Aaina is an interesting film for a number of reasons, none of which has to do with the plot. The story of love found, thwarted and regained is tired and predictable and 40 years on, it makes you wonder what the fuss was all about.

But move away from the narrative to the music, the direction and the acting and it is easy to see why audiences swarmed to the theatres week after week. The 1977 movie ran for 401 weeks – nearly eight years – making it the longest-running and biggest grossing Urdu film of all time.

Though Lahore is considered the heartland of Pakistan’s film industry – hence the sobriquet Lollywood – the Punjabi capital was not the only city where movies were made. Karachi, with its dramatic Arabian Sea backdrop, glitzy skyline and rich financiers, was a natural magnet for filmmakers. Before the breakup of Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, Dhaka too was a production centre.

Though filmed in Karachi for the Urdu-speaking audience, Nazarul Islam’s Aaina is, in fact, a Bengali blockbuster. The producer, director, music director, the two leads as well as one of the playback singers were all Bengali or had connections with the small but vibrant Dhaka-based film world.

Aaina (1977).
Aaina (1977).

Aaina is a fine example of the different sensibility Bengalis brought to filmmaking. Director Nazarul Islam relished poking holes in social conventions. In Aaina, he turns the generation gap on its head. The wealthy, bridge-playing, whisky-drinking and status-conscious older generation is depicted as wayward and immoral. It is the young couple, played by Nadeem and Shabnam, who persevere in their love by invoking the established traditions of marriage, gender and decorum.

And it is the leads who steal the show. Though Shabnam was married to the film’s music composer, Robin Ghosh, it was the doe-eyed Nadeem who was her on-screen foil. For more than a decade the pair dominated the industry. In Aaina, the chemistry between them is immediate, genuine and infectious.

But the music is also noteworthy. Robin Ghosh had extensive knowledge of and exposure to western music, which he used to great effect throughout his career. His soundtracks, including Aaina, are marked by a luscious sound that is sophisticated, elegant and wonderfully imaginative. Indeed, in one rather dreadful scene, drunken party goers dance woozily to a sizzling James Brown R&B that saves the episode from sinking into farce.

The soundtrack’s key song, Mujhe Dil Se Na Bhulana (Don’t Ever Forget Me), is presented four different times in the film, each sung by a different artist or combination of artists. On each occasion, Ghosh sets the lovely melody in a distinct emotional context. He uses different instruments, arranges the song variously and works with different lyrics, enriching the soulfulness of the score and the movie.

Ghosh drew on the rich, melodious folk traditions of Bengal, which has a completely different sound from the percussion-driven Punjabi folk or raag-based compositions employed by his peers in West Pakistan. Nazarul Islam also won praise for allowing Mehdi Hassan’s version to stand on its own without the lyrics being lip-synced by the actor on screen.

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Mujhe Dil Se Na Bhulana from Aaina (1977).

In this version, Ghosh uses the voices of Mehnaz, daughter of the noted soz khwan Kajjan Begum, and the rising Bengali pop singer Alamgir to deliver the goods.

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