Dam Dama Dam Mast

 

download-14

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.

Advertisements

A Tay Wela Aap Dassay Ga, Kon Mar Da A Medan Pehlay Hallay

hqdefault-4

Maula Jatt is a Punjabi movie released in February 1979.  Hands down it is the most famous movie ever produced in Pakistan with a world wide cult following.  More words, columns and articles have been written about this single film than the entire Pakistani movie industry.

 

There are iconic films—Gone with the Wind, Mother India—that capture a historical moment. Other films are remembered for ushering in a new epoch; think Star Wars or Zanjeer. But rarely has one film dominated an industry and a public’s consciousness so completely as the Pakistani rustic, action picture Maula Jatt.

 

Released forty years ago this February, what appeared at the time to be just another Punjabi potboiler has, in fact, become the undisputed glittering prize of Pakistani film. Recognised today as a unique cinematic creation which has spawned its own ‘Jatt’ franchise, Maula Jatt will be memorialised later this year in a much-ballyhooed recreation by director Bilal Lashari.

 

The story of Maula Jatt can be traced back to the 1950s Urdu short story, Gandasa by Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi. But the character portrayed in the short story, a village tearaway caught up in a society driven in equal measure by violence and love, is one as familiar to Punjabis as the old story of Hir Ranjha.  Wehsi Jatt (1975) the hit movie which picturised the short story, set the ball of blood-drenched Punjabi movies rolling.  Four years later, producer Sarwar Bhatti decided to advance the story and created Maula Jatt in which he introduced new characters, a fresh plotline and, lots and lots more gore.

 

What could have been a lazy rip off turned out to be strikingly fresh, even innovative. Maula Jatt managed not only to win the immediate affection of audiences all across the country but critics too, sang its praises.  At the same time, the film struck fear into the heart of Zia ul Haq’s military government whose clumsy attempts to censor the film proved unsuccessful and as is usually the case when authorities try to restrict access, only enhanced the reputation of the movie.

 

The film begins on a grand operatic note.  This is Punjab, intones an invisible narrator. There are two kinds of people here. Those who inflict terror upon the land and those who seek justice. Noori Natt represents the former. The humble Maula Jatt exemplifies the party of the just.  The stage is set for a morality tale like no other, but to the extent that the movie is a story of the blood feud between Maula (Sultan Rahi) and his sneering nemesis Noori Natt (Mustafa Qureshi), the plot line is strangely extraneous. What follows is more akin to a series of individual scenes stapled together rather than a logically recounted narrative. The only thing that matters here, from the very first rape scene that turns into an anguished death dance by the victim, is the action. The fights. The juicy insults. The severed limbs and the rivers of blood.

 

The tale is ostensibly one of enmity between Noori and Maula, but the relationship between the two adversaries is so much more subtle and fascinating.  Under Younis Malik’s intuitive direction the characters reveal  that below the surface of their violent hatred lies a deeper, friendlier sportsman-like rivalry; a bond that is as loving as it is loathsome. And this intimate, homo-erotic connection is the true measure of Maula Jatt’s brilliance.

1_80t-8lu_qattrmwdkck-vw

Sultan Rahi as Maula Jatt

Though the two men do not meet until halfway through the film, the atmosphere bristles with menace. Noorie Natt is in jail for murder but his goondas and family members, including his frightening and beautiful sister Daro Natni (Chakori), are causing chaos in the land of the 5 rivers.  Maula has his hands full as he gallops from village to village on his white horse administering justice with his fists and glistening gandasa (axe). When at last the men meet face to face they are literally yoked together in an attempt to pull an overloaded bullock cart out of a rut. Like wrestlers or weight lifters proud of their physical strength they show off to each other (often first by ripping open their shirts to display their finely muscled chests) and banter back and forth. Their first encounter is friendly.

 

Soon though, they discover the identity of the other and the blood begins to flow. But there is a self-conscious choreographed structure to their battles. Like bristling pack dogs trained for a fight the men splay their legs (lungis flapping in the breeze) and bellow. Slowly they circle and leap towards the other.  Maula displays a heavy scowl; Noorie wears a bemused smirk. With the wit and agility of slam poets they toss insults and threats back and forth. Noorie, the calmer one, peppers his one-liners with intimate expressions such as sohniya (handsome), delicate hand gestures and kissing sounds. Maula is all raging self righteousness: “Maulay nu Maula na maray, tay Maula naee marda,” (Maula won’t die unless Maula himself kills Maula) he howls in the film’s most famous line.

download-13

Noorie Natt (Mustafa Qureshi) teases the cops

 

Indeed, it is this sort of dialogue that has made the film legendary and which gives it so much energy and life. Each man bellows at the other as if competing in a deathly mushaira. But their words veer dangerously close to the sexual. They refer constantly to hearts, their fingers and palms, hair and lips. They speak of licking the other’s blood and tasting each other.  Yes, there is masculine brutishness on display but also a palatable sexual frisson.

