A series of songs that came to my mind because of a number of associations, all described in the title here… The last is quite different from the first, but it’s interesting how the songs actually progress from the first to the last – while being in chronological order, too!
Let me start by saying that I have finally found a video that I would have liked to post for the Urs of Shahbaz Laal Qalandar early last month. I have celebrated that event a few times on this blog, but I could find little this year to add to what I had done before. I wanted to find something contemporary this time, but the only material that I saw about this year’s festival in the news was news about all the people who died from the heat. But now I have found something actually uplifting, and it’s a performance headed by Tahir Faridi Qawwal (on vocals, etc.) and Aminah Chhshti (on tabla), in a film that they are helping to put together.
I thought I had posted about these two musicians before, years ago, but I can’t find the post. (Maybe my search function isn’t working too well.) Anyway, I discovered Tahir Faridi Qawwal and his group(s) in 2010, when I stumbled upon this cover:
But that isn’t the only song he did that we might associate with a favorite film. Here he sings in a slightly different Sufi-playing outfit in Australia. This performance is very good also, and I appreciate the explanation of the song that’s given at the beginning by the female singer, Bhairavi Devi.
Tahir is a remarkable person, and you can see how/why in a description from his site. But you can also see here that Aminah Chishti is even more remarkable.
In 2001 Tahir Qawwal & Aminah Chishti first formed Fanna-Fi-Allah, a traditionally arranged qawwali ensemble devoted to spreading the sufi message in the West. Since this ensemble was created, Fanna-Fi-Allah has performed at hundreds of festivals, gatherings and concerts worldwide. Sharing the passionate power of qawwali in countries like the USA, India, Indonesia, Egypt and, of course, Pakistan.
Fanna-Fi-Allah was certainly the first ‘mostly’ white-skinned qawwali ensemble to sing at such highly regarded sufi centers. Also, Aminah Chishti was the first female qawwali tabla player even given permission to perform at such places where qawwali is traditionally only performed by males.
(I have to say, though, I am not sure I agree with using the term “mostly white-skinned.” And why is “mostly” singled out with single quotes? I did some other minor editing here, but I decided to leave that, because there must be some reason for it, right? Anyway, I certainly don’t want people to think, after reading this post and the previous one, that I have any special interest in promoting “white-skinned” people who become obsessed with Indian and Pakistani music, films, and dance. Why would I be motivated in such a way? :-) )
Here is a very nice video that talks about how remarkable Aminah Chishti is. It also contains some very good words by Aminah, herself, about the nature and effects of qawwali.
Much of Aminah’s tale (and history) can also be found in an article with the snappy title, “Sheer Force of Qawwali Forces Jessica to Convert.”
And here’s a video of her tabla playing on full, glorious display, in a duet that she did with Israr Hussain for PTV:
Aminah and Tahir are also both in great form in this video by all of Fanna-Fi-Allah Qawwali, doing another song that should be familiar to most people who visit this blog:
By the way, that video was shot at the Nevada State Theatre, in Aminah’s home state of California. And I am happy to see that the group is presently doing another one of their North American tours. Looking at their events calendar, I see that they are scheduled to play Yonkers, NY on September 3. I hope that it is an event that I can go to, because I presently live at the northern end of New York City, within walking distance of Yonkers. If for some reason that venue doesn’t work out, I hope to catch them somewhere else soon, and I heartily recommend that other people out there try to find them also.
Today I have decided to do something (slightly different) that I haven’t done in a few years – that is, post some dances from the Indian Dance Group Mayuri, who are based in Petrozavodsk, Russia. I posted a solid block of Mayuri dancing to classic Hindi film songs back in January 2011. Then on August 24, 2012, I posted their New York City performance of “Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu,” which took place at the bottom of Manhattan, across the street from the Staten Island Ferry.
The films that the following dances come from came out at different times between the early’60s and the present decade. (The first dance is from a film made in the present decade, and it is not even Hindi; it’s Marathi.) But Mayuri cover a wide range of time periods, and I wanted to show some of their best (in addition to the dances that I already showed before). Some of these dances are solos also. In fact, I have realized that most of them are solos this time. Unfortunately, they don’t usually name the solo dancers in their videos. But you can go to the About section of their Web site if you want to see pics of their soloists with names next to them (and try to figure out who did what), and you also can read about their leader and founder, Vera Evgrafova.
Anyway. enough details. I won’t name the films or musical sources because it’s more fun to recognize them on your own or look them up (plus, if you go to the original YouTube posting, they often list them there). In many cases, you’ll find that a Dance Group Mayuri performance is as good as the original – if not better!
