Dam Dama Dam Mast

 

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Miss Hippy is an Urdu film released in 1974. Though now almost forgotten, in its day it ran for 33 weeks and earned coveted Silver Jubilee status.

The cast of the film was strong for this story of intergenerational abuse, neglect and conflict. A wealthy, ‘ultra-modren’ family headed by Lollywood’s original power couple Santosh and Sabiha, play parents and guardian to the dynamic duo of the 1970s scene, Shabnam and Nadeem. The essential drama at the heart of the film was not new, but that the story was set within the context of the hippie movement with its potential for crazy characters and wild pop music is intriguing. Sadly, given ‘what could have been’, Miss Hippy is a bit of a dud.

Amjad (Santosh) is a brutish alcoholic who never hesitates to slap people around, including his wife Zarina (Sabiha) and daughter Bubbly.  When he’s not making money Amjad likes to socialise with other modern people. The men drink heavily and make their wives squirm while they ogle dancing girls.  His approach to parenting involves forcibly spoon-feeding Bubbly whiskey to make her sleep.

This is not a happy family.  Bubbly runs away from home and grows up to be the drugged-out moll for an international hashish smuggling gang. Taking the name Shireen she flies the world doing deals and gathering European hippies to the gang of a ‘guru’ named Peshwa. When the gang is infiltrated by the police, Shireen (Shabnam) is arrested and forced to stand trial. But the sympathetic Inspector Nasir (Nadeem), who is her unrecognised cousin, convinces her to turn state’s evidence. She avoids prison and under the guidance of Nasir consents to reform her ways. He takes her home to meet his uncle and aunt (and her mother and father) Amjad and Zarina!

The plot twists and turns like the road to Murree, ramping up and then relieving the emotional tension time and again. Her attempt to go straight fails almost as soon as it begins and soon Bubbly/Shireen takes the stage name Miss Hippy and doubles as a high-priced call girl cum dancer. High powered but ultimately weak men fall at her knees which tragically ends in one being murdered and Miss Hippy going on trial a second time. But fear not! The judge is able to see the goodness deep within the murderess and releases her to happy middle class life and the loving maternal arms of Zarina.

Throughout the 60s and early 70s Pakistan was a major part of the London to Kathmandu ‘hippie trail’. My brothers and many of their friends travelled the route and I myself was set to do the same but a revolution in Iran happened and the flow of overland hippies was staunched.

1974 in Pakistan just about marks the high point of its secular, West-looking urban culture. The military had retreated to the barracks after 10 disastrous years in charge. The charismatic Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was promoting Pakistan as a world leader of a new political category he labelled Islamic Socialism. A huge casino was under construction in Karachi. Hopes of luring the spoiled princes of Arabia were high. Rock and roll bands played in the big city cabarets and hippies hung out on Clifton beach. Pakistan was hip. Even rockin’.

But as Miss Hippy demonstrates, not everyone was happy with what was going down.  Director S. Suleman, the brother of Santosh Kumar, the film’s ugly patriarch, seems to hold dear the values of Pakistan’s first generation: a vague affection for the Muslim faith, traditional social structures and a preference for Eastern culture over modern Western influences.  In addition to a family break-down story, Miss Hippy is a vehicle for Suleman to decry the growing secular and immoral foreign influences on Pakistani society. Throughout the film, Europeans are portrayed as interested in nothing but strumming guitars and smoking dope. To the extent they are in search of some illusive spiritual truth, they can be manipulated to do anything as long as they get free hashish.  ‘Our culture and society is being corrupted by these hippies,’ an agitated Nasir tells Shireen when they first meet in Peshwa’s smuggling den by the sea.

Yet, while Suleman is scornful of the hippie lifestyle and ideals, he is most acidic in his criticism of those of his countrymen who embrace so-called ‘modern’ values, if not exactly the clothing and hairstyles of the hippies.

In several early scenes a character known as Prof. Hashim acts as an irritating oracle. He confesses that the ‘highest priority’ of his life is to come to hip dinner parties where the “women are rotten” and his male peers are high on Scotch. Though he claims to eschew drink himself his speech is slurred and his gait wobbly. Though an out and out hypocrite he sets a moralistic tone for the film by launching pointed and ironic barbs at Amjad and his circle. When he learns that Bubbly is at home and that Amjad has administered whiskey as sleeping tonic, he congratulates his friend. “You should be clapping and laughing with joy. You’re such wonderful parents. When this next generation of drunken children grow up I’ve no doubt they will be shining examples for Pakistan.”  A little later he sidles up to Amjad who is pouring the drinks: “Ah, if it wasn’t for good Muslim like yourselves how would the Scotch industry survive?”

When Shireen tries to go straight and is taken home by Nasir, it is a self righteous Amjad who rejects her and kicks her back onto the street. There is no doubt in the audience’s mind that it is her father, not the hippies, who is the true villain in Shireen’s life.  The so called normal, healthy, loving middle class family that Nasir has so eagerly promoted is shown to be as hollow as the lives of the hippies.

Miss Hippy is not untypical of many other Pakistani films of the Golden Age in that it is simultaneously horrified and fascinated by modern western culture. Though Nasir, Amjad and Prof. Hashim miss no opportunity to speechify about the corrupt and filthy hippies the film spends an awful lot of time focused on the sexy women and their guitar strumming men.   If drugs are supposed to be ‘bad’, the film has no hesitation is showing scene after scene of hashish being smoked by Pakistanis as well as Europeans.  Teen agers would find this stuff exciting.

