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.

Aurton Apna Naam Bad Naam Na Karo

Aurat raj

Aurat Raj (Women’s Rule), a passionate, frenetic and highly subversive film about a hoary social issue, the place of women in society, is an Urdu movie released in 1979.

 

Made by one of Lollywood’s more intriguing characters, the comedian Rangeela (Mohammad Saeed Khan), Aurat Raj is a grand statement delivered in the form of bizarre slapstick. Every comedian knows it’s all in the timing. Sadly, Rangeela misjudged his. The film was released just as President General Zia ul Haq was imposing on the country a conservative social vision diametrically opposed to the film’s message. The film was a box office dud.

 

As the title suggests, Aurat Raj, imagines a world in which Pakistani women wear the pants (literally) and men are reduced to hapless marionettes with little purpose beyond fulfilling the passions of their female rulers.

 

Soofia (Rani) is married to a despicable, violent drunkard (Waheed Murad) who schemes about divorcing his wife all the more to go whoring with a different woman every night. Unexpectedly and inexplicably, Rani harnesses her inner tiger and leads a revolution of the oppressed. She rallies the female masses around the platform of ‘breaking the chains of thousands of years of mistreatment and repression by our supposed protectors’ and her Women’s Party ultimately wins a national election.

 

Insecure in her mandate, Soofia approaches some shady foreigners for a weapon that will overturn the gender tables. The arms dealers prepare and explode a smoke bomb which turns men into grotesque dupatta-covered minions. The women morph into uniformed, bellowing men who have no hesitation to fire their automatic rifles at any male who dares raise his voice against them.

 

Over the course of two hours the men are subjected to every crime (rape), abuse (beating), prejudice (pardah and lack of education) and humiliation (public dancing) imaginable by the once meek but now vengeful women of the country. Myriad sub-plots rise and fall like half-formed dreams but there is no doubt that the point of such nonsense is serious. Though the on-screen role reversal is farcical the film is successful in generating compassion and sympathy for women as well as disgust with ‘Patriarchy’.

 

Born in Afghanistan, by the 1950s Rangeela found himself in Lahore as a painter of billboards and avid bodybuilder. He got a lucky break when he was dragooned into filling in for a missing comic on set. His oversized head and skinny frame caught the imagination of the public and more roles followed.

 

A person who at first appeared to be a poorly educated Pashtun hick, in time turned out to be a cinematic renaissance man. Rangeela is considered not just one of Pakistani’s best comedians but was a leading man and an accomplished director. He displayed business acumen by establishing his own production house, sang songs as a playback singer and even composed music for some films!

 

With movies like Aurat Raj and the eponymous Rangeela (1970) in which he played a socially rejected cripple based on the hunchback of Notre Dame, Rangeela showed himself to be an auteur of some vision and courage, as well.

 

 

Throughout the film, Rangeela deploys music as a lively dramatic device. The election victory of the Women’s Party is secured largely due to a troupe of female qawwals who make the case against the men and their evil ways in song. A qawwali-like atmosphere is used again as Waheed Murad (the nasty husband) begs ‘women not to defame themselves by auctioning their men in public’.

 

(The singer of this particular song is one Nasreen Talib about whom very little information is available on the internet. I hope to have further details at some later stage.)

At various points in the film, music director Nazir Ali and Rangeela ‘sample’ other famous songs such as Amanat Ali’s elegiac Inshaji Utho and Lata’s Ae Mere Dil Kahin Aur Chal (Daag 1952). In keeping with the tenor of the film, these ‘serious’ or sentimental songs are used to great comedic affect, such as when after a major military operation that pitches a female army against the rebellious burqa-clad men, a shell shocked Rani is left standing alone in a devastated landscape. Suddenly, we hear Kishore Kumar singing Yeh Kya Hua Kaise Hua (Prem Nagar 1974) from an abandoned soldier’s radio!

 

But the most compelling use of music and song in Aurat Raj is the frequency with which the post-bomb men/ladies are made to dance for the pleasure of the women/men. Seeing macho matinee stars such as gandasa wielder Sultan Rahi and ‘Chocolate Hero’ Waheed Murad desperately shaking their hips and pumping their chests is not a pretty sight. At first hilarious, the spectacle soon becomes farcical and then vulgar. Before too long one cannot help but feel the weight of the humiliation that is heaped upon the head of the mujra dancer, who is more often than not a woman

 

Aurat Raj may be one of the strangest films ever conceived. And though its execution is haphazard it deserves recognition as a heartfelt attempt at social change. The film is noteworthy also as a fabulous testament to the unfettered artistic imagination of the one-of-a-kind Rangeela, Pakistan’s unlikely but original women’s rights activist.

Allah Allah Allah Haq Allah Hoo

Aadam

Yeh Aadam (This Adam) is a Punjabi movie released on April 11,1986.

I’ve not been able to locate any data about its success at the box office which is probably evidence of its being a flop.

 

The film starred the giant of Pakistani Punjabi cinema Sultan Rahi along with his erstwhile female co-star Asiya, who shared the honors with him in the 1979 super-duper-wooper hit Maula Jat.

 

Punjabi cinema was dominant in Lahore in the mid-80s. The golden era of Urdu language family social dramas that targeted the urban middle classes was waning fast. President General Zia ul Haq was nearly a decade into his political/social/moral crusade to clean up the Land of the Pure. After the advent of the VCR and rise of the small screen the film industry was struggling to justify its existence. Public life became constricted as families, and women especially, retreated (or felt compelled to stay) indoors. And if, as a filmmaker, you could not depict physical affection between men and women, and any sort of partying or dancing or general merriment was frowned on by censors, what remained to attract people to the movies?

