Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: To Palestine, with love from the great Pakistani star Neelo

In a new series, we examine landmark tunes from Pakistani film soundtracks. We kick off with ‘Raqs Zanjeer Pehen Kar Bhi Kiya Jata Hai’ from ‘Zarqa’.

In the early 1970s, Pakistan was the fourth largest producer of feature films in the world. Yet because of war, politics and tit-for-tat embargoes by Pakistan and India, Pakistani cinema and its stars, music directors and singers remain a mystery to most movie lovers beyond the borders of the Land of the Pure. Our new weekly series is your opportunity to get a glimpse behind the cultural purdah. Each week we look at one film through a song from its soundtrack and share with you the glorious voices and melodies, the personalities and scandals that delighted millions of movie fans just across the border.

In the 1960s, Pakistan’s filmmakers often found inspiration in the national struggle of the Palestinian people and audiences generally responded well to such films. Shaheed was a massive box office draw in 1962, and it seems to have inspired the making of Zarqa in 1969.

Zarqa tells the story of an Arab woman who is able to become a fighter within the Palestinian liberation movement and through daring, courage and self-sacrifice wreaks massive destruction on the Israeli occupying military.

The film is violent, ideological, but in places quite moving. Talish, a fine character actor, plays Major David, a sadistic Israeli officer charged with capturing the Palestinian underground leader Shabaan Lutfi (Allaudin). Ejaz, the biggest male star of the ’60s, is given a relatively minor role as a ukulele-strumming Fatah fighter torn between love of his woman, Zarqa, and his motherland. But Neelo in the title role is the true star of the film.

And indeed, though the film was massively popular, running for over 100 weeks and thereby earning the status of Pakistan’s first Diamond Jubilee film, the dramatic, actual life back story is far more interesting than what turns out to be a predictable politically correct (anti-Imperialist, anti-Israeli, pro-Palestine) potboiler.

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Zarqa (1969).

The film’s director, Riaz Shahid, was a prominent member of the leftist clique of Pakistani artists and intellectuals that hovered around poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Shahid began his career as a journalist, working with Faiz’s weekly Lail-o-Nihar, and moved to screen writing by the late ’50s. In 1964, Shahid’s collaboration with Communist poet Habib Jalib on the film Khamosh Raho, a hard-hitting story about the kidnapping of rural women for the sexual pleasure of elite Pakistani society, announced his arrival as a serious filmmaker.

Jalib and Shahid hit it off and developed a partnership over several years and titles including Zarqa. Jalib’s populist, simple but powerful anti-authoritarian poems had gained him many stints behind bars as well as deep respect among peers and the public. Indeed, many of the film songs by which he is remembered were popular first as political poems and mushaira stoppers.

Neelo, the cute dancer-actor, got her start in cinema with a bit part in the Hollywood mega production Bhowani Junction, filmed in Lahore in 1954. Born into a Christian family and christened Cynthia Alexander Fernandes, Neelo caught audience attention with her role in Saat Lakh (1956). From that point on she became one of Pakistan’s most bankable headliners and racked up a number of major hits as well as three Nigar Awards including Best Actress for Zarqa.

In 1965, the Shah of Iran made a state visit to Pakistan and was hosted by the Nawab of Kalabagh, the Governor of West Pakistan. Neelo, who was at the height of her popularity was instructed to appear before the Shah to dance. She refused. An agitated Nawab dispatched the police to seize her and bring her forcibly to the Governor’s House. But no sooner did she take to the floor then she collapsed. Some say she fainted from the shame her dancing would bring upon her paramour Riaz Shahid. Others suggest she tried to commit suicide.

In any case, Neelo was rushed to the hospital and the incident became an instant cause célèbre.

Jalib penned a poem in the actress’ honour in which the opening lines trumpeted:

“Too ke nawaqif-i-aadab-i-shahenshahi hai abhi

(You are unaware of the tenets of Imperialism!)

Raqs zanjeer pehen kar bhee kiya jata hai!

(You can also dance in chains!)

Aaj qatil ki yeh marzi hai ki sirkash ladki

(Today the ruler wishes of you, you stubborn girl)

Sir-e-qatil tujhay koroon se nachaya jay

(That you be made to dance by whipping)

Maut ka raqs zamanay ko dikhaya jay

(This deadly dance is for the world to see)

Is tarahan zulm ko nazarana diya jata hai

(This is a spectacle of the power of darkness)

Raqs zanjeer pahin kar bhee kiya jata hai

(For dances can also be performed wearing chains)”

When it came time to cast Zarqa, Shahid chose Neelo, who was by now his wife. Jalib’s poem was included almost word for word with only ‘Imperialism’ being substituted by ‘slavery’ in the opening line.

“Too ke nawaqif-i-aadab-i-ghulami hai abhi

(You are unaware of the tenets of slavery!

Raqs zanjeer pehen kar bhee kiya jata hai!

(You can also dance in chains!)”

So sings Mehdi Hassan as a fettered Zarqa moves and groans in pain with each stab of Major David’s cigarette against her exposed skin.

The music was composed by Rashid and Wajahat Attre, a father-and-son team with a strong predilection for raga-based music. Originally from Pune, Rashid passed away during the film’s production, leaving Wajahat to complete the score, a task he didn’t feel completely up to. The film’s other songs, though not bad, suffer when stacked up against the gut-wrenching spectacle of Raqs Zanjeer Pehen Kar Bhi Kiya Jata Hai, surely one of the great instances of art imitating life in South Asian film.

A version of this story appeared on the blog https://dailylollyblog.wordpress.com/ and has been reproduced here with permission.

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German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.