A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at some songs in the film 1857, starring Suraiya and Surendra, singing for music director Sajjad Hussain. I remembered a few things about Sajjad Hussain, such as the fact that he was also music director for one of my favorite soundtracks of all time, Dost (1944), starring Noor Jehan. I recalled also that he was a pretty temperamental character and that this probably was why he didn’t get to work on as many films as he should have. I decided to look Sajjad up again to see if I could get some more information that might be of interest, and that’s when I noticed that he was born on June 15, which meant that he had the same birthday as Suraiya. So, I decided that this year, I would make a joint birthday post for both of them, including a few of those lovely songs from 1857. (Plus, since 1857 did also star Surendra, I can include at least one clip with him thrown in as a bonus. Unfortunately, the technical quality of that video leaves something to be desired – in fact all of them are somewhat limited in that way. But I still am very happy that I could find them and post them!)
I also discovered that Sajjad was music director for Rustom Sohrab, which I had read was Suraiya’s last film. As far as I can tell, though, she sang only one song for that movie. (There were quite a few other singers in Rustom Sohrab; it looks as though Sajjad gave a song to almost all the big playback stars of the Golden Age.) I assume, then, that it was the very last song that Suraiya sang for the cinema. That’s too bad; 1963 was far too early for her to retire. But it certainly was a good swan song for her, and I felt it would also be a beautiful way to end this birthday list.
Happy birthday, Suraiya and Sajjad!
Earlier this month, while I was putting the list of clips together for my Pakistani cabaret post, I did some research and saw that we were not far away from the death anniversary of Rani. I had been wanting to honor Rani for a while, and I had also talked about this exceptional dancer-actress with another “Bolly” blogger, Miranda, who does Filmi~Contrast. Actually, Miranda had sent a comment in February on a post that I had put up three and a half years earlier for the Pakistani film Umrao Jaan Ada (1972) because she had also become a fan of Rani and was busy working her way through Rani’s films. Miranda said to me, “I’m so happy I’m not the only one who likes her,” and I kind of felt the same way, because, in these blogging circles that focus mainly on Bollywood, it’s not so easy to find people who appreciate an actor, actress, or dancer from Pakistani cinema (unless it is a performer who had also made some contribution to Bollywood). But after I did a little more (minor) research on Rani, I found out that she actually had been well appreciated in Pakistan (at least), and so I had, indeed, been on to something. (For a good example of this appreciation, see the article that appeared last year in Dawn.com, In Memoriam: The Rani of Our Heart Lives On.) Meanwhile, I know that Miranda has done more of her own research on and off, and she will be writing a post about Rani in the near future, too. I will link to that post from here when it appears, and I am almost certain that it will be a more thorough post than the tribute that I am doing here, which consists of just a few clips. Nonetheless, I hope that some readers out there find these scenes as enjoyable as I did and might also at some point become fans of Rani…
The first dance I wanted to post here is a rerun from the last post. Rani won an award for this film (the Nigar Award), and it was a breakthrough for her after a few years of having a not-so-spectacular start. The film was Mera Ghar Meri Jannat. Before I had seen this dance, I had mainly seen Rani in semi-classical dances and folk dances, but I was not surprised that she was versatile enough to make a breakthrough with a mod cabaret dance. She was a very good dancer, with a lot of energy, and she had a distinctive face, with very expressive eyes (and eyebrows, as the Dawn article pointed out).
It took me a few minutes to decide which dance to post from the film where I first really noticed her, Umrao Jaan Ada (1972). I was thinking about a very dramatic dance that she did with playback from Noor Jehan, but I decided in the end to post this mujra scene that she did with playback from Runa Laila. She is very fun and charming here, and the song is also pretty nice to listen to (in fact, I understand that it was a hit.)
The film Anjuman (1970) had a few exceptional dances by Rani, and it was even more difficult to narrow my favorites down to one. In fact, I couldn’t. It was difficult to narrow them down to two also, but that’s what I did.
This first dance is a sweet semi-classical number… Though I think it is far from real classical dance, and it would be fair to say that it merely contains references to Bharatanatyam. Nonetheless, it is very enjoyable to watch. We also get some nice close-ups of those expressive Rani eyes and eyebrows.
By the way, it should be noted that the song sung by Noor Jehan for this scene had also been sung by Lata Mangeshkar for the same music director, Nisar Bazmi, in the film Kar Bhala (1956).
The other dance from Anjuman that I had to post is a more modern, seductive dance, in a scene with her frequent co-star Waheed Murad. The song is another delightful hit by Runa Laila.