 

The gandasa and lathi fights are the final element of this strange peacock dance. The men charge, they defend, they tumble. Noorie, as is to be expected, suffers more blows than Maula but his arched eyebrow and uproarious laugh leaves the competition open for a rematch.  The playful nature of the men’s enmity especially shines forth in one remarkable scene. After indulging in yet another bloody battle the police arrest both men.  As the constables transport them to jail (in tongas), Maula and Noori are joined by their goondas who break into a muqabala-e-geet (singing competition) detailing the achievements of their respective heroes. Like parties of qawwals at a wedding the singers (Alam Lohar and Shaukat Ali) entertain Maula and Noori who gaze lovingly toward each other as if their rivalry is some inside joke!

Adding to the light-hearted hilarity is that Rangeela, one of Lollywood’s great comic actors (seen in the clip in the yellow turban sitting next to Maula) is the lead singer for Maula’s party!

 

Inayat Hussain Bhatti’s score is another secret of Maula Jatt’s success. Taking cues from Italian composer Ennio Morricone’s classic spaghetti western soundtracks of the 1960s, Bhatti uses haunting and spare percussion along with elongated electronic drone notes to create an eerie tension. For long passages silence is the chief sound. The camera zooms in close or contemplates Maula’s riveting eyes. We hear nothing but perhaps a pebble or two underfoot.  But when its time for a fight Bhatti deploys snapping electric guitar runs and fidgety Hammond organ to bring you to the  edge of your seat.  This sort of musical manipulation was rarely heard in Punjabi films at the time. When combined with living colour (all the better to show the bright red blood) instead of the usual grainy black and white audiences must have found themselves nearly exhausted by sensory experience.

 

Maula Jatt ran for over 120 weeks despite the government’s attempts to have the movie banned. Complaining, rather implausibly considering their own mandate, the military insisted that the film was too violent. Sarwar Bhatti, the producer, was able, however, to use the courts to successfully stall the government’s intentions for over two years. By this time the film became a massive phenomenon. Even when, at last, the government compelled Bhatti to produce a heavily redacted version, many movie houses simply reinserted the cuts back into the reel and ignored the Generals. Sadly, only censored versions are available today.

 

From the remove of nearly half a century it is tempting but probably completely unfair to suggest that the violence which the Zia years unleashed upon Pakistan, and especially the hanging of Z.A. Bhutto just a few months after Maula Jatt was released, is prefigured in the film. The ultimate subtext of the film is that of the common man’s search for justice, and freedom from oppression. In the final scene, Maula laments the fatal wounding of his ‘frenemy’ Noori who lies gasping at his feet with severed limbs. He bellows onto the heavens that what Punjab needs is “Justice not Revenge!” Could message have been the real reason for the military’s meddling?

 

Maula Jatt marks the beginning of the end of the Urdu family film which had completely dominated the industry since 1947.  Punjabi action films, soon followed by Pashto soft porn, became and remained the only game in town, until relatively recently. But the biggest beneficiary of the Maula Jatt phenomenon was leading man Sultan Rahi.  Though he hailed from an Urdu speaking family and had been a middling star of both Urdu and Punjabi films since the early 60s, it was his performance as Maula Jatt that transformed him into the King of Punjabi and arguably Pakistani filmdom.  For the next two decades his name and image were synonymous with Lollywood.  Though he aspired to more serious achievements and spoke in interviews of his unease with his status as ‘Mr Action’ Maula Jatt typecast him forever.  In what must be one of the most poignant life stories to come out of Lollywood, Rahi himself was brutally murdered in 1996. While driving from Lahore to Pindi he was attacked by unknown assailants and left to die in the dark Punjabi night like one of the hundreds of his on-screen enemies.

 

 

 

Cabaret Dance Music

Unknown

Love in Europe is an Urdu film released in 1970. It fizzled out like a wet firecracker upon release but has a few features that if not entirely ‘redeeming’, make it, nearly 50 years after its release, kind of interesting.

