Mohabbat Aur Majboori (Love and Compulsion) is an Urdu film released in September 1981.
The film appears not to have made many waves or at least not for very long. Clearly a story of conflicted and unrequited love, the headline star is the beautiful Babra Sharif who plays a sophisticated Pakistani-British expat who returns home and family. She is met by relatives and driven to the mazar of Sain Baba in the mountains of Kashmir, where the first song of the film, Dama Dam Allah Hoo is heard.
The song is performed by Mehdi Hassan who needs no introduction to most readers. Arguably the best male ‘light classical’ singer of his generation and popular not just in Pakistan, but in India as well as the South Asian diaspora, Hassan is best remembered for his non-film repertoire of ghazals. His voice is instantly recognisable for its smooth timbre and understated delivery. He infused each song with a natural unhurried dignity, which is calming and luscious at the same time.
Sufi shrines (mazar) are an important part of the cultural and geographic landscape in Pakistan. They are visited regularly by seekers of all faiths who come to pray, rest, socialise and seek boons from the charged energy of the Saint that encompasses the surrounding area. Women come to seek the birth of children. Men seek the Saint’s help for business success. And in the film, Babra Sharif has come with an unspoken desire for love.
The concept of ishq (Love) is central to the Sufi message. The Almighty is approached in the form of the Beloved. The individual seeker is the Lover who wants to drown and lose his sense of self (diwana) in the Love of God. The line between divine love (Ishq) and romantic love (Mohabbat) is a thin one, especially in the popular imagination. And shrines are considered to be places where earthly relationships can be sourced or repaired.
This version of the sort of song Sufi sains (wandering minstrels/mystics) would perform at a mazar is lovely, if not exactly inspiring. The rougher ecstatic edges of the real deal have been polished for the middle-class audiences the filmmakers are targeting. Mehdi Hassan’s voice was never designed to sing jubilant spiritual chants and seems slightly out of place in the context of religious and ritual intensity.
The title of the song, as well as its repeated refrain Dama Dam Allah Hoo, references the Sindhi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s mazar in Sehwan. The chant/hymn Dama Dam Mast Qalandar, is the single most famous line in South Asian mystical music and instantly associates the listener with Qalandar and the Sehwan shrine.
I selected this song mainly because of the awful events that have transpired in Sehwan in the past few days. In a time like this Mehdi Hassan’s subdued rendition is just the sort of balm we all require.