Bhar Do Jholi

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Bin Badal Barsaat (Rain Without Clouds) is an Urdu movie starring Mohammad Ali, Zeba, Shahid and Sangeeta released in March 1975. Running for 54 weeks in Karachi it attained coveted Golden Jubilee status.

The film takes its title from a 1963 Indian horror film but tells a story not of curses but of a couple’s struggle to produce and raise a family. Zarina (Zeba) and Judge Akbar Ali (Mohammad Ali) are hopeful that at last they might have a child after several years of trying unsuccessfully. Zarina is so upset by her apparent infertility she advises Akbar Ali to find a second wife if the situation continues.  “A wife that can’t produce a child is not worth anything,” she tells him.

A few months later Zarina does in fact deliver a healthy boy but through a series of twists of Fate, double crosses and colossal misreadings of the tea leaves the boy, Anwar, goes missing and ends up as a Pakistani Oliver Twist, cutting people’s pockets as part of a gang of beggars and prostitutes led by an obese and lecherous Fagin called Dada (Ilyas Kashmiri). Eventually, through yet more incredible strokes of luck,  tortured confessions and even torture itself, the family is reunited thanks to the efforts of the golden hearted dancing girl Gori, played by the stunning beauty, Sangeeta and her reformed pickpocket fiance Badhshah (Shahid).

Though this film was a big hit there is not much to recommend it as far as the storyline, script or acting goes. Once again it is some of the music and one performance that saves the day. Sangeeta‘s playful enactment of the good hearted but mistreated dancing girl Gori shows up all the leading big names. By comparison Mohammad Ali and Zeba seem to sleep walk through their parts.  A Karachi girl, Sangeeta got her start in 1971’s Yeh Aman (This Peace) but is perhaps best remembered for her work behind the camera as producer and director of such films as Society Girl, Nikah (Marriage) and Muthi Bhar Chawal (Fist Full of Rice).

In this film Sangeeta sticks to acting and dancing and leaves the direction to yet another woman, Zeenat, herself an actress whose track record went back to 1946 when she shared the screen with Noor Jehan in Hamjoli. After Partition Zeenat produced and directed half a dozen other films beginning with Khula Ja Sim Sim (1959). Her last appearance as director came in 1980 with Aap ki Khatir.  The story of Pakistan’s women directors and producers is one that needs to be explored and told.  Like so much else in Pakistan it comes a pleasant surprise that in country with such deep prohibitions against women working in the public sphere, and that too in such an industry as the movies, these women were able to martial the resources and withstand the severe social pressure to make so many films.

In the mid-1970s three giants of qawwali music were vying, sometimes bitterly, for top spot in listeners hearts. One one hand a raucous, dishevelled and brilliant upstart from Lahore, named Aziz Mian had sent shockwaves through polite society and the qawwali world with his hypnotic paeans to drunkenness and spiritual complaint.  Horrified and scandalised, the Karachi-based sibling duo Sabri Brothers represented the traditional, less ecstatic , devotional stream of qawwali. The Brothers and Mian traded barbs publicly, and in song, but all three sang their way to the bank, making fortunes through their cassettes and live concerts.

The music for Bin Badal Barsaat was composed by another woman, Shamim Nazli, sister of playback singer Mala. In a critical scene near the film’s denouement, Nazli inserts one of the Sabri Brothers‘ most popular songs Bhar do Jholi (Fill My Sack) to accompany a distraught Mohammad Ali who has gone to a shrine to pray for God’s forgiveness and mercy and the safe return of his son, Anwar.  The scene’s emotional tension is heightened by the qawwali beat,  acute lyrics and resounding voices of the Sabris who give a genuine qawwali performance rather than a rip-off filmi qawwali number.

Bin Badal Barsaat may not be top quality cinema but as a study of the role of women in Lollywood, both on and off the screen, it is a film well worth viewing.

 

 

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Raat Bhar Neend Nahi Aati

ajnabi

Ajnabi (Stranger) is an Urdu film released in November 1975. Though it ran for 20 weeks it was a commercial stinker and thus, receives the ugly sobriquet, ‘flop’.

1975 delivered a bumper crop of films. A total of 112 were released that year and Pakistan was riding high.  The disastrous civil war which had seen the creation of Bangladesh (and the loss of 50% or more of the audience for Urdu films) was history. Zulfikar Bhutto, the charismatic Prime Minister was confident and supreme in his political power. The country was positioning itself as the leader of the Muslim bloc of countries. Just a year earlier Bhutto had hosted the 2nd Islamic Summit in Lahore.  The casinos and cabarets in Karachi’s hotels were frequented by the rich citizens/subjects of more conservative Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia. Alcohol flowed openly. Religious parties occupied the pesky margins of national life. The Army, chastened after its humiliating defeat in 1971, was licking its wounds back in the barracks.

So shining was this golden age.

Though Ajnabi had a gaggle of stars (Mohammad Ali, Deeba and new arrival, Babra Sharif) it was unable to excite. Director Ali Sufiyan ‘Afaqi‘ was in essence a writer and journalist with an impressive CV in newspapers, magazines and as a screen writer. Throughout his long career (he passed away in 2015) he was associated with a number of major Pakistani films, the most famous of which is probably Kaneez (Slave Girl, 1965) which he both produced and wrote.  But Ajnabi was considered worthy enough, along with two other Afaqi films, Aas and Saiqa,  to be selected to represent Pakistan in the illustrious Film Festival of Asia and Africa held in Tashkent, USSR (Uzbekistan) in 1976 (?).