 

In keeping with the times—a war in Afghanistan, politically sponsored violence in major cities, rise of small arms and narcotics—Lollywood turned to other audiences and violence. Punjabi films such as Yeh Aadam extolled ‘traditional and rural’ values—clan loyalty, blood feuds, manliness—and drew upon the urban poor or migrant laborer markets. Sultan Rahi, Mustafa Qureshi, Chakori and Asiya were the top-billed names and would remain so until the Punjabi film market itself nearly died out in the mid-90s.

 

The music for Yeh Aadam was composed by Nazir Ali and M Javed and called upon the singing talents of the best in the industry: Noor Jehan, Shaukat Ali, Mehnaz and Masood Rana. Sometimes its the music that rescues a film from complete oblivion but not in this case. Nazir Ali was an accomplished veteran composer with a long string of hits to his credits, but M Javed, who is credited by EMI on the album label as the main composer, remains a mystery.

 

So if the film stunk (apparently) and no hits came out of the soundtrack (it seems) and the music director is a non-entity (based on quick searches on the internet) why are we highlighting the film?

 

The answer is simple: Alam Lohar. Without a doubt one of Pakistan’s–no, South Asia’s–most important folk artists, Alam Lohar presence in any film soundtrack is worthy of attention. Though he had passed on to the next world several years before Yeh Aadam was released there was no one who could sing this kind of song better.

 

Lohar was a natural singer who came up through the folk theatre (nautanki). His voice is raw and full of vigor if not exactly polished. But it was his charisma as a performer as much as for his voice that Pakistanis loved and continue to appreciate him.

 

Allah Allah Allah Haq Allah Hoo is a simple ‘Sufi’ song of the sort you’d hear around the mazar (tomb) of any Saint in rural Pakistan (or northern India for that matter). Though this version has been gussied up in the studio the basic folk elements are clearable audible: strong percussion, morchang (a local version of the jaw or jews harp) and simple lyrics.

 

The title of the song is a traditional Sufi chant (zikr); it is credited to one of Mohammad’s four companions, Abu Bakr and is associated with the Naqshbandi silsila (order) of Muslim mystics. It simply means Allah is Truth, Allah Is. In between this refrain Lohar inserts other short verses that refer to the Almighty’s other attributes and qualities such as his ‘glorious aura’ (shaan) and powerful throne (takht).

 

All in all this song is a wonderful little gem rescued from an otherwise barren and arid landscape.

AAAHAH

Akhiyan Laryan Te Pyar Hoya

lahori-badshah

Lahori Badshah (Master of Lahore) is a Punjabi film released in July 1977.  It is considered a ‘superhit’ and achieved Platinum status, running for more than 75 consecutive weeks in cinemas in Lahore.

It would be two years yet before the release of Maula Jat the biggest grossing and probably best known film Pakistan has ever produced.  But the genre of rural-based, blood-drenched feudal soap operas, which Maula Jat epitomised was already a staple of Punjabi cinema. Though there are vast differences between American ‘westerns’ and this sort of Punjabi film, in some ways it is easier to get a grip on them if they are approached as a sort of South Asian cowboy movie.

The hero is a rugged and rough man driven to violence not by nature but by necessity, usually to right some deep moral transgression. A family’s honour has been besmirched by another clan. Outsiders are threatening a cultural code. A woman has been raped. Interestingly, religion, while often invoked as part of the moral universe is far less of a motivator for the hero’s action than a desire to protect Punjabi ‘culture’.  Defining exactly what that culture IS is another matter but it appears (to me) to be a melange of family honour, rural social order, land and masculinity.

Sultan Rahi, was, until his murder in 1996, the icon of Punjabi pictures. He’s the one pictured in the photo above. He starred in Maula Jat and countless other similar pictures in which he developed a very loud, brash mode of delivering his lines.  He did not hesitate to swing his gandasa (ax) to defend the ‘culture’ and inevitably would end up dripping in blood by the time the final credits rolled.

Noor Jehan, aka Madam or Malika Taranum (Queen of Melody), who sings today’s song is without dispute the single most important and influential figure in Pakistani cinema history.  She grew  up in an artistic environment, singing and acting in traveling shows with her sister.  After some musical training in Calcutta she made the move in the 1940s to Bombay and became an instant celluloid sweetheart. She was gorgeous, a good actor and was blessed with the most beautiful, evocative voice.  Indeed, she is regarded by all and sundry, even her peers in India as well as Pakistan, as the greatest female playback singer of all time.

She chose the more professionally challenging route of opting for Pakistan in 1947. Had she stayed on in India her fame and fortune would have been incalculable. But as a loyal Punjabi and a firm believer in the idea of a separate state for India’s Muslims, she ‘returned’ to an industry that was nearly out for the count.  But her spirit energised others and she was able to play a major role in reviving the Lahore movie making business. Though she was forced to quit acting–pressures from her husband–she made a mark as Pakistan’s first female film director and of course, graced hundreds of soundtracks with her versatile and powerful singing.

I have always found that Noor Jehan was in her element when sang in Punjabi rather than Urdu. In Punjabi she is absolutely one with the music, not just the rhythms and melodies but the lyrics as well. She inhabits her Punjabi songs in a way she doesn’t with Urdu. And while she was able to sing in any number of moods and styles the way she let loose in Punjabi feudal movies is spectacular.

Akhiyan Laryan Te Pyar Hoya is a right rocker. Driven by Punjabi beats, swelling strings and Madam’s equally heaving breast, the heavy breathing and flirtatious moans make this number a true piece of gold.  And when she’s not emoting her love she lets her voice burst forth without let in a typical Punjabi /rural style.  Like the flare of a trumpet there is a certain blast of sound that  hurtles forth out of her mouth which commands as much attention as a bloody gandasa. You know she means business!

Badshah