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.

 

 

Raqs Zanjeer Pehen Kar Bhi Kiya Jata Hai

zerqa

Zarqa (Zarqa) is an Urdu movie released in October 1969.

In the 1960s Pakistan’s film makers often found inspiration in the national struggle of the Palestinian people and audiences generally responded well to such films. Shaheed, which included many of the same stars as Zarqa was a massive box office draw in 1962 and it seems to have inspired the making of the latter.

Zarqa tells the story of an Arab woman who against great odds is able to become a fighter within the Palestinian liberation movement and through daring, courage and self-sacrifice wreaks massive destruction on the Israeli occupying military. Leila Khaled, a Palestinian female armed fighter who hijacked a TWA plane in 1969, is often cited as the role model for Zarqa, though this seems unlikely given the timing of the hijacking and the production of the film.

The film is violent, ideological, but in places quite moving. Talish, a fine character actor, plays Major David, a sadistic Israeli officer charged with capturing the Palestinian underground leader Shabaan Lutfi (Allaudin). Ejaz, the biggest male star of the 60s, is given a relatively minor role as a ukulele strumming Fatah fighter torn between love of his woman, Zarqa, and his motherland. But Neelo in the title role is the true star of the film.

And indeed, though the film was massively popular, running for over 100 weeks and thereby earning the status of Pakistan’s first Diamond Jubilee film, the dramatic, actual life backstory is far more interesting than what turns out to be a predictable politically correct (anti-Imperialist, anti-Israeli, pro-Palestine) potboiler.

The film’s director, Riaz Shahid, was a prominent member of the leftist clique of Pakistani artists and intellectuals that hovered around poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Shahid began his career as a journalist, working on Faiz’s weekly Lail-o-Nihar but moved to screen writing by the late 1950s. In 1964 his collaboration with Communist poet Habib Jalib on the film Khamosh Raho, a hard-hitting story about the kidnapping of rural women for the sexual pleasure of elite Pakistani society, announced his arrival as a serious filmmaker.

Jalib and Shahid hit it off and developed a partnership over several years and titles including Zarqa. Jalib’s populist, simple but powerful anti-authoritarian poems had gained him many stints behind bars as well as deep respect among peers and the public. Indeed, many of the film songs by which he is remembered were popular first as political poems and mushaira (poetry reading) stoppers.

Neelo, the cute dancer-actor got her start in cinema with a bit part in the Hollywood mega production Bhowani Junction, filmed in Lahore in 1954. Born into a Christian family and christened Cynthia Alexander Fernandes, Neelo caught audiences attention with her role in Saat Lakh (1956). From that point on she became one of Pakistan’s most ‘bankable’ headliners and racked up a number of major hits as well as three Nigar Awards including Best Actress for Zarqa.

12

In 1965 the Shah of Iran made a state visit to Pakistan and was hosted by the Nawab of Kalabagh the then Governor General. Neelo, who was at the height of her popularity was ‘instructed’ to appear before the Shah to dance.   She refused. An agitated Nawab dispatched the police to seize her and bring her forcibly to Governor’s House. But no sooner did she take to the floor then she collapsed. Some say she fainted from the shame her dancing would bring upon her paramour Riaz Shahid. Others suggest she tried to commit suicide. In any case, Neelo was rushed to the hospital and the incident became an instant cause célèbre.

Jalib, ever sensitive to the abuse of power by the country’s leaders, penned a poem in the actress’ honour in which the opening lines trumpeted

Too ke nawaqif-i-aadab-i-shahenshahi hai abhi

(You are unaware of the tenets of Imperialism!)

     Raqs zanjeer pehen kar bhee kiya jata hai!”

(You can also dance in chains!)

 

Aaj qatil ki yeh marzi hai ki sirkash ladki

(Today the ruler wishes of you, you stubborn girl)

Sir-e-qatil tujhay koroon se nachaya jay

(That you be made to dance by whipping)

Maut ka raqs zamanay ko dikhaya jay

(This deadly dance is for the world to see)

Is tarahan zulm ko nazarana diya jata hai

(This is a spectacle of the power of darkness)

Raqs zanjeer pahin kar bhee kiya jata hai

(For dances can also be performed wearing chains)

 

When it came time to cast Zarqa, Shahid chose Neelo who was by now his wife. Jalib’s poem was included almost word for word with only ‘Imperialsm’ being substituted by ‘slavery’ in the opening line.

“Too ke nawaqif-i-aadab-i-ghulami hai abhi

(You are unaware of the tenets of slavery!

     Raqs zanjeer pehen kar bhee kiya jata hai!”

(You can also dance in chains!)

 

So sings Mehdi Hassan as a fettered Zarqa moves and groans in pain with each stab of Major David’s cigarette against her exposed skin. The scene is gruesome but effective and forms the emotional and dramatic centerpiece of the film.

