As many people know, the present weekend-plus near the end of December can be regarded as very significant for a few different reasons. Of course, the most obvious is that many millions of people around the world are celebrating Christmas. For fans of old Indian films, there are a few other significant events also to keep in mind. December 24 marks the birthdays of both Mohammed Rafi and, as I pointed out in this blog last year, Roshan Kumari. And November 25 is the birth anniversary of the greatest film music director, Naushad Ali. But this year on this blog, I am going to give a nod to another event well worthy of commemoration. Although this post will not be going up until a few days later, I wanted to point out that December 23 marks 22 years since the passing of the woman who I would consider to be – at least during her peak several decades – the greatest film singer of all time. Yes, it was on December 23, 2000 that the world lost Noor Jehan.
I am doing this post on Noor Jehan mainly because I have recently been enjoying her voice so much yet again. And in the last week or so, I have been particularly enjoying songs that come from the playback singing that she did in Pakistani films revolving around Lal Shahbaz Qalandar – or, in at least one or two cases, other Qalandars or saints in the Sufi tradition (with very similar images/scenes).
Of course, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and the Sufi saints in general are often considered to be connected exclusively to Islam. But some people argue that Sufism transcends Islam, and we know that South Asian Sufi saints sometimes can be found to have alter egos that are Hindu deities. A perfect example of the latter point is that Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and the Hindu deity Jhulelal are often referred to in the same songs and by all accounts were the same guy. Still, this might seem like an odd subject to focus upon during Christmas, and it may seem even more confusing that I’m doing it, considering that my ancestral heritage is Jewish. On the other hand, have you ever noticed how depictions of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and, especially, Jhulelal tend to look a lot like pictures of Santa Claus? (If you don’t believe me, take a look at the slideshow in this video. I’m not going to embed the video here because it’s a bit off topic for this list, but if you go to YouTube and look at all those pictures of Jhulelal showing off that white beard, I think you will certainly agree.)
So, maybe all of these different religions are connected in some way or other. Maybe the great Sufi poet Rumi was right when he said, “All religions, all this singing, one song. The differences are just illusion and vanity. The sun’s light looks a little different on this wall than it does on that wall, and a lot different on this other one, but it’s still one light.”
In any event, I admit that I love the particular song sequences that I’m sharing here not because of any spiritual attachment to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (though I do sometimes wonder how I might develop one), but because I love the music, the imagery, and the drama, as well as, most particularly, the voice of Madam Noor Jehan.
I also admit that I have not actually seen any of the films from which the scenes originated. I haven’t even been able to find information about the sources of some of these songs (YouTube posters are not always so forthcoming with that information), and I can’t really completely glean the context, either, since these films are generally in Punjabi, a language that I never even tried to learn. (At least I tried with Urdu/Hindi and can pick up a word here and there. And at least with Hindi, there are so many films and song clips – because of “Bollywood” – that have English subtitles.) I just love these film clips all by themselves, as I see them – for the sound and look of them – and that’s the reason I want to share them.
Now I’m going to start with two scenes involving Noor Jehan’s rendition of “Lal Meri Pat Rakhiyo Bhala” that should be the most familiar to everyone. I have posted at least one of these scenes before, but there is no way I could exclude either from the present post.
Noor Jehan’s rendition of “Lal Meri Pat” – from the 1969 film Dilan Day Souday – is the one that made me become fascinated with this song when I watched it on YouTube more than a dozen years ago. I am sure I had heard the song in other versions earlier, but this is the particular version that, as I said in another post a while back, “permanently planted ‘Lal Meri Pat’ on my mental map.”
Noor Jehan’s rendition of the song was used for two different actress-dancers in this film. Before, as far as I know, I have only posted the one by Naghma, because I am particularly attached to her version. The drama and vitality of Naghma’s performance are just incredible. She also has a very unique look in this scene. Between Naghma’s dance and Noor Jehan’s singing, I would say that this has to be the quintessential performance of this song.
