Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: In Pakistan’s version of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, a stirring lament for love

‘Us Bewafa Ka Shahar Hai’ has become one of the most loved Pakistani film songs of all time.

If I had to sum up the story of Shaeed (1962) in one sentence it would be this: an anti-imperialist take on Lawrence of Arabia.

Of course, the central character, Lawrence, is portrayed in a rather different light than the self proclaimed hero of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In Shaheed, Lawrence (Talish) is a conniving, pith helmet-wearing, pipe-smoking European/Jewish oil man who plays off one faction of Arab tribesman against the other to wrangle a 100-year lease to extract oil from the motherland. Laila, played by the young and gorgeous Musarrat Nazir, is Lawrence’s femme fatale, who after being ousted from the tribe for her flirtatious ways, sets herself ablaze, razes the foreign interloper’s refinery to the ground and restores the pride of the Arabs. A loose woman is the martyr of the title.

Such radical ideas were what audiences expected of Khalil Qaiser, who along with a group of other creative talent such as poets Habib Jalib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, writer/director Riaz Shahid and actors Talish, Saqi and Allaudin (all of whom appear in Shaheed) produced a number of politically tinged and socially progressive films (Clerk, Zarqa, Khamosh Raho) throughout the 1960s. Though for most of the decade the country was under the dictatorial hand of Field Marshall Ayub Khan, this group’s approach to social criticism broadly aligned with Khan’s secular, forward-looking, internationalist vision for Pakistan.

Sadly, just a few years after Shaheed was released, Qaiser was gunned down by unknown assailants at his home, bringing one of Pakistani film’s most promising careers to a tragic and premature end.

Music director Rashid Attre, who composed the soundtrack of Shaheed, was also a part of Lahore’s radical clique and frequently got calls from Qaisar and Shahid. A Punjabi from Amritsar, Attre was a Lollywood original, contributing songs to films as early as 1942 (Mamta). A dapper dresser with a soft spot for three-piece suits, Attre drew regularly on his training in Hindustani classical music and as a table maestro to bring raga-based melodies and light classical forms such as thumri into his work.

He also sought to put his music to the lyrics of the best poets, be it Faiz or as in the case of Shaheed, Munir Niazi, whose poem Us Bewafa Ka Shahar Hai has become one of the most loved Pakistani film songs of all time.

Laila (Musarrat Nazir), the sexually bold heroine of the film, is a much sought after woman in Watan, the Arab oasis community where Shaheed is set. But her own affection for the blacksmith Haris (Ejaz) remains unrequited. Haris, instead, is in love with the Jewish beauty Aaliya (Husna) who betrays her own community and with Haris rouses the somnolent Arab tribesmen to rise up against Lawrence and the Europeans.

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Us Bewafa Ka Shahar Hai, Shaheed (1962).

After confessing but failing to gain the love of Haris, Laila returns to her salon dejected and drunk. In her stupor she gazes out over the silhouetted domes of Watan and begins her desolate lament: Us bewafa ka shahar hai aur hum hain dosto/Ashq-e-rawan ki nehar hai aur hum hain dosto (There lies the city of the unfaithful one and here am I, friends/ There flows the canal of moving reflections, and here am I, friends).

The song, which is built upon a gorgeous melody, sets the mood with a quiet acoustic intro before the glitzy twang of a Hawaiian guitar reveals Laila lying broken-hearted on the floor. As she staggers to her feet and sways in grief Laila pours her heart out before the silent city.

Tagged as the second Noor Jehan, Naseem Begum, another Amritsari musician with a classical music background, sings this sad song with grace and great pathos. Trained in the art of singing by the great Mukhtar Begum, Naseem kicked off her career in 1956 and was the dominant female playback singer until Noor Jehan stopped acting and turned to singing full time. Attre and Naseem Begum, with their shared background, were a natural pair and worked together on many films.

Us Bewafa was an instant and enduring hit as was the film. Shaheed won nine Nigar Awards and remains one of the high points of Pakistani Urdu cinema.

Nate Rabe’s novel, The Shah of Chicago, is out now from Speaking Tiger.

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

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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.