Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: When the Sabri brothers qawaali ‘Bhar Do Jholi’ saved the day

There is little else to recommend in the 1975 Pakistani movie ‘Bin Badal Barsaat’.

Bin Badal Barsaat (1975) takes its title from a 1963 Indian horror film but tells a story not of curses but of a couple’s struggle to produce and raise a family. Zarina (Zeba) and Judge Akbar Ali (Mohammad Ali) are hopeful that at last they might have a child after several years of trying unsuccessfully. Zarina is so upset by her apparent infertility she advises Akbar Ali to find a second wife if the situation continues: “A wife who can’t produce a child is not worth anything.”

A few months later, Zarina does in fact deliver a healthy boy but through a series of twists of fate, double crosses and colossal misreadings of the tea leaves. The boy, Anwar, goes missing and ends up as a Pakistani Oliver Twist, cutting people’s pockets as part of a gang of beggars and prostitutes led by an obese and lecherous Fagin called Dada (Ilyas Kashmiri). Eventually, through yet more incredible strokes of luck, tortured confessions and even torture itself, the family is reunited thanks to the efforts of the golden-hearted dancing girl Gori, played by the stunning beauty Sangeeta, and her reformed pickpocket fiance Badhshah (Shahid).

Though this film was a big hit, there is not much to recommend it as far as the storyline, script or acting goes. Once again, it is some of the music and one performance that save the day.

Sangeeta’s playful enactment of the good-hearted but mistreated dancing girl Gori shows up all the leading big names. By comparison, Mohammad Ali and Zeba seem to sleep walk through their parts. A Karachi actor, Sangeeta got her start in Yeh Aman (1971) but is perhaps best remembered for her work behind the camera as producer and director of such films as Society Girl, Nikah and Muthi Bhar Chawal (Fist Full of Rice).

In this film Sangeeta sticks to acting and dancing and leaves the direction to yet another woman, Zeenat. After Partition, Zeenat produced and directed half a dozen other films beginning with Khula Ja Sim Sim (1959). Her last appearance as director came in 1980 with Aap ki Khatir. Like so much else in Pakistan, it comes a pleasant surprise that in a country with such deep prohibitions against women working in the public sphere, and that too in such an industry as the movies, these women were able to martial the resources and withstand the severe social pressure to make so many films.

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The music for Bin Badal Barsaat was composed by another woman, Shamim Nazli, sister of playback singer Mala. In a critical scene near the film’s denouement, Nazli inserts one of the Sabri brothers’ most popular songs Bhar Do Jholi to accompany a distraught Mohammad Ali, who has gone to a shrine to pray for forgiveness and mercy and the safe return of his Anwar. The emotional tension is heightened by the qawwali beat, acute lyrics and resounding voices of the Sabris, who give a genuine qawaali performance rather than a rip-off filmi qawaali number.

In the mid-1970s, three giants of qawaali music were vying, sometimes bitterly, for top spot in listeners; hearts. On the one hand, a raucous, dishevelled and brilliant upstart from Lahore named Aziz Mian had sent shockwaves through polite society and the qawaali world with his hypnotic paeans to drunkenness and spiritual complaints. Horrified and scandalised, the Karachi-based sibling duo Sabri Brothers represented the traditional, less ecstatic, devotional stream of qawaali. The brothers and Aziz Mian traded barbs publicly and in song, but all three sang their way to the bank, making fortunes through their cassettes and live concerts.

Bin Badal Barsaat may not be top quality cinema but as a study of the role of women in Lollywood, both on and off the screen, it is a film well worth viewing.

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.