Now for a somewhat different sort of scene, here is Rani being wooed (I would assume) in a rural setting in the Punjabi movie Chan Makhna (1968). There is another scene in which her character is singing this song, but I like Rani in this scene more. (Her expressions are wonderful!) The singer both on-screen and off is Inayat Hussain Bhatti. And by the way, this song can really get stuck in my head – the way many good Punjabi songs do.
The same pair starred in the film Sucha Souda (1971). This is a crazy scene from there… Rani isn’t the one doing the mod dancing this time, but she is getting great playback singing from Noor Jehan:
And now for the last selection… Actually, I didn’t know that I would be closing this post with several film scenes starring Rani and Inayat Bhatti, but as I looked for good Rani clips, I realized that there were a lot of good Punjabi films starring these two together. This final sequence is a quintessential Punjabi song from Sajjan Pyara (1968)…with vocals by Noor Jehan (of course) and terrifically energetic dancing and emoting by Rani.
I guess that most of the Rani selections that I have decided to post here come from the early side of her career (though even these films were released a little later than most of the films from India and Pakistan that I tend to favor). I gather, from what I have seen, that she actually did reach her peak in the ’60s and ’70s (at a normal age for a movie actress in this time and place to do so), but she continued to act in films as well as a TV serial up until the early ’90s. Then, in 1993, cancer took her, when she was only 46 years old. Like a few other of our favorite actresses, she died a tragically early death and went through a lot of difficulties before that. But according to the accounts that I have read, she faced it all with great strength and vitality.
P.S. 5/30: Miranda’s Rani post is up now, and it is good: some very good general writing about Rani along with a nice, detailed review of Ek Hi Rasta (1967).
I know that many fans of Indian cinema love their cabaret dancers. This is evident from the continued interest that I see in the old Cuckoo post that keeps getting revived via the comments section (and which, itself, had originated from a comments section for an older Cuckoo post). For that, I mainly have Mel to thank and, more recently, Tom Daniel. They are probably doing much more to keep the post lively than I am at this point. (And by the way, if anybody doesn’t know this, you can see the latest comments in that post by looking at the sidebar on the right and following the links there.)
Lately, though, I have been very charmed or intrigued by some cabaret dances from Pakistan. These generally are a little more recent than the cabaret dances from Indian cinema that I have been posting or discussing, and that difference is obvious. On the other hand, there are close parallels between some of these Pakistani dances and the Indian dances from the same era; that is, 1960s and 1970s. But many people are very aware of the cabaret dances from Indian films made in the ’60s and ’70s, and that’s one reason I find it more interesting now to dig up the equivalent dances from Pakistan. Also, I think that these days, many people would not expect mod or rocking dances to appear in films made in Pakistan. And another reason that I am focusing on somewhat later dances from Pakistan is because their film industry started later. Of course, when Cuckoo started getting noticed and Azurie was at her peak, Pakistan didn’t even exist…
But speaking of partition, etc., a couple of the dancers that I am showing here actually were in Indian films from the 1940s, and I basically followed them to Pakistan. Actually, I followed them a while ago and did some posts about it then, but those posts are at least a few years old now, and some of them have even lost clips. So, there’s yet another reason for me to write this post today!
Without further, unnecessary prefacing, here are some fun dances:
There is something about this first dance that is very unusual. It appears in Zinda Laash (1967), which is a horror/vampire film (which might explain why it is so strange). The dancer is Cham Cham, and she is very good. .
This next dance was the breakthrough dance for Rani. Rani was very talented as both an actress and a dancer, and I also really like the way she looked. She is one of my favorite actresses from Pakistani cinema. I had originally started to notice her after watching her great performance in Umrao Jaan Ada, which came out in 1972. But this very modern dance from the 1968 film Mera Ghar Meri Jannat is just fantastic!
The actress doing this next cabaret dance in Mousiqar (1962) is one of the ones I followed from Indian films, and fans of 1940s Hindi films might recognize her face since she was the “Lara Lappa girl” in Ek Thi Ladki some 13 years earlier. I posted this Meena Shorey clip in a subtitled version five years ago, but that clip was taken down. This is one of Tom’s clips and so it’s pretty good-quality, but unfortunately, it never got subtitled. So for those who don’t understand Urdu, I’ll give you a quick summary of what the songs says, which is, basically, life stinks so you might as well just get drunk as hell every night. (I believe that’s the gist of it…) And Meena Shorey is kind of fun as the vamp in this film, though she was better as the very un-vampish kind of character that she played in Ek Thi Ladki.
Speaking of vamps… Going up to the mid 1970s, I have been watching some scenes from a “notorious” Punjabi film called Pindiwal. These are simply indescribable – and so is Neelo at this point.
