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