Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: A touch of warm Bengali folk music in ‘Aakhri Station’

Suroor Barabankvi’s movie, set in East Pakistan, is an underrated labour of love.

Aakhri Station (Last Station) is an Urdu film released in December 1965. Based on the Urdu short story Pagli by the feminist writer Hajra Masroor, the film was a labour of love by the popular poet Suroor Barabankvi, who produced, directed, scripted and wrote the songs for the movie.

Aakhri Station is a prime example of East Pakistani film making: literary, socially conscious and proudly Bengali. Set against the backdrop of a large industrial project in rural Bengal the story centres on the romance of Jamil (Haroon), an honest engineer who is framed by corrupt contractors, and Fawzia (Rani) the station master’s daughter.

Shabnam, who in the 1970s would go on to be Pakistan’s most beloved actress, plays Jamila, a mad woman who lives on the platform of the station. Though she has few lines, Shabnam delivers a memorable performance full of understated pathos. Her character represents and reflects the cruelty and corruption that permeates every society, even a young and hopeful one such as ’60s East Pakistan. It is tempting, but probably unfair, to read a political message into the story, of how powerful Urdu speaking outsiders have raped an innocent beautiful Bengali woman and abandoned her on the margins of society.

Suroor Barabankvi, a writer and poet from the Urdu heartland of Lucknow, had attended several poetry recitals in Dhaka in the early ’50s. Like many others, he found himself so captured by the artistic atmosphere in the city that when he was offered the job of heading the Anjuman-e-Taraqqi-e-Urdu (Society for the Advancement of Urdu) in Dhaka, he officially migrated to Pakistan. In addition to editing a literary magazine, Barabankvi turned his hand to script and song writing for the small film industry that began to emerge in Dhaka in the late ’50s.

Though he is best remembered for his lyrics and poems, Barabankvi did produce three films, one of which is the underrated Aakhri Station. He enlisted the services of another Renaissance man, Khan Ataur Rehman, to set his lyrics to music. Rehman was from a well-off family and on track to become a doctor until he dropped out of medical school in the hope of becoming a playback singer. In 1956, he starred in the famous art movie Jago Hua Savera.

Rehman’s score for Aakhri Station oozes with the warm, genteel, folk feeling that characterises Bengali music.

Play
Ae Mere Anokhe Hamrahi, Aakhri Station (1965).

Ae Mere Anokhe Hamrahi is a little gem of a song, melodious and simple. Sung by Bashir Ahmad, another Bengali with an impressive pedigree (he was a student of both Vilayat Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan), the song is the point at which Jamil first expresses his love for Fawzia.

Bashir Ahmad had a bouyant tenor voice that was not dissimilar to that of Ahmed Rushdi, whom he clearly admired. After the 1971 war that resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh, Ahmad took his chances in West Pakistan, but Rushdi was at his zenith. Ahmad found it difficult to interest music directors in a voice that sounded so like the leading playback singer. In 1975, he returned to the East, where he continued to write and sing in the fast growing Bangladeshi film industry. In 2003 he won the Best Male Playback Singer Award.

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.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

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.

Play

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.