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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Teri Talash Main Sadiyon Se

aar paar

Aar Paar (Around Here) is an Urdu film released in March 1973.

It seems to have been a B-movie going by the name of the leading players: Nisho, Shahid and Husna, a beautiful actress who was never able to break out of her ‘supporting’ roles but who, nevertheless, is fondly remembered for her contribution to the movies.

As is so often the case, the soundtrack of this commercial flop, contains some real jewels. The filmi music scene was dominated, like in India, by a solid core group of superstar music directors (arranger/composers), singers and musicians. So powerful were their perceived abilities that even second and third rate films sought them out.  It appears that producers paid big money for these magical names as a kind of insurance policy: the film may end up a flop but if we include a song or two by Noor Jehan or Mehnaz maybe we can move a few lakh (hundred thousand) more tickets.

In 1973 there were no bigger names in Pakistani music than Noor Jehan and Mehdi Hassan. Indeed, if you had to do a quick shortlist of the top 5 singers of Pakistan  you would probably list these as Number 1 and 2.  [And if you extended that list to take in all of South Asia, most people would have both names in the Top Ten.]

Noor Jehan came up through stage acting and singing. At the time of Partition in 1947 she was an established actress with several major motion pictures to her credit and her singing voice has been deemed ‘the best of all time’ for female playback singers.

Mehdi Hassan emerged out of a different tradition. Born into a traditional Rajasthani musical home, his family moved to Pakistan soon after 1947.  Though classically trained Hassan’s professional career started by singing for Rafiq Anwar’s 1956 film Shikaar.  For the rest of his career his mellow, burnished voice provided hundreds of films with moments of elegance and grace.  In addition to films, Hassan built a reputation as one of the finest proponents of the ghazal and other semi-classical genres like thumri, dadra and geet.

Both singers contributed their formidable talents to Aar Paar but even so the film was unable to make an impression.  The musical director was another Big Name, M Ashraf, who in 1973 was just approaching the height of his own powers as a highly inventive and influential musical mind.

In Teri Talash Main Sadiyon Se (I’ve Been Searching for You for Centuries) they play a straight bat. Ashraf eschews flashy fusion of electric guitars and Moogs and avoids wild dance or disco beats. Rather,  the maddeningly short piece places Mehdi Hassan’s voice within a gorgeous light melody with traditional subcontinental instruments. As such the song is a throwback to an earlier time before Pakistani films went nuts about experimenting with Western sounds.

 

Enjoy this gentle, lilting paean to love from one of the greatest of South Asian vocalists.

Talash

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

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

 

Tum Kaun Ho

khotay-sikay

Khotay Sikkay (Fake Coins) is an Urdu movie released in November 1981.  It achieved Silver Jubilee status and ran for 34 straight weeks in Karachi.

The American cowboy movie with its themes of individual and national identity, has been an inspiration for many Indian films, such as the iconic Sholay (1975) and Dharmatma (1975) as well as more recently, the hilarious send-up of the gunfighter-comes-to-town genre, Quick Gun Murugan (2009).

In Pakistan you could argue that virtually the entire output of the Punjabi film industry and its one-of-a-kind superstar Sultan Rahi, is, in essence, a local interpretation of the Western.

The rugged rural landscapes of Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and its deserts, complete with old forts and remote villages, afford a spectacular backdrop for the elemental struggles of righteous, vengeful heroes against villainy and corruption.

Khotay Sikkay is another film that borrowed its title from an earlier Indian movie (Khote Sikke/1974) which starred India’s handsome cowboy-actor Feroz Khan.

The Pakistani movie was filmed on location and fielded an all-star cast led by the veteran Mohammad Ali and Lahori glamour puss Babra Sharif.  Badar Munir, the single biggest name in Pashto movies, who made his reputation as a tough and rough ‘don’t give me any shit’ type of hero was also drafted in to give the otherwise urbane cast a certain rugged authenticity.

The musical players were equally stellar.  M Ashraf, probably the greatest musical director of his era,  led the effort supported by the voices of several outstanding artists including A Nayyar, Mehnaz, Nahid Akhtar and Akhlaq Ahmed.