The film’s music was composed by Rashid and Wajahat Attre, a father and son team with a strong predilection for raga based music. Originally from Pune father Rashid passed away during the film’s production leaving Wajahat to complete the score, a task he didn’t feel completely up to. The film’s other songs, though not bad, suffer when stacked up against the gut wrenching spectacle of Raqs Zanjeer Pehen Kar Bhi Kiya Jata Hai, surely one of the great instances of art imitating life in South Asian film.

Raqs

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.

Hamare Paas Aao

first-time-juli

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

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

Jee Rahe Hain Hum Tanha

sharmiliee

Sharmilee (Shy) is an Urdu movie released in 1978.

The Indian film of the same name was a massive hit in the early 1970s. Huge, larger-than-life hand painted hoardings of Rakhee, the film’s main star,  lined the rainy streets of my hometown for months.  Though I never saw the film those posters remain a memory that is lodged forever in my mind.

The Pakistani version of the film starred two of the biggest names in the industry, Nadeem and Mumtaz and did not do too shabbily at the box office, itself.  It ran for 26 straight weeks thereby just qualifying for Golden Jubilee status.  Nadeem, born in southern India (Vijaywada) was THE male lead throughout the 1970s and 80s, mirroring in many ways the career of Amitabh Bachchan across the border in India.  Whereas the Big B exemplified  “The Angry Young Man”Nadeem brought a softer, less fiery but no less charismatic presence to the movies.  He is Pakistan’s most awarded male lead with 19 Nigar Awards for Best Actor.

The score for this film was developed by Karim Shahabuddin a musical director about which I’ve found almost nothing other than he was indeed a real person. It appears he was from the Eastern part of Pakistan, which in 1971 became the independent country, Bangladesh.

The singer of today’s selection, Jee Rahe Hain Hum Tunha (I am Living a Lonely Life) is another big name, A Nayyar. Born near Sahiwal (Punjab) into a Christian family, Arthur (he never used his Christian name as an artist) came onto the scene in the early 1970s. This was an era when the likes of Ahmed Rushdi, who seemed to get all the upbeat songs and Mehdi Hassan, the ghazal master who got the nod for most ‘sad’  songs dominated the playback scene. It seemed as if the ceiling was made not of mere glass but brick and mortar.

But Nayyar had a voice that reminded the listening public of Kishore Kumar, the Indian sensation, and after some work in television he was given his chance in movies with Bahisht (1974).  The impact was immediate.  Music directors and producers pegged him for more and more films, so much so that by the late 1970s his voice was heard almost as frequently as Rushdi’s.

Jee Rahe Hain Hum Tunha was performed first on a television show called Naghma, in which Nayyar sat on center stage surrounded by empty chairs. The atmospherics were deeply emotional and the song was lifted lock-stock-and-barrel for Sharmilee.

It is a lovely, moody song.  Shahabuddin composed a melody that sounds as if it is raga based (don’t ask me which one!) and creates a mood of solitude that allows the listener to focus fully on the lyrics and singing. Nayyar demonstrates the influence of Kishore sahib by smoothly letting several falsetto yodels slide throughout the piece, which along with a female chorus, adds emotional depth to the arrangement.  For his part the composer inserts brief  violin, bansuri and sitar solos that really burnish the overall composition.

A sad song that you’ll listen to a lot.

Tunha

Akhiyan Laryan Te Pyar Hoya

lahori-badshah

Lahori Badshah (Master of Lahore) is a Punjabi film released in July 1977.  It is considered a ‘superhit’ and achieved Platinum status, running for more than 75 consecutive weeks in cinemas in Lahore.

It would be two years yet before the release of Maula Jat the biggest grossing and probably best known film Pakistan has ever produced.  But the genre of rural-based, blood-drenched feudal soap operas, which Maula Jat epitomised was already a staple of Punjabi cinema. Though there are vast differences between American ‘westerns’ and this sort of Punjabi film, in some ways it is easier to get a grip on them if they are approached as a sort of South Asian cowboy movie.

The hero is a rugged and rough man driven to violence not by nature but by necessity, usually to right some deep moral transgression. A family’s honour has been besmirched by another clan. Outsiders are threatening a cultural code. A woman has been raped. Interestingly, religion, while often invoked as part of the moral universe is far less of a motivator for the hero’s action than a desire to protect Punjabi ‘culture’.  Defining exactly what that culture IS is another matter but it appears (to me) to be a melange of family honour, rural social order, land and masculinity.

Sultan Rahi, was, until his murder in 1996, the icon of Punjabi pictures. He’s the one pictured in the photo above. He starred in Maula Jat and countless other similar pictures in which he developed a very loud, brash mode of delivering his lines.  He did not hesitate to swing his gandasa (ax) to defend the ‘culture’ and inevitably would end up dripping in blood by the time the final credits rolled.

