Dhamal Salle Allah

postergorilay2

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!

 

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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 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.

 

 

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

Ding Dong Ding Dong

deewar

Deewar (Wall) is an Urdu film released in 1976. It achieved ‘flop’ status and sunk like a stone.

The film starred Babra Sharif who had debuted in films two years earlier. Though her dominance of the industry was still some years in the future she had received very good reviews, won a Special Nigar Award (Pakistan’s Academy Awards) and had starred in some very successful movies by this point.  Sadly, Deewar, in which she shared the limelight with Ghulam Mohiuddin, was a disaster.

The music was composed by M Ashraf and as such is always worth investigating. Ashraf loved to experiment with rhythms, styles and sounds.  One of his favorite signatures was a steely electric guitar riff such as the one that opens this number. It’s edgy, its liquid and when mixed with a snappy snare drum puts the listener on notice “You’re about to have some fun!”

You don’t need to see the film to know what is going on in this scene.  We are witnessing a wild dance party of hip people who are busy flirting and being silly.  The title of the song is repeated like a nonsense nursery rhyme by Ahmed Rushdi by way of welcoming Mehnaz who tells us the best thing in the world is L.O.V.E.

From this point on we are off to the races.  Manic accordion solos swirl around repeated choruses of Ding Dong Ding Dong, an early Moog keeps the bass line bubbling while that electric guitar makes strategic stabs into the sound-osphere.

This track is not exactly an ‘item number’ and should rightly be classified as a dance or disco song. And as the whole concept of co-educational partying and dancing is deemed to be a Western innovation it is important for lyrics, at least in part, to be sung in English. And so about 2 and a half minutes into the proceedings Ashraf changes things up by incorporating the melody lines of the famous Punjabi ditty Balle Balle. Instead of shouting Balle Balle (Punjabi for ‘hooray’, from the Persian word, baleh meaning ‘yes’) the English words, hello hello are substituted.

Hello Hello/ You know it is I love you

I will sing with you, my sweety

And I die with you/Hello Hello I miss you

Hello Hello/ You know it is I love you

Ahmed Rushdi was a regular partner of M Ashraf and the most successful male playback singer of the era. He modeled his singing style on that of Mohammad Rafi which is especially noticeable on more subdued tracks.  But Rushdi was an expert rocker as well. He could sing with gusto and as he demonstrates here could make suitably lusty grunts when required.

As for Mehnaz, she turns in a very credible somewhat raunchy performance which matches the mood perfectly. Mehnaz was from a famous music family (her mother was Kajjan Begum) whose reputation was made with a light classical repertoire of ghazal, dadra and thumri.  Songs such as this inane piece must have made her squeamish, but if so, she hides it very well.

The last part of the song is a riot of English love banter which sort of brings the song to a shambolic climax 6 minutes later.

Ding Dong

 

Dama Dam Allah Hoo

mohabbat-aur-majboori

Mohabbat Aur Majboori (Love and Compulsion) is an Urdu film released in September 1981.

The film appears not to have made many waves or at least not for very long.  Clearly a story of conflicted and unrequited love, the headline star is the beautiful Babra Sharif who plays a sophisticated Pakistani-British expat who returns home and family.  She is met by relatives and driven to the mazar of Sain Baba in the mountains of Kashmir, where the first song of the film, Dama Dam Allah Hoo is heard.

The song is performed by Mehdi Hassan who needs no introduction to most readers. Arguably the best male ‘light classical’ singer of his generation and popular not just in Pakistan, but in India as well as the South Asian diaspora, Hassan is best remembered for his non-film repertoire of ghazals.  His voice is instantly recognisable for its smooth timbre and understated delivery.  He infused each song with a natural unhurried dignity, which is calming and luscious at the same time.

Sufi shrines (mazar) are an important part of the cultural and geographic landscape in Pakistan.  They are visited regularly by seekers of all faiths who come to pray, rest, socialise and seek boons from the charged energy of the Saint that encompasses the surrounding area.  Women come to seek the birth of children.  Men seek the Saint’s help for business success. And in the film, Babra Sharif has come with an unspoken desire for love.

The concept of ishq (Love) is central to the Sufi message.  The Almighty is approached in the form of the Beloved.  The individual seeker is the Lover who wants to drown and lose his sense of self (diwana) in the Love of God.  The line between divine love (Ishq) and romantic love (Mohabbat) is a thin one, especially in the popular imagination.  And shrines are considered to be places where earthly relationships can be sourced or repaired.

This version of the sort of song Sufi sains (wandering minstrels/mystics) would perform at a mazar is lovely, if not exactly inspiring.  The rougher ecstatic edges of the real deal have been polished for the middle-class audiences the filmmakers are targeting. Mehdi Hassan’s voice was never designed to sing jubilant spiritual chants and seems slightly out of place in the context of religious and ritual intensity.

The title of the song, as well as its repeated refrain Dama Dam Allah Hoo, references the Sindhi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s mazar in Sehwan. The chant/hymn Dama Dam Mast Qalandar, is the single most famous line in South Asian mystical music and instantly associates the listener with  Qalandar and the Sehwan shrine.

I selected this song mainly because of the awful events that have transpired in Sehwan in the past few days.  In a time like this  Mehdi Hassan’s  subdued rendition is just the sort of balm we all require.

Dama Dam