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.