[Note while going over this close to a year later: We lost most of these due to the old copyright violation allegations over at YouTube. But I'm pretty sure I can replace them in a fairly reasonable amount of time. I must keep the post up in any event, because of all the good stuff in the comments section.]
Yes, I’m taking a break from old films right now, so I’m once again going through YouTube’s endless supply of Pakistani mujras – and I have found a few I think are worth posting…
First up, here’s Sidra Noor dancing to a rermix of the song “Meri Ke Ber.” The original version of this song was composed by Roshan, sung by Asha Bhosle, and danced to by Aruna Irani in Anokhi Raat. I actually like this remix quite a bit. I am not sure, but I think the musical artist and the dancer in the “official” video are the same woman, Sanobar. But, while I like the sound, I don’t like Sanobar’s video much – it’s the usual slick post-MTV/Britney-influenced kind of stuff. (Sanobar’s supposed to be a good dancer but ugh, the production and styles…) As is often the case, I found a Pakistani stage mujra that I like much more. Also, I do like this dancer, Sidra Noor. I have previously seen her dancing to a bunch of songs by the Pashto singer Nazia Iqbal – but this material here is very different from that! And her mujra here is extremely lively…
Now, I’m not sure who’s dancing in this next mujra, but I think it is very nice, and I also like the costume a lot. (On repeated viewings, I am thinking that she does look a bit like one of my favorite mujra dancers, Nargis. But I’m not always that good at telling from this distance.) I will identify the source of the music for this one if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know what it is, because even I knew instantly, even though I don’t know all that much about Bollywood films of the past decade (though it does help me to remember a song when the original dancer was Madhuri Dixit)…
And last for now, here’s a genuinely good dance by Saima Khan. As it says in the title, she can dance! She is more generally known for doing far more risque stuff, and I think she was the first of the popular Pakistani stage mujra dancers to stage deliberate wardrobe malfunctions in front of the camera, which got her into some trouble. Some stuff that I read was pretty shocking – getting banned is one thing, but this woman got shot. Apparently, a couple of years ago, some people went after her with guns and injured her pretty badly, causing her to retreat for a while. By all accounts I’ve read so far (and I did do some research), her attackers were either jealous show business rivals or Islamic fundamentalists, but nobody really knows which! I have seen that she is now making a comeback, which is nice. Meanwhile, as I was saying, this dance that follows is not controversial; it’s something a bit different, downright classical…
I’ve been looking at, and listening to, a lot of stuff from Lollywood this past day (yes, looking for something a little different…), but it’s getting late now and I wanted to post something, so I’m going to cut the theme short. That is to say, I’m not going to try to post a whole lot of stuff connected to the old Sufi poem “Terey Ishq Nachaya” by Baba Bulleh Shah (I’m not even going to get into the old movie by that name that had vocals by Noor Jehan – though I might do so in another post), because tonight/this morning, I just wanted to mention two things from contemporary Pakistan that really caught my attention…
First, a fine dance by the mujra dancer Nargis, with Naseem Vicky. I like Nargis a lot… She is even a bit different (and funny and charming) when she does the usual bawdy stage mujra bit, but she is even more unique when she does this sort of thing once in a while…
…And then there’s the film that this particular (version of the) song comes from, the 2006 film Majajan, featuring the Lollywood actress Saima, who also produced the film, and the actor Shaan, who is the dancer in this great scene below. I guess the scene is exceptional mostly because you don’t usually see the guy dancing with bells on his ankles while the woman in the scene plays the singer-musician. But it’s also a very good dance, and there is really nice singing by Azra Jahan.
Reading about this film a little, I see that it was directed by Syed Noor, written by his older wife, Rukshana Noor (apparently, he made Saima his younger wife sometime during the filming), with music by Wajid A. Nashaad. Most of the songs look pretty good; it looks OK for a contemporary film, and I see there hadn’t been many good films coming out of Pakistan in recent years… It would be nice to find a copy of this film with English subtitles (unlikely, though, but it’s worth a thought, I guess).
I may be stuck in the ’40s and ’50s where Bollywood is concerned, but I’m still happily delving into just the past few years’ worth of Pakistani stage mujras (which often use some perverse remix of a very old song anyway)… And talk about eye candy…I can never watch just one! They’re also often hilarious – though some of the dancers are very good, too, I think. (In general, by the way, I’ve concluded that these are much less like murjas in Bollywood movie terms than they are like cabaret dances – as you can probably see…)
P.S. 7/27: A few more thoughts about the dances above (I mention the sources in comments also):
The first mujra, by Deedar, is based on the song ”Kanta Laga…” from movie Samadhi (1972). But listening to the remix, I’m picking up a few other things, such as the spoken English part from “I Love You” in Hare Rama Hare Krishna(1971) (I think it’s all from that song), and then there’s that riff from the ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba” in Sholay- that is, from the dance by Helen, who must be a sort of patron saint for this genre of mujras.