But Firdous certainly deserves a lot of credit for her dance to the song, too. In fact, I know that some people prefer Firdous. I think that she is considered to be the more attractive woman, and her dance here might also be a bit more intricate. I understand that the character here was also involved in a more complicated situation. I believe I read somewhere that the Firdous character, being a mujra dancer, had very conflicting feelings because of her religious devotion. Here, she is trying to convey her devotion in one of her dances in the mujra setting, but it is turning out to be not so appropriate. Some of the men watching her – if I’m not mistaken – seem puzzled by her performance. This is what I understand from the scene, though if other people have a different understanding, please let me know! In any event whatever the dramatic plot details, the dance is a great pleasure to watch all by itself, and, of course – as I was saying in the last description – the voice (of Noor Jehan) is unsurpassable.
For the next selection, I wanted to share another striking video starring Naghma. This is from Duniya Pyar Di, made in 1974. There are some similarities here to Naghma’s dance in Dilan Day Souday, but the scene here is mostly centered in a rural village, rather than a holy shrine. On the other hand, the song and dance obviously express devotion. Here, the name that I hear most is Jhulelal. I don’t know if it makes a difference that I am not hearing Lal (Shahbaz) Qalandar as much – I imagine both names could be almost interchangeable. (Is there more recognition of Lal Shahbaz Qualandar’s Hindu alter ego here? Just a question – I don’t really know.) The dance and acting seem appropriate to a rural setting since they are apparently invested with a lot of folk charm. Noor Jehan’s voice is very sweet here, too.
This next one is very catchy. It is also highly dramatic – the whole scene is full of captivating melodrama. I love seeing this song picturized on Rani, who was one of the best and most accomplished actresses in Pakistani films. This time it’s Sufi men who are dancing up a storm (Rani’s character can’t really do that here because she is on crutches), but they are terrific too.
This next clip may have some of the same male dancers. They have the same look and are equally good. The female actress-dancer is someone whom I instantly recognized as Aliya. Aliya had a thinner frame and it seems that her style was even more incredibly energetic than the others’. That is my impression anyway. She certainly is dynamic here! Noor Jehan really belts it out here, too, making for another music and dance sequence that is simply great.
By the way, I think I have seen other scenes from this film, but I just can’t at this time get a definite confirmation regarding what film it was. I have seen suggestions, but I don’t really trust them. But I will keep looking. With regard to the other film clips, I will do the same. If I don’t mention the film title, it’s because I just don’t know it (yet). But that may change.
Speaking of Aliya, here she is in color. My research tells me that this is from the film Maa Te Mama, which came out in 1973. It is very impressive that Aliya does such dynamic dancing while seated. And Noor Jehan’s voice performs some great acrobatics as well!
And now, also in color, we have this great scene around the song “Meeran Mauj Darya.” I looked up Meeran Mauj Darya, and saw that he was actually another Sufi saint – definitely different from the great red one – but he also helped to merge Hindu and Muslim traditions, and obviously also could inspire a good Qalandar dhamal. So, I considered the next scene to fit right in with the great film scenes that revolved around Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.
This scene is also interesting because the actress at the center of it is Naghma. At least that is what I have gathered from a comment below it at YouTube, although she does not do the active dancing that Naghma usually does – not for most of the video, at least – and she does not appear as intense in general as Naghma in those other films (although her face is still greatly expressive nonetheless). But at the end, we see a snippet of wild dance that is definitely Naghma looking very much like the Naghma that I have come to know and love. Is she transformed at the end, or is this a flashback of some kind? This scene created a lot of confusion for me that I don’t think I’ll be able to resolve before posting, especially if I want to get this post up in a timely way.
I bet that I have exhibited a few symptoms of confusion in this post. If only I knew more about these movies… Oh, well, in spite of my frustrating lack of knowledge, I still love all the scenes that I am sharing here, and – in case I haven’t made this clear yet – I truly love the sound of Noor Jehan.