The late 1960s and early 70s were exciting times.  Though the streets and inner cities of America were filled with blood and smoke and violence, the cultural and social scene was blossoming like never before. While every value was being challenged,  music, art, literature and film were breaking new barriers every day.  The situation was replicated in London and across Europe.

Almost a quarter of a century had passed since India had been partitioned into two countries. In what was seeming  like a process of political cell division, Pakistan was a couple of years away from splitting itself apart to create  yet a the third country, Bangladesh. These were momentous and dramatic years. The Independence leaders had all been either assassinated or pushed aside by the likes of Indira Gandhi and Z.A. Bhutto.  And youngsters in Karachi, Bombay and Lahore were primed to absorb the new age of rock ‘n roll, (the idea of) free sex and automation.

In the movie industry a new batch of directors, writers and actors were happy to move away from the tried (tired) and true retellings of  traditional love epics like Laila Majnun or Heer Ranjha. Films began addressing corruption, inequality, and the role of Islam in public life.  From the mid-1960s people began wondering: if it was ok for our fathers to separate from India why is it wrong to stop the Bengalis or Baluch from doing the same? And by the way, what has been the real impact of Partition on society?

The film industry, never seen by the politicians and generals as an essential part of the ‘national project’, enjoyed a sort of ‘under-the-radar’ existence that allowed it to say things and experiment with ideas in ways that would have landed traditional artists, writers,  poets and singers in the clink.

Love in Europe in its own haphazard (but endearing) way embodies much of the exciting energy of a momentous period in Pakistani history: from the demise of Field Marshall Ayub Khan and the ruinous interregnum of General Yayha Khan beginning in 1969, to the rise and fall of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ten years later. A decade of disaster yes, but not without hope or optimism.

Love in Europe is a secret agent film a la mode the Agent Flint or Eurospy series. Handsome patriotic agents wired with the latest communication gadgets and oozing animal magnetism defeat gangs, or girohon in Urdu, of black-hearted villains who want nothing but to take over the world. Or at least do destroy a young country in a dangerous part of the world.

kemal

Agent Anwar (Kamal)

The paper thin plot line sees Agent Anwar, played by Raj Kapoor-doppelgänger, Kamal, lead the demure Lahori maiden-in-distress, Farida (Rozina) around several picturesque capitals of Europe in search of her long lost father. The man left Pakistan to make a better life overseas many years earlier but has been presumed dead until a visitor confirms that he is in fact alive and last seen in London.

Anwar’s real mission, given to him by instructions received in a transmitter embedded in his bling, is to break up a cabal of international terrorists  led by the notorious Mr Gul (Ibrahim Nafees) assisted by his ravishing assistant (Tarana).

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 6.18.28 pm

Mr Gul’s evil assistant (Tarana)

Their evil intentions are nothing less than the disruption of the government of the Pakistan which must have struck all involved in the picture as slightly ludicrous considering the country was then under the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up leadership of General Yahya Khan.  The great leader is remembered as the man who’s commitment to his country and people was trumped only by his deep love of Black Dog Scotch and pretty women, many, the married wives of his hangers-on, and actresses, including the Iranian-born Tarana.

Official military reports detail how one night back in the day, Tarana was summoned by the General to his pad in Rawalpindi. When she arrived the security guards refused her entry.  Only the intervention by the President of the Republic’s ADC allowed the tryst to be consummated. When, several hours later on her way home, the haughty Tarana, whose name translates as ‘song’, remarked to the security guards how their attitude had changed, a quick-witted solider replied, “Yes. When you arrived you were just Tarana. You now leave as quami tarana (national anthem)!”

Though Love in Europe is a wreck of a film–little more than a 2 hour advertisement for the national airline which flies the Anwar and Farida to all their glamorous destinations of London, Paris, Rome, Beirut, Venice, Geneva–it has a vibe at once kitsch and frantic. Locations are predictable (Eiffel Tower, Piccadilly, Mt. Blanc, gondolas) but the sets are gaudy, retro and ‘like wow, man’.  And the music is all over the place.

vienna_sept30

Pakistan International Airlines international routes 1970.

Though the indomitable M Ashraf was the MD, the soundtrack, like the film itself, sizzles and fizzle, careens and slides all over the place. In  casino scenes Montovani‘s classic  Pink Panther theme is piped in with no attempt at interpretation. In travel scenes, soft strings and cool horns soothe and in  several racy, club numbers the lyrics, melodies and beats seem to have been churned out by some space-age player piano. Which is not a compliment.  Indeed, one wonders if Ashraf put any effort into the film at all, the score is so unremarkable.