There exists in Pakistan a whole genre of singing known as qaumi naghme (national songs) which are usually presented on TV shows in front of well-behaved middle-class studio audiences. These songs extol the virtues and positive aspects of the Pakistani state and encourage listeners to adopt high-minded ideals of tolerance, moderation, piety and loyalty.  Almost every singer in Pakistan, including the very biggest names, has sung such songs. And even though they are musically rather drab affairs most singers claim to enjoy singing them.

Our featured track, Tum Kaun Ho, is one such patriotic duet. Performed by Nahid Akhtar and Shaukat Ali, it is a very interesting song indeed, if for no other reason than the number of cans of worms it begs one to open.

The title of the song means, Who Are You? a question Nahid Akhtar asks as if she were the Mother of the Nation.

‘Who are you/tell me dear/to which nation do you belong?’

Shaukat Ali is a popular singer from Lahore who covers a range of styles including ghazals and folk music but who shot to fame as a playback singer in Punjabi movies. He has won many awards including the highest arts prize, the President’s Pride of Performance award for his contributions to Pakistan musical culture.

His response to Nahid’s question comes first in the form of ‘I am a son of Punjab’. Ali sings mainly in Urdu in this verse but  breaks into a few stanzas of Punjabi which include the cry ‘Bhaley! Bhaley!’ which is an instant signal to all listeners that this is a Punjabi singing.

Next Ali travels to Sindh where he invokes the desert Sufi spirit of the great mystic Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (where just this week 76 people were murdered by the thugs ISIS at his shrine in Sehwan) with a rousing chorus of ‘Dama dam mast Qalandar/Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar‘.

More verses follow. Short portraits relate ‘typical’ Baluch and Pashtun national characteristics which in the case of the latter, include, ‘guns are my toys!’

The song’s grand statement is delivered in the final 2 and a half minutes.

Yeh Sindhi, Punjabi, Baluchi/hain Angrez ki baten

(This Sindhi, Punjabi, Baluchi/ are just English words)

Kyon suboh mein bante rahein ho/insaano ke zaate

(Why do you divide yourselves among the provinces)

Ek kitab hai/ ek  hai ummat

(A single holy book/ a single faith community)

Ek hai Ka’aba apna

(The single Ka’aba is ours)

Sab ka vaarish ek  Mohammad/ Ek hai khuda apna

(Mohammad is all our inheritance/ The One God is ours)

Ek aazaan ke aage/jis ne sar ne jhukajayenge

(Our heads will bow in response to one call to prayer)

Allaaaah ho Akbar

(God is Great!)

Ma ke chaahe sau bete ho/ ek hi kahelayenge

(Our Mother’s hundred beloved sons/ will be called one)

Ma ki beton apni ma ko/suboh mein na banto

(Dear Mother’s sons/don’t divide your Mother into Provinces)

Quaid-e-Azam ka yeh gulshan nafratein na kato

(Don’t let hate destroy our Great Leader’s garden)

Na Sindhi na Punjabi na Pashto na Makrani

(We are neither Sindhi, nor Punjabi, nor Pashto, nor Makrani)

Pakistan mein rahne wale sab hain Pakistani

(All who live in Pakistan are all Pakistani)

The national anthem then plays as the song fades out.

Musically the piece is very satisfying. Ashraf keeps the music moving steadily at a medium pace throughout the first several verses.  He skillfully introduces instruments such as rubab, sarinda and dhol that are particular to each region of Pakistan and, as mentioned above, inserts lines and phrases from some of the regional languages. Shaukat Ali’s voice is open and clear and confident which fits both the subject matter and intention perfectly.

But the tension is really ramped up in the final key verse as strings break through and swell majestically at the end of each couplet.  Ali‘s voice responds by jumping up an octave. All the while the Punjabi affinity for rhythm is evident in the excited beating of tabla and dhol. The pace slackens dramatically and respectfully for the call to prayer but then picks up again until the national anthem draws the song to a dignified close.   All in all, the song is an outstanding example of a qaumi naghma and one that is worthy of repeated listens even if more for its music than lyrics.

An analysis of the lyrics is something that must wait for another time and place. But suffice it to say they point to a number of issues–language, ethnicity, geography, faith, inclusion–that continue to challenge the world’s first confessional state 70 years after its birth.

Tum Kaun Ho