 

One of my favorite music directors, Robin Ghosh, is responsible for the soundtrack. But with the exception of one or two songs there is not much here of interest.  The best of the lot is Dam Dama Dam Mast which takes its inspiration from the 1971 R.D. Burman classic Dam Maro Dam. Though a clear ‘re-make’ of the Indian superhit it is no rip off.  Whereas Burman infuses his song with an electric sizzle (that famous guitar riff, squawking Moog, the driving snare) that immediately connects the listener to the heavy rock music supposedly so loved by the hippies, Ghosh opts for a mellower approach.  Bongo drums set the beat for a strummed acoustic guitar and a loping lazy rhythm. Groovy and languid is the mood. Much like you’d expect of a stoner’s evening. Several hippies sigh and let out long smoky exhales interrupted by a trio of Mexicali trumpets.

 

Nayyara Noor’s vocals are precise and operatic. She sings the opening lines

Pee ke zara dekho (smoke some and see)

Kaisa maza aayega (what fun it can be)

Diwana ban jayega (you’ll go wild)

Aajaa, arey aaa (Come on)

Har gham to rukh jayega (every worry will be gone)

 

A flute comes floating into the mix before being chased away by some urgent strums of a Spanish guitar. You can feel the violins lifting you off the ground for a second then you’re back on the dance floor swaying and inhaling yet more charas.  There is all the time in the world. No one is going anywhere. This dance and high can last forever it seems.

 

Ghosh’s delightful, groovy sound is very different than Burman’s fast paced raucous anthem. Asha Bhosle’s singing in Dam Maro Dam though accomplished verges on shouting when compared to Noor’s restrained and unhurried vocals. It’s not that one is better than the other. Simply that both are wonderful and distinct imaginings of what a hippie music could sound like.  Burman/Bhosle make you want to jump and party all night. Ghosh and Noor settle you in for the long haul.

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Zinda Rahen To Kis Ke Khatir

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Uf Yeh Beevian (Oh, These Wives!) is an Urdu film released in 1977 that  racked up more than 75 weeks in Karachi’s cinema halls to bag Diamond Jubilee status.

S. Suleman, a director who seemed to have a knack for producing hit movies, began his career playing the young version of Dilip Kumar’s character in 1948’s popular Mela. After migrating to Pakistan with his brothers who included the matinée idols Santosh Kumar and Darpan, Suleman established a reputation as a socially conscious and sensitive director.  Many of his films such as Lori (Lullaby) and Baji were praised and appreciated for their progressive social messages.  They were also popular. Baji, which starred both of Suleman’s brothers,  attracted 5 Nigar Awards including the coveted Best Picture Award in 1963.

Suleman was not one to sit on his laurels.  Conscious of the tendency among his peers to rely on formulas and plagiarizing movies from across the border he deliberately set out to try new things. Comedy proved to be the new frontier he was looking for and throughout the 1960s and 70s he created several well regarded and fondly remembered comic films like Uf Yeh Beevian.

An outrageous early scene which depicts what can only be called a home invasion by a group of clap happy dancers not withstanding,Uf Yeh Beevian begins as a standard middle class social drama. Zahid (Shahid) is informed by his auntie with whom he lives, that arrangements have been made for his engagement to a lovely girl, Nadira (Shabnam) from Lahore. But when they return from the airport trouble is already brewing. Nadira is modern and liberated but rude, entitled and agressive. Zahid and his aunt are horrified and beg  her to leave.

Similar disasters unfold when Zahid pays a visit to Lahore and discovers that Nadira is now a panch waqt namazi (prays 5 times a day) and ultra conservative Islamic girl. Zahid is totally confused until Nadira confesses that she’s been testing him and that in fact she loves him and hopes he will marry her.  Delighted and relieved Zahid does exactly that and they set the wedding date for after Nadira’s return from Nairobi where she goes to visit family. Tragically, Zahid reads of a plane crashing near Nairobi killing all aboard. Nadira is assumed dead and Zahid sinks into a depression and upon the advice of a friend takes up drinking whisky to drown his grief.

Concerned family and friends arrange another marriage for Zahid with a feisty controlling girl named Najma (Najma) who manages to make Zahid forget Nadira. One day out of the blue, however, Nadira inexplicably appears in Zahid’s house, healthy and ready to pick up where she left off before flying to Nairobi. What follows for the rest of the film is Zahid running between Nadira and Najma in ever more ridiculous circumstances. Shahid most known as a romantic lead reveals an easy way with comedic material and plays the exasperated and increasingly exhausted husband with aplomb. Both wives soon cotton on to the deception and in their own turns express their anger by using their legs and fists on poor Zahid.

At this point one may be tempted to note a hint of the progressive social commentary S Suleman loved so much: women are standing up for their rights and refusing to be belittled by the patriarchy that permits men to enjoy multiple women. But one would be wrong. For very quickly the film resolves the drama in a most reactionary way.  Zahid’s driver (Lehri) explains to the angry wives that his boss had kept his double marriage secret because ‘he didn’t want to hurt your feelings. He loves you both.’  When they hear this Nadira and Najma join forces and voices (they speak the same lines in unison) and rescue Zahid who is ready to leap to his death from the top of a building.  “We will all live together in the same house,” they assure Zahid and enjoy a final group hug as the films rolls to farcical end.

Zinda Rahein to Kis ki Khatir (For Whom Should I Stay Alive?) is the best song of this otherwise silly movie.  Zahid is reeling from Nadira’s apparent death in the plane crash and with his alcoholic friend Mushtaq takes to the bottle at a Islamabad club.  The music composed by M Ashraf is modern enough for dancing but sufficiently low key to match the mood of a desperately sad Zahid.  Mehdi Hassan gives Agha Hassan Imtisal’s down beat lyrics a suitably melancholy tone. Actor, singer and lyricist work together to make a poignant and moving moment the highlight of the film.

 

 

 

 

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.