Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: Yes means no in RD Burman-inspired dance song from ‘Cheeta Chaalbaaz’

The musical collective Tafo borrows a few notes and ideas from RD Burman for the movie ‘Cheeta Chaalbaaz’.

By the mid-1970s, Pakistan was one of the world’s most prolific film-producing countries holding steady at #4 on the league table. In 1978, the year of the Punjabi-language Cheeta Chaalbaaz, the local film industry released 99 other films, not bad for a country (and industry) that had just a few years earlier been severed in half.

Punjabi films have always been popular in Punjab (duh!) and even enjoy some success with audiences in Karachi and elsewhere. Some of the biggest and most accomplished films, both commercially and artistically, have been Punjabi films: Chanway (1951), Kartar Singh (1959), Heer Ranjha (1970) and Maula Jat (1979) just to name a few.

Cheetah Chaalbaaz was a non-starter. In the no-nonsense lingo of the movie world it was a flop. Director Altaf Hussain was still some years away from his breakthrough hit Athra Puttar (1981) and indeed, Cheetah Chaalbaaz was one of 20 failures in a row that he notched up on his way to success. It is a record that has yet to be broken. But it also speaks volumes of the persistence and passion of the man who went on in the ’80s to direct some very successful Punjabi films including Mehndi (1985) and Laawaris (1983).

Aliya, a dancer/actress often cast as a vamp, was one of three big-name female stars in the film. Sadly, her film career was stopped in its tracks when she hooked up with Altaf Hussain. Even though she later divorced Hussain, Aliya was never able to regain the momentum she had had before getting married.

Playback honours for the film went to Nahid Akhtar and the music was composed by the famous Tafo.

Given the pet name Tafo (also spelled Tafu and Tafoo) by his father, Altaf Hussain Khan (no relation to the director) is one of the subcontinent’s great tabla masters. A student of Ustad Mian Qadir Bakhsh, the master of the Punjab gharana who also instructed Allah Rakha, Tafo Khan has accompanied all the great names of Pakistani classical and popular music and is recognised among his peers as an unsurpassed virtuoso.

Tafo Khan. Courtesy Coke Studio.
Tafo Khan. Courtesy Coke Studio.

In the ’70s, Altaf Hussain along with his brother Nisar (accordion and keyboards) and later, his sons, made a name for themselves in the movies. Billed as the Tafo Brothers or more simply just Tafo, the collective made exciting, edgy and eclectic music for both Urdu and Punjabi films. When not getting topline credit for their work they were often playing in the studio orchestras of other musical directors and worked closely with M Ashraf in particular.

Yes Meri No Teri (My Yes, Your No) is a title I have given to today’s song, as the only reference to it on the internet gives it the generic title of Dance Music. Regardless of its true name, the song itself is completely wacky and wonderful. Not only does Tafo sample madly and widely he lifts one of South Asian film’s most iconic musical moments lock, stock and barrel.

Several electric guitars pulse out a beat as woozy, gurgling synths rise and fall like waves on the ocean before a tinny Hammond B3 riff that could be an outtake from The Doors’Light My Fire sessions sets up the entry of the vocals.

RD Burman, India’s fabled musical director in the 1970s and 80s, made musical history with his song Duniya Mein Logon Ko (Apna Desh, 1972) in which, in addition to singing, he vocalised a series of rhythmic grunts, groans and heavy breaths which became forever embedded in the national psyche.

In Yes Meri No Teri, the same scat is inserted into the opening sequence by way of introducing the immortal lines sung by all-time good sport Nahid Akhtar:

Dil de gitar waje tau tau tau
Ik ik taar waje tau tau tau
(The guitar of the heart goes tau tau tau
Each and every string goes tau tau tau)

There is no shame in art. Not only does Tafo lift Burman’s innovation, but in the latter part of the song Akhtar slurs her vocals in a way that brings to mind the slightly inebriated singing style that Asha Bhosle used in her mega hit Dum Maaro Dam from Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971).

Yes Meri No Teri, like the film, is no classic. But it is a good example of what some very talented musicians were doing to modernise Pakistani film music. Tafo went on to score hundreds of films and many of his/their songs are rightly held in very high regard.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.