Noor Jehan, aka Madam or Malika Taranum (Queen of Melody), who sings today’s song is without dispute the single most important and influential figure in Pakistani cinema history.  She grew  up in an artistic environment, singing and acting in traveling shows with her sister.  After some musical training in Calcutta she made the move in the 1940s to Bombay and became an instant celluloid sweetheart. She was gorgeous, a good actor and was blessed with the most beautiful, evocative voice.  Indeed, she is regarded by all and sundry, even her peers in India as well as Pakistan, as the greatest female playback singer of all time.

She chose the more professionally challenging route of opting for Pakistan in 1947. Had she stayed on in India her fame and fortune would have been incalculable. But as a loyal Punjabi and a firm believer in the idea of a separate state for India’s Muslims, she ‘returned’ to an industry that was nearly out for the count.  But her spirit energised others and she was able to play a major role in reviving the Lahore movie making business. Though she was forced to quit acting–pressures from her husband–she made a mark as Pakistan’s first female film director and of course, graced hundreds of soundtracks with her versatile and powerful singing.

I have always found that Noor Jehan was in her element when sang in Punjabi rather than Urdu. In Punjabi she is absolutely one with the music, not just the rhythms and melodies but the lyrics as well. She inhabits her Punjabi songs in a way she doesn’t with Urdu. And while she was able to sing in any number of moods and styles the way she let loose in Punjabi feudal movies is spectacular.

Akhiyan Laryan Te Pyar Hoya is a right rocker. Driven by Punjabi beats, swelling strings and Madam’s equally heaving breast, the heavy breathing and flirtatious moans make this number a true piece of gold.  And when she’s not emoting her love she lets her voice burst forth without let in a typical Punjabi /rural style.  Like the flare of a trumpet there is a certain blast of sound that  hurtles forth out of her mouth which commands as much attention as a bloody gandasa. You know she means business!

Badshah

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!

Yeh Mausam Hota Hai

miss-hongkong

Miss Hong Kong is an Urdu movie released in 1979.

The first in a series of ‘Miss’ films (Bangkok, Singapore, Istanbul, Colombo) this film starred Babra Sharif (if you don’t know by know, the biggest female star of the late 70s and 80s) in the title role. You can see her doing a jig with a couple of sailors on the album cover above.

While the films were not necessarily huge hits the series represent an important development in Pakistani cinema: the feminist film. Now let me immediately qualify that statement by confessing I do not mean this claim to stand up to academic rigour. I have not seen this film and  have no real idea what messages it does or does not send regarding women.

The reason I use the word feminist is more straightforward. The Miss series, as well as a whole raft of other films with titles such as Lady Commando and Lady Smuggler, are the work of Pakistan’s first successful female director, Shamim Ara.

Shamim Ara was not the first woman to direct a major commercial picture in Pakistan. This honour goes to Noor Jehan who directed herself in the Punjabi classic Chan Way  in 1951.  But it was a one-off job for Ms Jehan. It is widely understood that she was ably assisted by her husband, who agreed to go uncredited.

Ara, however, was well and truly in charge behind the camera in each of these films. Given the national and social context of Pakistan this is nothing to be sniffed at.  In an industry in which women were cast almost always as foils, victims, vamps and long suffering mothers to have them in leading roles, and in the case of Lady Smuggler and Lady Commando, in roles that directly confronted and challenged the notions of ‘good woman’, ‘villain’ and the male monopoly of power, money and violence, Ara’s work is almost revolutionary.

And remember, these pictures were not made in the ‘good old liberal days of Ayub Khan or Z.A. Bhutto’, but at the beginning of Zia ul-Haq’s campaign to Islamisize Pakistan. A campaign that severely restricted the participation of women in public life.

Once again the music composer is the prolific M Ashraf. The film, shot on location in Hong Kong, gives Ashraf space to experiment with sounds that sound vaguely Far Eastern, via electronic keyboards and flutes.

Yeh Mausam Hota Hai (This Season is Such) our selection for today is a gorgeous little melody. It is delivered straight-no-chaser with little innovation or experimentalism as far as instruments or beats are concerned. The sonic framework is classic north Indian filmi (tabla, acoustic guitars and soaring strings) with just a short interjection by a rather annoying synth in the early section.

The singers, two of Pakistan’s most respected artists, both of whose natural artistic element was the concert hall rather than the movie house, are Mehdi Hassan and Mehnaz.  Whenever I hear Mehdi sahib singing in films I have the feeling of driving a Maserati to the local dhaba to buy some keema naan.  Such a masterful creation being put to the most mundane use.

But alas, artists must eat too. Even if it is just keema naan.

For all of that, this is an infectious little tune; I’ve been humming it all day. I’m sure you will be too.

HongKong