As Hema pointed out in comments, Deedar’s dance is like a workout. More often than not, there is this athletic quality about her dancing, as well as her appearance – which is not too common among these mujra dancers, many of whom must be close to twice her weight. I would not say she’s my favorite, but she’s fun to watch sometimes, and she can do a lot of stuff that other people can’t. I like the remix a lot too.
I don’t know who the second dancer is, unless it’s Deedar looking a little different and not moving quite as well. As I mentioned in comments, I mainly included it for the remix of “Ankhiyan Mila Ke,” that great song from Ratan (1944), which I’ve praised and posted a couple of times, and I do think it is much better than the “official” video that goes with the remix (though that’s not saying much). But I’m not crazy about the entire dance… For one thing, I just don’t get much from the “sexy” pinup kind of pose that she does in the beginning – she’s looking a bit too much like she’s trying to get into Playboy. But then when she gets more frenetic, it is entertaining, and her moves are very funny sometimes. I love the part where she holds one foot with her hands and hops on one leg. You see a lot of one-legged kind of stuff in classical Indian-influenced dancing, but I’ve never seen it done in such a funny (and obviously untutored) way.
Her movements aren’t always very fluid, but I think that’s because of the pants. I guess she just doesn’t have the amazing ability that Helen had to move around very freely in extremely tight pants – and tight clothes in general, especially without splitting anything. But maybe Helen was able to get much better tight clothes, which could more easily stand the “tension” (as Barburao would say). Nonetheless, this dancer’s clothing isn’t always a liability for her either (for instance, I must admit that I do kind of like the rotating bum exhibition at the end).
I like the third mujra, for the entire dance. I still haven’t figured out what Noor Jehan song is being sung (by someone else), though YouTube comments have indicated it was from the ’70s. But this one is my favorite from the batch. It’s funny and charming, and I think I like Nargis a bit more than Deedar (who happens to be her sister, by the way). I also have to commend the set designer, as I love all the colors and the flowers, which fully complement Nargis’ feminine charms. (Not a tomboy like Deedar!) I think Nargis is my second favorite of the contemporary Pakistani mujra dancers, surpassed only by Megha – whose dances I’ve posted a few times in the past couple of years, most recently on May 3.
Some people are visiting this site in a search for mujras because they’re looking for softcore porn. That’s understandable, because the mujra sort of has a double meaning. Wikipedia used to have* a pretty good description of its origins… It was a dignified dance once, but due to political and social upheaval, it did for a while become the province of prostitutes. However, it seems to have undergone a more arty and slightly more wholesome revival and has become a fairly normal feature of mainstream Indian and Pakistani cinema. With its complicated history and mixed reputation, it’s probably similar in some ways to belly dancing or to the recent, more arty revival of burlesque dancing here in the U.S.
My interest in mujras is certainly not without some sexual aspect, but to me, watching a real mujra is far more interesting and aesthetically satisfying than looking at softcore porn or some artless striptease dance. Although, I admit, if you do a search for mujras, you’re going to find a lot of stuff out there that is nothing more than striptease. But a real mujra, with its particular traditional features, is something different from that.
As Wikipedia puts it:
Mujra is a part of classical kathak. Although many believe that (sort of true too) this is the variation of kathak that bears suggestive connotations, most kathak artistes perform the mujra quite gracefully and in a dignified manner.
Mujra inherits from kathak a lot of intricate arm movements, and that’s one reason I really like it. People in the west don’t use their arms and hands in dancing the way they do in the countries of South Asia. To me, arms can be as important in dancing as the feet, and the use of the arms in Indian dancing is probably better than in dancing anywhere else.
And I have found in my recent search for mujras on the Internet that no one is as pleasing to watch as Megha. Part of this does have to do with my sexual aesthetics. I like the fact that she is not as skinny as so many dancers; she has some substance to her body yet can still move with great speed and agility. And I do like the speed, maybe because of my own experiences with dancing to hardcore techno and punk. There are also probably many other good aspects to her technique that I could spell out more specifically if I wanted to think over this carefully, maybe even do some more research, and play dance critic. But for the present purposes, let’s just say that I think she’s great.
I’ve changed the Megha mujras on this blog a couple of times, trying to find just the right ones. There probably are mujras out there in which she’s done (even) better dancing, but I also was conscious of the music that I wanted to include. I chose the most recent one, especially, for that modern punjabi sound, with its particular rhythms, electronics, and fun vocals.
I’ll be getting a little more into that punjabi sound in the future. The biggest contemporary music that uses it, of course, is our modern-day bhangra. It took me a while to get to like real punjabi bhangra (as opposed to other contemporary desi music, which might be called bhangra sometimes but maybe really isn’t); however, it’s growing on me. There are a couple of record stores near me in Jackson Heights that sell almost nothing but bhangra, and one of them is located right next door to an Indian restaurant that has the best reasonably priced chicken masala in New York. So, no promises yet, but I might be posting some reviews of real bhangra in the near future – along with more mujras.