The only mildly interesting musical interlude is Anwar and Farida’s first date. He takes her to a cabaret in some quarter of London where he drinks in and Farida looks uncomfortable with the racy, half-naked dancers just a few inches away from their table.

Once again, rather than spend any effort on trying to make the music in any way his own, Ashraf simply lets the tape roll as what seems like a klezmer  or perhaps Slavic gypsy band plays a face paced trumpet-driven loop that comes to an end as sudden as its unexpected beginning. About the only thing you can about this clip is: the Central Board of Film Censors had different standards back in 1970.

As a film, Love in Europe has little to commend it. As a fun piece of ‘time pass’ that takes you back to a time when Pakistanis enjoyed swinging, its worth a visit.

Oh, and by the way. Anwar and Farida do find her father. But you’ll have to watch the film to find out how and where!

 

 

 

Raat Bhar Neend Nahi Aati

ajnabi

Ajnabi (Stranger) is an Urdu film released in November 1975. Though it ran for 20 weeks it was a commercial stinker and thus, receives the ugly sobriquet, ‘flop’.

1975 delivered a bumper crop of films. A total of 112 were released that year and Pakistan was riding high.  The disastrous civil war which had seen the creation of Bangladesh (and the loss of 50% or more of the audience for Urdu films) was history. Zulfikar Bhutto, the charismatic Prime Minister was confident and supreme in his political power. The country was positioning itself as the leader of the Muslim bloc of countries. Just a year earlier Bhutto had hosted the 2nd Islamic Summit in Lahore.  The casinos and cabarets in Karachi’s hotels were frequented by the rich citizens/subjects of more conservative Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia. Alcohol flowed openly. Religious parties occupied the pesky margins of national life. The Army, chastened after its humiliating defeat in 1971, was licking its wounds back in the barracks.

So shining was this golden age.

Though Ajnabi had a gaggle of stars (Mohammad Ali, Deeba and new arrival, Babra Sharif) it was unable to excite. Director Ali Sufiyan ‘Afaqi‘ was in essence a writer and journalist with an impressive CV in newspapers, magazines and as a screen writer. Throughout his long career (he passed away in 2015) he was associated with a number of major Pakistani films, the most famous of which is probably Kaneez (Slave Girl, 1965) which he both produced and wrote.  But Ajnabi was considered worthy enough, along with two other Afaqi films, Aas and Saiqa,  to be selected to represent Pakistan in the illustrious Film Festival of Asia and Africa held in Tashkent, USSR (Uzbekistan) in 1976 (?).

The song Raat Bhar Neend Nahi Aati (I Can’t Sleep All Night) is the work of the music director Nisar Bazmi and playback singer Nayyara Noor. It’s nothing to get overly excited about but does possess a nice lilt.  The entire 3 and half minutes is wrapped in swirling silvery strings  infused with flutes that sound like birds chirping in a morning tree. Its a dreamy sort of song.  One of restless anxious love,

Raat bhar neend nahi ati hain

Chandni dil ko tard pati hain

Kya yeh hua/ kyon yeh hua

Bata deejeeye

Zara meri nafs dekh kar dawa deejeeye

[I can’t sleep the night through

the moonlight makes my heart quiver

what is happening/ why is this happening?

oh tell me please!

Check my pulse and give me some medicine]

Nayyara Noor was born into a Punjabi merchant family in Assam, on the far eastern flank of India in 1950. At the age of 7 or 8 her family, sans her father who stayed behind to settle the family business, moved to Lahore.  In the early 70s, just a few years before Ajnabi was released, Nayyara put the industry on notice by winning a Nigar Award for best singer in her very first movie Gharana (1973).  What followed was a sparkling career as a playback artist and respected ghazal singer. Her interpretations of Ghalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry are particularly special.

In Raat Bhar she gives a perfectly toned performance. Her singing and aspiration is light and coquettish. She captures the starry eyed rapture of the young love-struck girl to a T. As she sighs into the line about having her pulse checked we are instantly transported into the bedroom of a teenager gazing at the picture of her absent lover.

This is pure pop and as such is quite disposable. But like all pop music it has enough of that essential dam to keep you humming the melody for  days on end.

Well done I say. Well done.