Mehkhane Mein Shaam Hui

tiger-gang-c

Tiger Gang, is an Urdu film released in 1974. Sadly, it failed to catch the imagination of Pakistanis and in the parlance of current political speak turned out to be a ‘Big Nothingburger’. In fact, it is only remembered today by a cult of B-Movie fans as an off beat addition to the work of a popular team of European-American actors and directors who made a bunch of James Bond and John Wayne swizzles in the 60s and 70s.

The film’s director, Harald Reinl, got his start in the movie world in Germany’s pre-Hitler interregnum. In the 1930s German audiences went nuts about a genre of movies known as bergfilme (mountain films) which in their ‘Hero vs. Nature’ action themes were akin to the American western. As a bit player and extra in some of these films Reinl worked alongside Hitler’s favourite cineaste, Leni Riefenstahl, and developed a life-long love of the action film if not the Fuhrer‘s politics.

Throughout a long career that saw him direct nearly 50 pictures–most with invigorating titles such as The Green Devils of Monte Cassino, Apache Gold  or No Gold for a Dead Diver— as well as gain an Oscar nomination  for his aliens-visit-the-earth documentary Chariot of the Gods (1970), Reinl also teamed up with American athlete/stuntman Brad Harris and Italian model-turned-actor Tony Kendall (Luciano Stella) to film the final instalment of a series of movies based on the prolific and popular Eurospy Kommisar X books by German pulp fictionist Paul Alfred Mueller.

Kendall and Harris were for a number of years the ‘Kings of Eurotrash’ movies. Playing FBI agent Tom Rowland (Harris) and private detective Joe Walker (Kendall) the duo made movies that relied on action, mateship, dumb humour, mild sexual titillation and heaps of references to the American western and British spy films they so happily ripped off.

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Tom Rowland (Brad Harris) and Joe Walker (Tony Kendall)

After years of struggle and development, the late 60s saw the Pakistani film industry feeling confident. With movies from their main competitor, India, banned a large homegrown crop of actors, directors, writers and musicians had developed strong fan bases. The industry was making money at last.  Not surprisingly, Lahore and Karachi attracted would-be stars from surrounding countries and with its ‘wild west’ borderlands Pakistan appealed to European film makers looking for something new.

Mueller, with typical Teutonic efficiency, wrote more than 600 Kommisar X novels  but only 7 were turned into films with Tiger Gang drawing the series to a close.  Like so many films of this genre several versions were made in various languages (in this case German, Italian, English and Urdu) and in the available copy of the Urdu version several scenes slip (unintentionally) between Urdu to English leaving one to delight in Mohammad Ali’s American accent one moment and Brad Harris’s fluent Urdu the next!

 

FBIOpPak .            kommissar_x_jagt_die_roten_tiger-838542355-mmed

  [Posters for Italian and German versions of the film]

 

Rowland much to his grumpy annoyance is sent off to Karachi to try to find the illusive New York mafia don Frank Stefani who is running a large international drug smuggling operation across the Afghanistan border. Unexpectedly, Walker is also in town investigating the death of a friend’s husband and the two old colleagues once again team up.  Superintendent Ali (Mohammad Ali) of the Lahore Police department provides local intelligence while his lady friend (and in real life, wife) Shireen (Zeba) works as the secretary of one Professor Tavari (Ernst Fritz Fürbringer) who unbeknownst to everyone until the final 15 minutes of the movie is actually Frank Stefani.

In addition to the German and Italian cast and crew, the Pakistani version of  Tiger Gang brought in the skills of a new writer, Saleem Chisti, stunts coordinator, cameraman  and director/producer Iqbal Shehzad, brother of two Pakistani test cricketers. Shehzad, perhaps sensing that the local audience would require something more than a couple of goras beating up Pakistanis to create a hit, brought a clear middle-class sensibility to the effort. Whereas Rienl had been contracted to deliver another episode of a well-established action franchise, Shehzad saw an opportunity to make the film a bit more meaningful: an anti-narcotics family tragedy.

Chisti creates the character Hassan, played beautifully by Qavi, Shireen’s wayward brother.  A nice Muslim boy gone bad thanks to the heroin and hash that these hippies with loose clothes and looser morals are graphically depicted shooting up in cheap Karachi hotels. This central subplot of orphaned sibling love gives the audience a chance to have their heartstrings delicately plucked, not to mention create an occasion for music director Kamal Ahmed to pop in a few songs and dances of which Mehkane Mein Shaam Hui (Nightfall in the Tavern) is the pick of the bunch.

Sung by a young and prolific Runa Laila, (in addition to her film work, she made pop records, performed live and was a growing sensation in India) the song, performed by a sexy vamp (Nisho), is a medium paced number driven by accordion and jazzy organ.  Veteran poet Riaz ur Rahman Saghar’s lyrics of intoxication, nightfall, ‘parties’ and shocking glances suit the dual contexts of an upperclass dinner party as well as a dingy backstreet heroin den where Shireen goes to look for her troubled but beloved brother, Hassan.

Despite the best efforts of director, singer, composer, writer and actors Tiger Gang is never able to break free of its Eurospy action template. Though Zeba and Qavi turn in strong performances,  Mohammad Ali plods through proceedings with little of the grace he is remembered for.

Perhaps ‘Nothingburger’ is too harsh. Sukhi roti, anyone?

 

 

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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!