in the air for no apparent reason and to no affect.

Pashto movies are infamous for their provocative mujras and ‘come hither’ poses. Dream Girl does not really get into that scene but a repeating series of slinky snapshots of Dream Girl, which appear to have been manually cut and pasted, do hint at the sex that lies just below the surface. As do the many phallic shaped balloons.

 

If there are two words that describe this amazing hodge-podge of uninspired choreography (most of the moves imitate marching troops), slow motion gymnastics and general bedlam they are gay abandon. Everyone is having fun. There are no standards to uphold and no prizes to be won. Kemal Ahmad has come up with a catchy disco sound and a nameless singer croons out the lyrics as the Amazons romp it home and balloons waft in the breeze. There is nothing serious about this and that’s why it and Pashto movies, even when they are in Urdu, are so much fun.

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