And while watching such a film from the 1970s, it is amazing to think that in the 1940s and early 1950s, someone like Rehana was considered “vulgar.” But speaking of Rehana, I will close with this nice dance from Dil Ne Tujhe Maan Liya, which came out in 1963. This clip was originally sent to me by Mr. Jinx in comments to a post about five years ago. Mr. Jinx pointed out that the song, “Mutafadelun Badrun Wa Hilala,” was sung half in Urdu and half in Arabic. That’s just one unusual touch in a song-and-dance sequence that is not only a lot of fun but also unique. (Unfortunately, you’ll have to go to YouTube to watch it, but this copy is much better than the embeddable one.)
Some months ago, I purchased a very interesting book, Illicit Worlds of Indian Dance, written by Anna Morcom. It is full of fascinating information, and I recommend it highly. It is basically an academic work, though, and I think there are quite a few places where the writing is a bit too academic for a general audience. On the other hand, there are some extremely well written parts, including her discussion of Pakeezah, which appears within the Introduction. Within this part, I especially appreciate the way she describes and analyzes the progression of the dances.
I have been meaning to quote from that Introduction for a while. (I thought that I had, but maybe only on Facebook, since my searches of my own blog aren’t revealing anything.) I have also wanted to return to posting about Pakeezah in general, because it still stands out as my favorite film from the ’70s and one of my favorites of all time.
And then somewhat more recently, our friend Tom posted superb video clips of all of the main Pakeezah songs. (I say the main songs, because there are also excellent songs within the background music, but they are not recognized by people nearly as much.) I have been informed that there might be even better versions out from him sometime in the future, but I can’t imagine how they could be better, actually.
Now, as many people know, it is the 43rd anniversary of Meena Kumari’s death. There is a lot to remember Meena Kumari for, but I think that when most people think about Meena Kumari on her death anniversary, for many reasons, the first thing that they think about is Pakeezah.
So, putting all these ideas together, I have decided to post Anna Morcom’s descriptions of the scenes and songs and illustrate them with Tom’s videos. I thought it would make for a nice tribute this year, and I hope that others agree.
As Sahib Jan becomes increasingly alienated from and ashamed of her life as a courtesan and moves instead toward “Suhagpur,” her mode of performance becomes increasingly disembodied. Inhin logon ne le liya dupatta mera (“It is those people who have taken my dupatta”), the song she performs before finding the letter, is carefree and flirty and she dances with an innocent abandon.
The next song, Thade rahio oh banke yaar re (“Stay awhile, handsome friend”), is much less light-hearted. In the song, she enacts an imaginary meeting with a lover who is present only in her mind. The song is never finished as a male audience member fires a shot part-way through.
Later, she performs Chalte chalte (“While walking along”) for the client who will take her out in a boat. Although the song is rhythmic and very danceable, she performs largely abhinay, expressive gestures with the upper half of the body while seated on the ground. This could be described as a partial dance and one that is embodied to a lesser degree. Later during the song, she gets up and dances in a curtailed and restrained way, faltering at one point. In contrast to this, two other courtesans dance energetically throughout, highlighting her distance from the scene.
Morcom then writes about half a paragraph on Sahib Jan’s actual meeting with the hero, Salim, and, especially, the emotional changes that take place. It’s too bad that Morcom skips over mentioning two excellent songs in the film, but it seems that she is mainly concerned with discussing the progression of the dances (and this is, after all, a book about dance). So, she moves right into her analysis of the climactic dance:
[S]he confides her feelings to her friend, seemingly resigning herself to her courtesan life in which she is a “living corpse” – body and soul disembodied to the point of a form of death. The sense of death and disembodiment is made complete in the finale, Aaj ham apni duaon ka asar dekhenge, “Today we shall see the outcome of our desires, the meaning of our dreams.” Halfway through the song, she smashes a glass lantern and dances on the broken glass, destroying her dancing feet, and with them her courtesan/performing/defiled body and persona.
Morcom writes quite a bit more about Pakeezah, but I think I will stop here, having finished the particular tribute that I wanted to post. I will probably return to Illicit Worlds of Indian Dance another time, and then, I will review the book a little further, hopefully without excerpting or quoting from it excessively (though I am tempted to do so, as you can see).
P.S. By the way, just a few weeks ago, on March 10, another person in this film actually celebrated a birthday, and she is alive and well (as far as I know), at the age of 66. That is Padma Khanna, Meena Kumari’s dancing double in “Aaj ham apni…” She presently lives in New Jersey, where she runs the Indianica Dance Academy.