Thehra Hai Sama Hum Tum Hain Jahan

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Amber (Amber) is an Urdu movie released forty years ago in January 1978. With veteran director Nazrul Islam behind the camera and a gaggle of heavy hitting stars such as Mohammad Ali, Nadeem and the versatile Mumtaz, Amber zinged off like a rocket, running for an incredible 85 weeks at Karachi’s Koh-i-noor Cinema.

As with many Pakistani films it is hard to share the public’s madness for what today seems a run of the mill romcon with all the usual plotlines of inter-generational conflict, mistaken identities and parents struggling with drink and anger management issues.  Which is not to say Amber is a complete waste of time. Nadeem once again shows his comedic skills and Mumtaz manages to hold our attention with nary a twerk or breast boom.

Mohammad Ali, by now one of the older statesman of Pakistani movies, plays Ali, a rich man wound tighter than a maulvi’s mouth in Ramazan. His beloved wife dies in childbirth but Ali has little time for his son, Nadeem (Nadeem), The boy grows up to be a spendthrift playboy at University, always getting in and out of trouble with the help of his scheming best friend (Munawar Saeed).

All roads lead to marriage in Pakistani films and the heart of the movie is a farcical double-cross cum blackmail cum deception powerplay that has Nadeem tricking Amber (Mumtaz) and her family into thinking he’s a bawarchi (cook) which allows him to get close to the the beautiful Amber. The comedy is laid on thick as Ali, Amber, Nadeem grin, smack, drink and stumble their way through series of circumstances which get more tangled than one of Nadeem’s, the supposed cook, bowls of noodles.  But in the end, unsurprisingly, love prevails and Amber marries Nadeem making Ali happy in the autumn of his years.

Robin Ghosh is charged with the soundtrack which like the film itself doesn’t hold up as well as many of his other scores.  But the highlight, sung by Mehdi Hassan, is a desi cover of one of the most famous pop songs in the world.  In 1959 the Belgian folk legend Jacques Brel composed what he referred to as a ‘hymn to the cowardice of men’, Ne me quitte pas (Don’t Leave Me). The song’s doleful and slightly lethargic melody instantly caught on not just in the French-speaking world but across the entire globe. Versions of the song have been recorded in at least 26 languages including Afrikaans, West Frisian, Arabic and Slovene. In English alone 17 artists ranging from the country star Glen Campbell to the smoothest of all lounge singers Frank Sinatra have recorded If You Go Away, the Rod McKuen penned Anglo iteration.

Ne me quitte pas is often thought of as a love song but according to Brel it is nothing of the sort.  At the time of the composition Brel’s girlfriend became pregnant with his son. With what he termed masculine ‘cowardice’ Brel refused to take any responsibility for the child. His girlfriend threw him out and the song later came out of a bout of Brel‘s regret and remorse.

Interestingly, this backstory  is somewhat mirrored in Amber. The song, Thehra Hain Sama Hum Tum Jahan comes at the very beginning of the film, on the occasion of Ali’s suhag raat (marriage night).  As he falls into the arms of his young bride (Deeba) he sings of eternal love and never leaving her, she begins to tear up in a sort of premonition of disaster.  Several months later she dies whilst giving birth to their son Nadeem.

Ghosh doesn’t stray too far from the original melody though of course the words have changed to suit a different cotext.  The key feature of the song besides the golden nuanced voice of Mehdi Hassan is the lovely plaintive violin that drives the melody gently forward.

 

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Jiya More Lage Na

Bhool

Bhool (Forgetfulness) is an Urdu film released in November 1974.  A major success at the box office, Bhool ran for 52 weeks straight in Pakistan’s major center, Karachi, achieving coveted Golden Jubilee status.

1974 was just about the shining peak of the Urdu film industry. The mood in the country after a devastating decade of military rule, civil war and loss of half of the country’s territory to the new state of Bangladesh, was finally upbeat. A populist and very popular self acclaimed Islamic Socialist leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was the charismatic international face of Pakistan.   Public life was relaxed and tolerant. Rock bands like The Moonglows and Willie Po and the Boys had the young folks dancing, while Turkish belly dancers swayed and shimmied for the businessmen in the bars of Karachi’s finer establishments.

The movie industry was exploding as well. It was that golden time when talent and stars abounded. The early stars like Santosh Kumar, Sahiba Khanum, Neelo, Noor Jehan, Mohammad Ali and Talish were the revered elders and a whole slew of new comers such as Waheed Murad, Shahid, Shabnam and  later, Babra Sharif and Ghulam Mohiuddin brought a sparkling, relaxed and often irreverent attitude that perfectly matched the times to the screen.

Nadeem who headlined in Bhool along side his most prolific screen paramour,  Shabnam, was also pretty busy in 1974. He starred in 13 other films that year two of which were released on Christmas Day and 9 of which ran for at least 25 weeks (Silver Jubilee)!  He was the very definition of ‘hot’.

Shabnam, a Bengali beauty was married to music director Robin Ghosh, also from what was once known as East Pakistan. Nadeem had been part of their circle in Dhaka in the early 60s and it was there that he tried to get his initial break into the movies…as a playback singer. It was not to be. The young boy with the doe-y eyes and playful smile was made to be in front of the camera. The dream of being the next Mohammad Rafi was quietly abandoned.

In addition to a glittering cast of stars that included Babra Sharif and Afzal Ahmad (see previous post on International Gorillay) some very big names were involved off screen. Shamim Ara, starlet of the 50s and early 60s turned director was Bhool’s producer and S. Suleman handled the direction.  A respected talent Suleman’s  Gulfam (1961) is regarded  as one of the best Pakistani pictures of all time.  Throughout a long career, he developed a canny talent for making hit pictures that often starred his brother Darpan, focused on progressive social themes and portrayed powerful women characters.

Bhool falls into the category of ‘social drama’ that defined classic Urdu films. It is also evidence that Nadeem had not yet entirely reconciled himself to his decision to leave singing behind.  In at least 4 of the films 7 songs including the jazzed up thumri  Jiya More Lage Na (I Don’t Feel Like Living) which I share today, Nadeem is the lead vocalist.

The pace of this song is quick and the mood jovial.  A swell of strings provides the introduction and sets the stage for some Latin rhythms that quickly give way to a trumpet trio and a descending electric guitar run that signals  ‘spy master-cum-playboy’ approaching.

Robin Ghosh is fast turning into my favorite music director. Everything he does has class, be it a slow burning lover’s lament or a rocking party song like this. The way he is able to create excitement by combining modern pop sounds (slashing guitar, Hammond organ squelches), international flavours (Mexicali trumpets) and strings (silky then plucky) with a raucous call and response chorus is pure magic.  There is not a dull or lazy bar in this piece.  Indeed, the only downer is Nadeem himself. His voice wobbles like he can’t quite find the key.  Almost out of tune. And even when he hits his stride his voice comes out as flat and stiff as a cold chapati.

Still the song stands as a wonderful contribution and example of the genius of Robin Ghosh.

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