Mera Laung Gawacha

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Dulari (Darling) is a Punjabi movie released in 1987.

The movie was a big hit even though the omnipresent Lala of Punjabi action Sultan Rahi played second fiddle to the big hearted and big hipped Anjuman who works overtime in a double role as sisters Salma and the eponymous Dulari.

Throughout the 1980s, when Punjabi films truly dominated Pakistani cinema, there was no bigger female star in the firmament than Anjuman. Along with leading men Rahi  and Mustafa Qureshi and the silver toned singer, Noor Jehan, Ms. Anjuman was part of the golden  formula that made Punjabi action movies so lucrative.   With audiences abandoning Urdu films in droves producers discovered that if they merely shuffled characters, story lines and  subplots like a pack of well worn cards they could still fill the cinema halls.  As long as Anjuman, Sultan and Mustafa were involved it didn’t matter that the stories were tired, familiar and stale. The trio had that mysterious thing called ‘Star Power’ and of course, no one came close to the presence of Noor Jehan when it came to playback singing.

Anjuman, the granddaughter of the last Nawab of Bahawalpur, began her performing life as as a dancer.  On the recommendation of 60s starlet Zeba who caught her act the young, southern Punjabi kudi (lass) had her initial turns in several Urdu features that the public ignored before striking gold in 1979 with Waadey ke Zanjeer (Chains of Promises) alongside the dreamy Waheed Murad. It has often been noted that it was Anjuman’s raw sex appeal that drew and grew her audience.  No doubt her ample bosom and thunder thighs whose movements she synchronised to dramatic effect in perfectly timed jerks and jolts called thumkas were risque. And during that most dire of decades, the 80s, you took your titillation wherever and however you could get it.

But Anjuman was much more than a Multani nautch girl as Dulari magnificently demonstrates. Director Haider Chowdhary, a prolific veteran of Punjabi film,  gave his leading lady an expansive canvas on which to work. As twin sisters Salma and Dulari Anjuman was able to channel the conservative, demure sharif ladki  as well as give full vent to her inner social rebel.  In the latter guise, as Dulari, Anjuman fills the screen with a presence that is simply magnetic. She swaggers and preens in outrageous get up (slim-fit jeans with rolled cuffs; gaudy head gear; sparkling evening frocks with puffy shoulder pads) but doesn’t miss a beat in dishing up sharp tongued retorts or pushing every available social button.  Dulari fearlessly spits her paan (betel nut) into the face of a village big shot, takes unsuspecting  strangers to the cleaners and uses her fists and feet with as much skill and effect as Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.   She is a wonder to behold!

Very early on in the show after Dulari thoroughly fleeces an anxious motorist of all his cash the police decide to take action. In a frantic chase through the streets of Lahore Dulari is able to duck into the city’s premier concert hall the Alhamra Arts Centre where she takes the stage.

Mera Laung Gawacha (I’ve Lost my Nose Ring) opens with a series of Anjuman‘s famous thumke and close shots of her ankles and bangled-wrists. She then proceeds to entertain the audience with a highly stylised folk dance complete with wonderful cardboard bullocks and mango trees.  The dancing is good but nothing extraordinary and certainly not as accomplished as the acting that is to come.

What really makes this song a standout (and what made it one of the biggest hits of the  80s) is the singing of Musarrat Nazir. A leading lady in her own right in the 50s and 60s with many outstanding films to her credit Nazir ‘retired’ from acting in 1965 after marriage.  For years she passed the time in Canada but returned to Lahore in the early 80s looking to revive a public career. She found instant and frequent work as a singer on TV which was able to show off her statuesque form and sparkling eyes to great effect. But after some rather embarrassing public episodes involving the imbibing of alcohol she was ‘repatriated’ by her husband back to suburbia.

The song itself is a traditional Punjabi wedding song and Musarrat’s rendition was already immensely popular when it was picked up for Dulari. Musarrat fills the tune with crisp phrasing and ample coquetry; the music complements with lilting flutes, snappy rubab runs and fine Punjabi percussion including a frenetic dholak solo.

All in all Dulari and Mera Laung Gawacha are excellent examples of the (often overlooked) charms of Punjabi movies.

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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