* Note, five months after this post: Had to revise because Wikipedia’s definition (at least as it existed) seems to have disappeared. Will be looking for a different one soon – and revise this post more. (I’m writing this P.S. on March 15, because I’m seeing that this post is still getting a bunch of hits, strangely enough.)
Note, a year and three months after this post: Wow, people are still landing here, a lot. A lot has happened in my education of Indian dance and music since I wrote this. For one thing, I’ve gone off the stage dance mujras (though I still like Megha just fine) and have developed full knowledge and appreciation of Indian film mujras. These are more artificial in a way, because they are in a fictional and usually historical setting (courtesans and all that stuff), but the artistry of some of these dances is just fantastic. My favorite Bollywood mujras are those done by some of the best golden age dancers: Vyjayanthimala, Padmini, Minoo Mumtaz… As I’ve said, though, the word “mujra” obviously can have very different meanings, and the Pakistani stage dancers are a very different thing from the mujra that I’m more likely to watch now. I still like them, though…
Regarding the comments about Punjabi music… I seem to have gotten off that a little. I still appreciate contemporary desi sounds, but am not so much into the real bhangra these days. To some degree, my tastes have also gone south, so to speak. I fell in love with another “reformed” dance, bharatanatyam, pulled out of some disrepute in the 1930s and revised into a high art. I get a lot of joy out of watching that kind of dance, and have for some time at this point. I therefore also realized how much I like carnatic music too.
The music store that I was referring to seems to have closed, or at least it’s not in the place where I remember it. There are a couple of stores I still go to that sell the fashionable music, but I go to them mainly for classic films (which they also sell, as do quite a few other stores around here). The place I was thinking of that had the good chicken masala doesn’t impress me so much these days. I’ve kind of gotten away from spending extra money in restaurants and when I get food from this area, it’s mainly from the trucks. (There are good ones along 73rd Street.) I also am buying lot more old Indian movies now, sort of instead of the restaurant food.
In addition to watching music videos, I’ve been watching some dancing. This is Megha. She is magnificent.
I have posted some songs from the Marathi classic Amar Bhupali before, but thanks to the incredibly comprehensive (and relatively new) Trini Rama channel, I have a much bigger assortment to choose from now. This channel is quite remarkable, by the way. I wonder who started it (whether it is a person or a company)… There are something like 2,500 videos up now, all posted within the past three months, and they cover a very big period of classic Indian cinema, going back as early as 1932. It’s too bad that nothing has subtitles, but it is still a treat!
I am hoping that some day I will be able to find this movie in full (with subtitles, of course). But for now, I am just enjoying the songs a whole lot. I thought of giving a summary of the film based on things that I read (including the full descriptions on YouTube below the film clips), but I found a very good one of just the right length from Indiancine.ma Wiki (which I also am adding to my blogroll and plan to get back to quite a lot).
Shantaram’s hit musical biopic of Honaji Bala (played by Marathi stage star Nagarkar), a legendary Marathi poet from the Gawali caste in the last years of the Pune Peshwai. Known mainly for having popularised the musical dance form of the lavani in Maharashtra and esp. for his classic composition Ghanashyam sundara shirdhara, addressing a new dawn in the morning raga Bhoop. The piece later acquired revolutionary associations alluded to in the film’s anti-British discourse. Set in the Pune-based Maratha empire just before it succumbed to the British, the story shows the poet’s involvement with lavani music, which the film associates with prostitutes, winning recognition when the peshwa’s wife at the Pune court gives him an award for his Bhoop composition. His love life with Tamasha dancer (Sandhya in her debut) is intercut with the Maratha wars against the British, his music spurring on the soldiers. Shantaram contrasts Honaji’s erotic and militant poetry with the prevailing ‘decadent’ brahminical effusions. Replete with Shantaram-type calendar art compositions (when pigeons descend around Sandhya’s body in the forest) the film ends like a mythological, showing the infant Krishna and Yashoda, when his Ghanashyam composition is immortalised. Additional songs were written by the radical poet and performer Amar Sheikh, associated with the militant powada form and with the IPTA’s left wing in Maharashtra.
By the way, outside of Trini Rama, I actually did find a post with an English translation of “Ghanashyam Sundara Shirdhara,” which I am posting last. Unfortunately, though, in that video, the words on the screen block out much of the visuals, which are often beautiful. Naturally, while watching the other clips, I loved seeing Sandhya in her 1951 debut (doing mujra dances – the only time I have ever seen her playing that role). Though she may not have been conventionally beautiful (as a few people have remarked to me, in rather strong terms), and though she may not have had a life full of skillful training in classical dance (just a crash course with Gopi Krishna, which did not happen until 1955), I think she is very distinctive – certainly one of a kind – and always a joy to watch. Plus, while we watch her dances, we get to hear great music provided by Vasant Desai and Lata Mangeshkar (among others). But those are only a couple of the reasons that this film looks very appealing to me.
Mostly solos, a couple of great duets, half mujras, half street or theater performances, some on familiar visual terrain and some extremely unusual-looking… But all really good dance sequences from the 1940s or early ’50s, featuring the sweet, unmistakable voice of Rajkumari.