Mujhe Dil se Na Bhulana

aina

Aaina (The Mirror) is an Urdu film released in March 1977. In total Aaina ran for 401 weeks–nearly 8 years–making it the longest running and biggest grossing Urdu film of all time. As such it is Pakistan’s only Crown Jubilee film.

 

Aaina is an interesting film for a number of reasons, none of which involve the plot. The story of love found, thwarted and regained is tired and predictable and forty years on makes one wonder what the fuss was all about. But move away from the narrative to the music, the direction and the acting and it is easy to see why audiences swarmed to the theatres week after week.

 

Though Lahore is considered the heartland of Pakistan’s film industry—hence the sobriquet ‘Lollywood’—the Punjabi capital was not the only city where movies were made. Karachi with its dramatic Arabian Sea backdrop, glitzy skyline and rich financiers was a natural magnet for filmmakers. And prior to the breakup of the country and the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, Dhaka, as well was growing into a production centre.

 

Though filmed in Karachi for the Urdu speaking audience, Aaina is in fact a Bengali blockbuster. The producer, director, music director, the two leading stars as well as one of the playback singers were all Bengali or had connections with the small but vibrant Dhaka-based film world.

 

Bengalis brought a different sensibility to film making which when done well film goers found refreshing and appealing. Aaina is a fine example of this. As a director, Nazarul Islam relished poking holes in social conventions. In Aaina he plays with the notion of the generation gap by turning it on its head. The wealthy, bridge playing, whisky drinking and status conscious older generation is depicted as the wayward and immoral generation. It is the young couple, played by Nadeem and Shabnam, who persevere in their love by invoking the established traditions of marriage, gender and decorum.

 

And it is the two leads who steal the show. Though Shabnam, a Bengali Hindu girl, was married to the film’s musical director, Robin Ghosh, it was the doe-eyed Nadeem who was her on-screen foil. For more than a decade the pair dominated the industry, each winning the most individual acting awards for their respective gender. In Aaina the chemistry between them is immediate, genuine and infectious. They were at the peak of their careers and filled the screen as a single and singular presence. Without a doubt it is this presence that made the film so successful.

 

But the music is also noteworthy. Robin Ghosh, the film’s musical director was a Christian who had an extensive knowledge of and exposure to western music that he used to great effect throughout his career. His soundtracks, including Aaina, are marked by a luscious sound that is sophisticated, elegant and wonderfully imaginative. Indeed, in one rather dreadful scene drunken party goers dance woozily to a sizzling James Brown R&B track which saves the entire episode from sinking into farce.

 

The key song of the film, Mujhe Dil se Na Bhulana (Don’t Ever Forget Me) is presented four different times in the film, each sung by a different artist or combination of artists. On each occasion Ghosh sets the song, which has a lovely hummable melody, in a distinct emotional context. To create the atmosphere he uses different instruments, arranges the song variously and works with different lyrics. The effect, rather than being repetitious, is that the soulfulness of the score and the film is enriched and enhanced.

 

Ghosh drew on the rich, melodious folk traditions of Bengal which has a completely different sound than the percussion driven Punjabi folk or raga based compositions employed by his peers in West Pakistan. Nazarul Islam also won praise for allowing Mehdi Hassan’s version of the song to stand on its own, without the lyrics being lip synced by the actor on screen.

 

 

In this version Ghosh uses the voices of Mehnaz, daughter of the noted soz khwan Kajjan Begum, and the rising Bengali pop singer Alamgir to deliver the goods.

Aaina

 

 

 

 

Kya Haseen Jism Hai

ek-gunah-aur-sahi

Ik Gunah aur Sahi (One Sin More) is an Urdu film released in 1975. It ran for 52 consecutive weeks in Karachi’s cinema halls achieving Golden Jubilee status.

The super hit film was  based on the controversial short story Mummy by Sa’adat Hasan Manto. Manto is considered one of the Urdu language’s best writers and is appreciated(for his concise prose and deprecated for his unabashed discussion of topics such as sexuality, which his peers found distasteful.

Mummy is a portrait of one Stella Jackson, an Anglo-Indian woman in Poona (Pune) who is painted in the shades of a madam/procuress for those connected with the film industry.  The story begins by attaching all the stereotypes of ‘loose’ Christian, Anglo-Indian (Eurasian) women to Stella: heavily made up to the point of ugliness, drinker, prostitute.  By the end of the story, however, Manto is less moralistic about Mummy and leaves the reader feeling a great deal of empathy and compassion for his character.

I’m really looking forward to watching this film to see how director Hassan Tariq (who also wrote the screenplay) handles the drama.  The film starred beauty queen/dancer Rani (Tariq’s ex-wife) and dashing leading man Mohammad Ali.  

The album cover of the soundtrack (above) is revealing on a couple of counts. First, the image of a modern young lady giving you a ‘come hither’ look next to a bottle of whiskey pretty much sums the storyline for the casual observer. The whiskey, Vat 69, was apparently the preferred poison of villains and vamps on both sides of the border. Watch any film made in Lahore or Mumbai from this era (60s-80s) and you’ll see Vat 69 in the clutches of some shady character or another.

The other interesting thing about this cover is the prominence given to the music director,  Nisar Bazmi.  Not every music director would be afforded such visibility and only those whose name would in its own right draw customers into the cinema or shop.  Bazmi, without a doubt was one of the few.

Originally from Maharashtra, Bazmi began his career in Bombay and until he left for Pakistan, the mentor to one of the greatest musical duos of Indian film, Laxmikant Pyarelal.  In Pakistan, he composed music for dozens of films in a wide range of styles from folk and classical to pop and rock.

Today’s song Kya Haseen Jism Hai (What a Beautiful Body You Have) is an ‘item number’ but without the usual disco/dance beats.  Rather Mehnaz delivers the mid-tempo number with huge pathos and sadness.  This the song of a woman who knows exactly what sort of world she is living in. A world of fleeting desires and pleasures where bodies are sold and traded for cash and cheap, hollow laughs. Through unrelentingly depressing lyrics and Mehnaz’s moody singing, the audience is treated to a cold critique of a certain class of cashed up Pakistanis who lived lives far removed from those of most of the audience.

The music is understated, which as I said, is not what one would expect from a vamp’s nightclub solo .  Bazmi gets some excellent, soulful electric guitar licks out of his band of musicians and expertly increases the emotional tension by employing a small orchestra of strings but overall the music is composed in such a way as to give Mehnaz the space to do her moody interpretation of a very sad business.

VAT 69

All in all, top shelf stuff!

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