Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: In ‘Lakhon Mein Aik’, a reminder of the unhealed wounds of 1947

Zia Sarhady’s script is set in Kashmir in 1948, and examines the effects of independence on Muslim and Hindu families.

In 1965, Pakistan fought and lost a war with its neighbour India. Tensions between the two countries were high and recent events clearly influenced the 1967 movie Lakhon Mein Aik.

The film, a Pakistani classic, is distinguished by its liberal (or at least ambivalent) attitude to the thorny issue of cross-border relations. While some critics have found its depiction of Indians and Hindus stereotyped, others, including myself, consider the story to be an honest telling of an extreme and traumatic event.

The film is set in Kashmir in 1948. Mob violence is building along the border and Ahmed (Talish) urges his Hindu friend Hardayal to escape to India until the situation returns to normal. Protesting that he has no ties to India and cannot tolerate the idea of leaving his homeland, Hardayal reluctantly agrees. While he is gone, Ahmed vows to take care of Hardayal’s daughter Shakuntala (Shamim Ara) as his own, while his own young boy Mahmood (Ejaz) is lost in the chaos.

Twenty years pass. Shakuntala is a gorgeous young woman and Mahmood has been adopted by a Pathan truck driver (Saqi) and rechristened Dildar Khan. The two fall in love but are ultimately foiled by their fathers and a busybody astrologer named Ramzani. Hardayal eventually returns to the village to claim Shakuntala who, with a broken heart, embraces fate, leaves Dildar/Mahmood behind and moves to India.

Life in India is as unwelcoming as Shakuntala had imagined. The local Hindu community, egged on by Brahmin priests, rejects her as “unclean” for having lived so long among the Muslims. Hardayal receives an offer of marriage from the handsome but cold-hearted forest officer Madhu (Mustafa Qureishi). It is not a happy marriage. Shakuntala professes her undying love for Mahmood, which enrages Madhu and leads to a dramatic finish along the border with Pakistan.

The script was written by Zia Sarhady, a self-proclaimed Marxist who had developed a well respected CV as director (Footpath, Hum Log) and writer (Baiju Bawra, Elaan) in Bombay. The conflicted feelings about homeland and the rough realities of Partition expressed by Shakuntala were evident in Sarhady’s own life. Born in Peshawar into a wealthy family, he came to Bombay in the 1930s where he worked closely with iconic director Mehboob (Andaz, Mother India) with whom he shared a progressive, liberal political ideology.

Sarhady migrated to Pakistan in 1958 and directed Rahguzar (Passerby) in 1960. He turned away from directing when the film fell foul of Ayub Khan’s censors. He left the country for good after Zia ul Haq tossed him into solitary confinement for his “inclination to Marxism” and supposed seditious activities.

Sarhady remained a committed leftist until his death in London in 2002. When asked if he had ever felt confused about his identity he replied, “No. I was fully satisfied about my future, even politically. I couldn’t decide what to do [after living in Pakistan for a while] and where to live. So I went to England. Later I made some documen­taries in Pakistan but returned to India, the country I still love and admire. I have deep faith in the nobili­ty of mankind. All the rest is political gimmickry of the leaders and it is there in every religion.”

Another migrant from Bombay, Nisar Bazmi, composed an outstanding score for Lakhon Mein Aik. Every song is a winner, full of pathos and ripe with emotion making the soundtrack one of the most beloved in Lollywood history.

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Man Mandir ke Devta.

Man Mandir ke Devta (God of my mind’s temple) is a dream sequence after Shakuntala arrives in India. Stuck as she is between a cruel man from her own community whom she detests and her true love who lives across the border, Shakuntala is in mental agony. In her dream she prays and dances before her god in the local temple.

Noor Jehan gives a masterful performance. The Queen of Melody captures Shakuntala’s feeling of grief, anxiety and need for resolution with restraint and subtle emotion.

“Jag ka rishta/jhoota rishta (this world’s ties are false ties)
Preet ka bandhan/ aaisa bandhan (the ties of the beloved are so strong)
Mar keb hi/nahi toote (even death cannot sever them)
Dono rishte/kaise nibhaun (how can I stay true to both?)”

These lines capture not just the troubled heart of a woman separated from her lover but encapsulate perfectly what so many of those involved in this film (Noor Jehan, Bazmi, Sarhady, Talish, Afzal Hussain) and indeed, the entire Partition Generation must have wrestled with half a century ago.

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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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

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.