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!

Shola sa Badka Badka

Jasoos

Jasoos (Spy) is an Urdu film released in June 1977.

The film stars Sultan Rahi who holds a position not unlike that of Noor Jehan in the Pakistani film industry. Just as she was the undisputed Malika Tarannum (Empress of Melody), Sultan Rahi is by far the most recognized male face of Pakistani movies. Together both icons moved way beyond mere superstar status to that of exalted deities.

Rahi’s great fame started in the mid-70s and reached its most dizzy heights in the 80s when his face was visible on nearly every movie poster in nearly every town. Beginning as an anonymous extra, he graduated to short ‘fighting’ roles before gaining a few notices in the early 1960s as a character actor of some talent.

Though himself from an Urdu speaking Indian immigrant background, Rahi did most of his acting in Punjabi films. Indeed, the whole genre of so-called gandasa (long handled ax) movies which has dominated Punjabi filmdom since the late 70s, is built almost entirely upon the face and voice of Sultan Rahi.

Gandasa films are generally set in village Punjab and involve lots of blood letting, clannish revenge and sentimental references to the land of the five rivers. Action, fights and other displays of testosterone-driven aggression keep the lungi-clad, horse riding characters occupied and moving to a climatic gory end. Rahi made hundreds of such films and through them, his fortune. But he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his niche and expressed a deep longing to be given a challenging ‘real’ role.

Jasoos was made in 1977 and captures Rahi at a critical point in his career. His epic Maula Jat, which would forever change Pakistani movies, was still two years away. Rahi had made a number of Urdu movies before Maula Jatt but in the 17 remaining years of his life would appear in just 14 more. From 1979 on it was action, action, action and Punjabi, Punjabi, Punjabi. One can understand why he longed for that call that never came to play a more complex character.

Though Jasoos was an action thriller with a fair quota of guns, car chases and killing Rahi is given the space to explore a range of emotions that moved beyond righteous indignation. As Imran, the dashing head of a Private Detective agency, Rahi reveals a natural comedic touch as, he delivers genuine humour with understatement, facial expression and subtle body language.

Even more compelling is his interaction with leading lady, Mumtaz who plays Shama a simple country girl caught up in a web of intrigue. Rahi, sans wig and ax, was a ruggedly handsome hero. His winning smile, as well as an ability to flirt softened his action hero tendencies and made women’s hearts melt.   Though the film’s production was cheap and Iqbal Yusuf’s direction nothing to write home about, Rahi’s humane performance lifts Imran’s character out of the realm of caricature and holds the otherwise manic movie together.

Jasoos is the story of a mysterious black-hooded killer determined to get his hands on the Will of Seth Azam, (Changezi) a wealthy landlord. The Seth, sensing he is being targeted for murder, hands the Will over to Imran with instructions that he is to act as Executor in the event of his murder.

Sure enough, a few days later, the Seth is murdered, sending Imran on the trail of corrupt police, a conniving widow (Rozina) and her ‘helpful’ brother, the mysterious masked murderer, two thugs and a gang of female baddies led by a master of disguise (Ghulam Mohyideen). Along the way, he comes to the aid of and falls in love with young Shama (Mumtaz), a mountain lass who turns out to be the illegitimate daughter and sole beneficiary of Seth Azam’s many properties.

As the gangsters, female spies, and police chase Imran and Shama across northern Pakistan we are treated to some of the most unusual and unlikely of sub plots, such as pagans dancing in front of huge Easter Island-like statues chanting “Zambo! Zambo!”, and a nautanki performance in which actors who appear to be identical physical specimens of Imran and Shama do a snake charmer’s dance in which 8 women dressed in black, swivel and writhe on the ground like cobras! None of this advances the plot even a centimetre.

In the end, Imran rescues Shama who is bound to the tracks of a fast approaching mail train by hanging from the cattle catcher and scooping her out of danger at the last second. The gang of baddies are discovered to actually be a crack group of undercover police operatives and the widow’s brother is demasked as the murder!

Phew!

There are action films and then there is Jasoos.

The film’s soundtrack, by the enigmatically named Tafo is just as abrupt and weird as the plot. Tafo is in fact, a collective of musicians led by the ace tabla maestro Ustad Altaf Hussain Tafo Khan and his brother, Nisar Hussain on the accordion. Throughout the 70s, often in collaboration with M Ashraf, but also on their own, they contributed some of the liveliest, most diverse and innovative sounds in Pakistani films.

