Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: An obscure movie has a hidden gem for qawwali fans

‘Mere Paas Aao’ from ‘First Time’ is by turns spiritual and romantic and wholly enjoyable.

First Time appears to be an Urdu film produced between the late 1960s and mid-’70s. I have not been able to find any reference to it except for a few selections from the soundtrack.

Wazir Afzal was responsible for that soundtrack, which includes a range of styles from Pakistani folk-based songs to westernised pop-like sounds. Based upon some of the titles and lyrics, as well as the album cover, the film’s storyline most likely revolves around a young woman’s struggle to lead a decent and dignified life. No doubt a handsome respectable man falls in love with her and then discards her through some misunderstanding but in the end, returns to her.

Afzal, a relatively minor musical figure in Pakistani films, was influenced by the folk music of Eastern Punjab and the doab, the rich agricultural plains lying between the Ganga and Yamuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh. He regarded Naushad, one of India’s greatest musical composers, as his hero.

Once when Noor Jehan toured India, Naushad was in the audience and fell in love with the music of one of Afzal’s songs, Ja Aj To Mein Teri Tu Mera from the Pakistani movie Yaar Mastaney. Naushad approached Madam with a handwritten note of appreciation, which he requested her to give to Afzal upon her return to Pakistan. Afzal cherished the letter for the rest of his life, often referring to the incident in interviews.

Ja Aj To Mein Teri Tu Mera from Yaar Mastaney.

Hamare Paas Aao from First Time is a filmi version of the qawwali, the uniquely South Asian form of Islamic ecstatic music made popular in the West over the past 25 years by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Aziz Mian and the Sabri brothers. In the ’70s and ’80s, a secular form of qawwali known as sharabi emerged. Championed by the likes of Aziz Mian, sharabi qawwali extolled a more hedonistic approach to life in which ecstasy centered on drinking and inebriation. Audiences still considered this form of qawwali to be serious and full of artistic merit. Indeed, performers like Mian sang traditional qawwali as well, seeing no contradiction between spiritual and corporeal inebriation.

‘Mujhe Aazmane Waale’ by Aziz Mian.

Filmi qawwali, on the other hand, has always been a frivolous thing. The songs are inserted into the film for much the same purpose as any other musical number: to entertain and sometimes, to advance the plot. The performers are made out in stereotypical Muslim garb and sport beards. The party is full of men who keep time by clapping, as in traditional qawwali. There is often a religious or semi-religious context within which they perform, but it is not unusual for the occasion to be totally secular and disconnected from any religious practice or sentiment.

Hamare Paas Aao opens in much the same way as a traditional qawwali, with some playful harmonium runs and an elongated introductory note by the qawwal. The first part focuses on a very serious subject indeed: Judgement Day. The singer, enacting the voice of God, calls people to “come close to me” in order to save their lives. But there is unavoidable humour in the proceedings as well. Vowels and phrases are exaggerated and tones are suddenly dropped low with faux gravitas. You can’t help but feel that they are taking the piss.

The lyrics lay out the sins that are going to be judged: mixing water with milk; mixing kerosene in cooking oil; putting stones in the daal. In short, cheating the poor common man.

Suddenly the beat changes and we hear a dandy singing about what a hero he is and how the ladies swoon when he walks by. His beloved enters the fray with “cold sighs” and invites him to “come close to me”.

And so it goes, by turns spiritual and then romantic and then back to spiritual. A typical piece of cinematic musical fluff, which is not to say it is not a worthy little song.

There is some tremendous harmonium playing and the hand claps keep the song moving along nicely. The voice is that of Munir Hussain, a popular playback singer of the ’50s and ’60s. Related to several well-known personalities, including the music director Wajahat Attre, and with some training in classical music, Hussain was often commissioned for songs that required a classical or traditional feel. His versatility is on display in this song as he adopts several distinct voices from the raw qawwal to the smooth hero.

A version of this story appeared on the blog and has been reproduced here with permission.

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