The song Raat Bhar Neend Nahi Aati (I Can’t Sleep All Night) is the work of the music director Nisar Bazmi and playback singer Nayyara Noor. It’s nothing to get overly excited about but does possess a nice lilt.  The entire 3 and half minutes is wrapped in swirling silvery strings  infused with flutes that sound like birds chirping in a morning tree. Its a dreamy sort of song.  One of restless anxious love,

Raat bhar neend nahi ati hain

Chandni dil ko tard pati hain

Kya yeh hua/ kyon yeh hua

Bata deejeeye

Zara meri nafs dekh kar dawa deejeeye

[I can’t sleep the night through

the moonlight makes my heart quiver

what is happening/ why is this happening?

oh tell me please!

Check my pulse and give me some medicine]

Nayyara Noor was born into a Punjabi merchant family in Assam, on the far eastern flank of India in 1950. At the age of 7 or 8 her family, sans her father who stayed behind to settle the family business, moved to Lahore.  In the early 70s, just a few years before Ajnabi was released, Nayyara put the industry on notice by winning a Nigar Award for best singer in her very first movie Gharana (1973).  What followed was a sparkling career as a playback artist and respected ghazal singer. Her interpretations of Ghalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry are particularly special.

In Raat Bhar she gives a perfectly toned performance. Her singing and aspiration is light and coquettish. She captures the starry eyed rapture of the young love-struck girl to a T. As she sighs into the line about having her pulse checked we are instantly transported into the bedroom of a teenager gazing at the picture of her absent lover.

This is pure pop and as such is quite disposable. But like all pop music it has enough of that essential dam to keep you humming the melody for  days on end.

Well done I say. Well done.

 

 

Wadah Karo Tum

bigdi naslein

Bigri Naslein (Spoiled Generations) is an Urdu film released in 1983 with a heavy hitting cast led by Mohammad Ali and Rani. It achieved Silver Jubilee status, so was quite popular with the punters.

 

Wadah karo tum (Promise Me), a song from the soundtrack, is one of those Pakistani film songs which exists like a bauble that has fallen off the Christmas tree and rolled under the sofa. It lays there hidden, completely disconnected from its source and reason for being. But when you pick it up long after Christmas Day you discover underneath the dust there is still a little shimmer and shine.

 

It’s a dainty little ditty and the closest thing to genuine ‘bubblegum’ I’ve heard in Pakistani film music. In this sappy love song full of heartfelt confessions and urgent demands lovers frolic under blue evening skies and birds chirp in the branches. All the while an intoxicating sonic atmosphere swirls around. You can almost see the unicorns and rainbows in the far meadow.

 

The song is the creation of Kemal Ahmed, a Bengali who drew upon the rich folk culture of his motherland and who preferred a soft, gentle approach to music composition. An approach that emphasized melody and texture over the lively rhythm and percussion championed by Punjabi colleagues such as Nazir Ali, who also contributed to Bigri Naslein.

 

The song itself is a near-perfect pop song. Ahmed creates an entirely credible six-minute world where love is spoken in sweet melodies, gently strummed guitars and the quicksilver sound of santoor descending the scales like a waterfall splashing down the side of a mountain. Into this perfect little world of puppy love, Ahmed injects a layered female chorus that sounds like a band of half-crazed angels.   The ladies’ voices envelop the entire piece with their non-syllabic singing but also repeatedly veer close to the edge of pleasantness with some raw and jagged wailing. At first, this is slightly disconcerting but in fact, it is the perfect antidote to such a saccharine confection. The tension created by the high-pitched choir pushing against the lush melody is spot on.

 

None of this is exceptional or unique. South Asian music directors of the Golden Age at their best were creative geniuses, fluent in multiple musical languages and supported by talented musicians who could play any number of Eastern and Western instruments. What makes Wadah karo tum a truly outstanding piece of puffery is the singer.

 

Less than 40 seconds into the song the opening two syllables of the lyric–‘wa’ ‘dah’–emerge from the background, whole, complete and polished. As if they have always existed and are coming from the very vortex of heaven. Is the singer a woman or a man? There is something familiar about this otherworldly voice but we struggle to put our finger on it.

It is not until the first verse, sung in a slightly lower register, that the penny drops: this is none other than the great ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali!

 

Ghulam Ali, who was rigorously trained in classical music by some of the tradition’s luminaries has spent his entire career devoted to interpreting the ghazal. Unlike most of his peers, including arguably the greatest ghazal singer of the past 50 years, Mehdi Hassan, who recorded hundreds of film songs, Ghulam Ali’s filmi output is relatively minor. Indeed, his best-loved film song, the ghazal, Chupke chupke raat din appeared in an Indian film Nikaah (1982).

 

So, to hear him in a Pakistani movie, singing an entirely disposable piece of filmi pop is akin to finding a small diamond at the bottom of the biriyani. Though the lyrics are inane Ali turns in a worthy performance. Indeed, his masterful breath work, subtle use of vibrato and deep feel for melody takes Wadah karo tum to an entirely new plane. From mere bubblegum to something ethereal. A genuine keeper.

This is  a genuine keeper.

 

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!