Tafo was/were early experimenters with electronic instruments, including drum machines, fuzz pedals and synthetic loops of sound. In several scenes such as the aforementioned “Zambo Zambo” tribal dance, they seem to have been given free reign to make up anything they wanted. The result is at both visually quaint and sonically bizarre but ultimately hilarious and immensely creative.

In Shola sa Badka Badka (Burning like a Flame), Tafo spend the first half of the song simply making one of the mysterious female spies, the striking Chakori, move to all sorts of electronic beats, squelches and sizzling electric guitar riffs. She jerks, twitches, lunges and writhes for a couple minutes as the musicians give vent to a full orchestra of canned sounds. The dance is provocative and at times channels a young Elvis Presley. It’s easy to see how Chakori caught Rahi’s eye and landed the female lead in Maula Jatt.

Both musicians and dancer seem eager to impress the producers with EVERY possible sound and move they can conjure. Accordions, blaring trumpets, catchy guitars and burbling fizzes of electricity keep Chakori pumping, shaking, writhing, sliding, twisting and shaking as a confused Imran watches from a balcony window and the master of disguise observes from behind the drapes.

The voice is that of Nahid Akhtar, the Multan girl with the galvanised vocal chords. Akhtar worked often with Tafo and M Ashraf, producing dozens of memorable songs throughout the racy 70s and into the conservative 80s. Her wide, open voice which crescendos like a silver cornet in a hot jazz ensemble is instantly recognisable. Combining the charisma of Noor Jehan with twice the gumption of Asha Bhosle and Usha Iyer combined, Nahid Akhtar owned the disco/saucy song genre like no one else before or since.

Jasoos may not have set Lahore aflame, but once again, the music, as well as an unexpected and pleasing performance by Sultan Rahi makes this a film worth checking out.

Yes Meri No Teri

Cheeta Chalbaz

Cheeta Chaalbaaz (Crafty Cheetah) is a Punjabi film released in May 1978.

By the mid-70s Pakistan was one of the world’s most prolific film-producing countries holding steady at #4 on the league table.  In 1978 when this rather obscure feature was released the local film industry released 99 other films, not bad for a country (and industry) that had just a few years earlier been severed in half.

Punjabi films have always been popular in Punjab (duh!) and even enjoy some success with audiences in Karachi and elsewhere.  Indeed, while Urdu is the official national language and promoted by the government as the language of culture and education, in and around Lahore, Punjabi is the spoken vernacular.  During the Golden Age the film makers of Lahore  worked primarily to this Urdu speaking middle class and most of the biggest earners were Urdu social/family dramas.  But there has always existed  a second audience that prefers their entertainment in their mother tongue. Indeed, some of the biggest and most accomplished films, both commercially and artistically, have been Punjabi films: Heer Ranjha (1970), Kartar Singh (1959), Chanway (1951) and Maula Jat (1979) just to name several.

Cheetah Chaalbaaz was a non-starter. In the no-nonsense lingo of the movie world it was a flop.  Director Altaf Hussain was still some years away from his breakthrough hit Athra Puttar (1981) and indeed, Cheetah Chaalbaaz was one of 20 (!) failures in a row that he notched up on his way to success. It is a record that has yet to be broken. But it also speaks volumes of the persistence and passion of the man who went on in the 80s to direct some very successful Punjabi films including Mehndi (1985) and Laawaris (1983).

Aliya, a dancer/actress often cast as a vamp, was one of three big-name female stars in the film.  Sadly, her film career was stopped in its tracks when she hooked up with the aforementioned, Altaf Hussain.  As happened to Noor Jehan, Begum Akhtar (ghazal singer) and many other women artists, once the man got his girl the curtains came down on her career.  The stronger women, including the two just mentioned,  eventually dumped the guy and got back into the show. But even though she divorced Hussain, Aliya was never able to regain the momentum she had had before getting married.

 Playback honors for the film went to Nahid Akhtar and the music was composed by the famous Tafo. 

Given the pet name Tafo (also spelled Tafu and Tafoo) by his father, Altaf Hussain Khan (no relation to the director of this film) is one of the subcontinent’s great tabla masters.  A student of Ustad Mian Qadir Bakhsh the master of the Punjab gharana who also instructed Allah Rakha, accompanist of Ravi Shankar and father of Zakir Hussain,Tafo’ Khan, has accompanied all the great names of Pakistani classical and popular music and is recognised among his peers as an unsurpassed virtuoso.

In the 1970s,  Altaf Hussain along with his brother Nisar (accordion and keyboards) and later, his sons, made a name for themselves in the movies. Billed as the Tafo Brothers or more simply just Tafo the collective made exciting, edgy and eclectic music for both Urdu and Punjabi films. When not getting topline credit for their work they were often playing in the studio orchestras of other musical directors and worked closely with M Ashraf in particular.

Yes Meri No Teri (My Yes, Your No) is a title I have given to today’s song, as the only reference to it I’ve been able to find on the internet gives it the generic title of Dance Music.  Regardless of its true name, the song itself is completely wacky and wonderful. Not only does Tafo sample madly and widely he lifts one of South Asian film’s most iconic musical moments lock, stock and barrel.

Several electric guitars pulse out a beat as woozy, gurgling synths rise and fall like waves on the ocean before a tinny Hammond B3 riff that could be an outtake from The Doors Light My Fire sessions sets up the entry of the vocals.

R.D. Burman, India’s fabled musical director in the 1970s and 80s, made musical history with his song Duniya Mein Logon Ko Dokha Kabhi Ho Jaata Hai (Apna Desh, 1972) in which, in addition to singing, he vocalised a series of rhythmic grunts, groans and heavy breaths which became forever embedded in the national psyche.

In Yes Meri No Teri the very same ‘scat’ is inserted into the opening sequence by way of introducing the immortal lines sung by all time good sport Nahid Akhtar:

dil de gitar waje tau tau tau/ ik ik taar waje tau tau tau

(The guitar of the heart goes tau tau tau/ each and every string goes tau tau tau)

There is no shame in art. Not only does Tafo lift Burman‘s innovation but in the latter part of the song Akhtar slurs her vocals in a way that brings to mind the slightly inebriated singing style that Asha Bhosle used in her mega hit Dam Maro Dam (Take a Toke) from the 1971 movie (also scored by BurmanHare Krishna Hare Ram.

All in all Yes Meri No Teri, like the film, is no classic. But it is a good example of what some very talented musicians were doing to modernize Pakistani film music.  Tafo went on to score hundreds of films and many of his/their songs are rightly held in very high regard.  We will share more in the future.

But for now, tau tau tau!

YesNo

 

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

Some Say I am a Sweety

korakaghaz

Kora Kaghaz (Blank Page) was an Urdu movie released in 1978.

Pakistan and India are arch rivals in every sphere of life: war, cricket, nationalistic governments and possession of Kashmir, to name just a few.  While you could say the Pakistani film industry was never large enough to be a serious rival to what has come to be known as Bollywood,  there was always plenty of artistic appropriation going on between both industries.

Pakistani singers crossed back and forth across borders having hits and fans in both countries.  Story ideas and plot lines were pinched without compunction from each other. The studios in Lahore and Karachi regularly remade mega-hit Indian films. By appending the same titles to their own creations they no doubt hoped to strike similar box-office gold as the originals.

Kora Kaghaz was the name of an Indian movie released in 1974 which itself was a remake of a Bengali film by the name of Saat Pake Bandha (1963).

The Pakistani version of the movie was a big hit. It ran continuously for  27 weeks in cinema halls in Karachi, attaining coveted Silver Jubilee status.

The film’s music was composed by Nazir Ali who was known primarily for his work in Punjabi films. Called by some the ‘master of rhythm’ his work covered the range of ‘fast’ ‘slow’, upbeat and ‘sad’ numbers including a number of ghazals that were made popular by Noor Jehan.

This song definitely qualifies as an ‘upbeat’ number.

Rhythm features from the outset with rapid fire drum rolls mixed with strummed acoustic guitars and the warm swells of a mellotron.  Nahid Akhtar then enters with some ‘la la la’ ing that flattens out in a typical Punjabi way by way of introduction to the opening line,  Some say I am a sweety!

The song is clearly an ‘item number’. A song sung by a vamp, usually to a rock n’ roll beat, in a disco or hotel cabaret.  Nahid Akhtar was the queen of ‘item numbers’ in the 70’s making her reputation as one of Pakistan’s best-loved, most prolific playback singers.  Her partnership with music director M Ashraf is particularly well remembered.

Some Say I am Sweety alternates between English and Urdu lyrics which are banal in both languages. But what the song lacks in lyricism it makes up for with a heady mix of instruments, sounds, and beats. Electic fuzz guitars, sizzling electronic keyboards, accordions, flutes and of course lots of snares and bongos.

Some say I am a sweety/ some say a queen of the beauty

I am alive/heart is beating/but my soul is hurting

 

Sweety