Top 10 – The Non Romantic Filmi Qawwali
As character actor Khurshid Bawra before him (Barsaat ki Raat, Taj Mahal, Rustom Sohrab), Pran saab featured in many a non romantic qawwali, lending them his full bodied expressive best. B R Chopra greatly encouraged this form in his films, with most flowing from the ingenious pen of Sahir Ludhianvi.
The non romantic qawwali is a goldmine of sub textual poetry, complementing the scenario by underscoring gripping situations. It could be tender or argumentative, celebratory or prophetic and sometimes even sound deceptively commonplace, as it covertly invokes and emphasizes the traditional sufi philosophy. It has dealt with communal harmony, the nature of time, friendship, politics and inflation.
Credible efforts have been put by A R Rahman to revive the qawwali lately but my favorites hail from a different era. Please click on the picture to view the song.
1) Jeena toh hai usi ka – Adhikar 1971
Writer Ramesh Pant condenses the philosophy of Sufism in two simple couplets. “Jeena toh hai usi ka jisne yeh raaz jaana, hai kaam aadmi ka auron ke kaam aana” (The simple secret of a worthy life is to serve others). Rafi and R D Burman provide voice and music in this often forgotten qawwali.
Pran, as the pan chewing qawwal, imparts ‘naseehat’ (the wisdom of ages) on a toddler’s birthday but the implication for other characters present are much deeper.
2) Aaj Kyon Humse Parda – Sadhna (1958)
A courtesan dreams of a respectable future and decides not to perform while her clients urge her to come out. There seems no resurrection once you are branded a fallen woman was the theme tackled in this film.
N Dutta hailed from Goa but had an acute sensibility for the qawwali. He scored three films for B R Chopra including ‘Dhool ka Phool’ and the two featured here. Music director Ravi’s success with Chaudvin ka Chand prompted Chopra to sign him for Gumraah in 1963, thus forging a musical partnership lasting 10 films.
3) Jo Yeh Dil Deewana – Dharmputra (1961):
Girl of a decent household has a child out of wedlock, who is given away for adoption while the biological father disappears and she is married off to another.
However the subtext of this qawwali goes deeper; I believe it states that unwanted pregnancy is the consequence of two consenting adults. And making love, the outcome of seduction from one leading to the surrender of another. Dutta’s best qawwali for Chopra as Shashikala provides counterpoint to the grave situation, playing up as bejeweled Mrs. Robinson in an Anarkali outfit. This is a hidden gem.
4) Raaz ki baat keh dun toh – Dharma 1973
Bindu should have chosen to enter a hornet’s nest than to try her luck at intimidating Pran.
This was a massive sleeper super hit in the year of Jugnu, Bobby and Zanjeer. Pran plays the character of Dharma (and gets the film named after him) where Navin Nischol is the hero. Imagine Mr. India being called Mogambo! His clout was such that he carried this low budget pot boiler by the sheer force of his personality on screen and extended the career of director Chand for another decade. Music by duo Sonik-Omi and Prakash Jha, was the second assistant director.
5) Salaam Kijiye – Aandhi (1975)
Trust Gulzar to add a zingy twist with his penchant for local idiom to a sixteenth century genre.
Replete with political heckling at its worst, it makes a caustic comment on electoral process with the poet enunciating for the disgruntled public at large. Suchitra Sen maintains a dignified demeanor through lines like ‘hamare vote kharidenge hum ko ann (grain) dekar, yeh nange jism chupa dete hain kafan dekar’.
6) Tum nahin ya hum nahin – Karmayogi 1978
Interesting lyrics pepper this intriguing lyrical battle with lots of secrets threatening to be exposed.
Ajit terrorizes Rekha into silence but his plan hasn’t factored the arrival of the savior Raaj Kumar who just about shuts him up and puts him off key.
What makes for mazedaar viewing is how badly Raaj Kumar is miscast to participate in a qawwali. His kinetic antics often leave him off balance and the editor cuts the shot just before he probably falls off screen. His stiff and spindly body refuses to obey any nervous system commands yet you never have seen such dedication to purge the blot of an being an ‘awkward’ actor. We love you all the same ‘jaani’. You were a star non nonpareil.
7) Yaari hai imaan – Zanjeer (1973)
Filmfare Award winning lyrics by Gulshan Bawra are evocative of a long gone Kabul, where Sher Khans, rather than taliban, roamed the streets free and fearless, protecting women and children from wolves.
A heartfelt ode to friendship, it loosely translates,’friendship is my truthful belief and my friend is my life’.
Kalyanji Anandji’s use of the rubab, known in Afghanistan as the ‘lion of instruments’, is perfectly pitched, which placed in the hands of another on screen sher (lion) is a tour de force.
Also played is the zurna, an extremely popular wind instrument from Central Asia.
8. Shirde Wale Sai Baba” from Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)
This qawwali takes the solitary credit of lending universal popularity to a poor fakir who preached charity, self denial and forgiveness, died in 1918 and is now revered as a saint.
The echo of Mohammed Rafi’s notes dovetailed with the cinematic miracles of Manmohan Desai reverberated throughout the nation, leading to a spate of money making Sai Baba temples across the country which are almost a business model now worthy of a management case study.
For a penniless fakir who abhorred worldly possessions, Baba surely did not want it this way. As all that he advocated diminishes in humanity, his legend grows ever stronger.
And now for the two epics of non romantic qawwali.
9. Mehangayi maar gayi – Roti, Kapda aur Makaan (1974)
The seeds of graft and sleaze introduced in the soil of the 70’s has become a full blown orgy of corruption in our country. The authorities commingled with hoarders and black marketeers and the powerless paid the price. As Bharat bemoans the days of license raj, unemployment and dishonesty, this is the contemporary aam aadmi’s qawwali. Laxmikant Pyarelal revel in the new age idiom lyrics helmed by Santosh Desai and real life qawwal Jani Babu makes a special appearance. Shot on a construction site with an earthy appeal, it has some breathtaking crane shots and Manoj Kumar’s editing is on the money.
As true as it was forty years ago, sample this: “Mehangai ke daur mein ho gayi mehngi yaar ki yaari”. (The price of love too, has become a victim of inflation.) Chandra Barot, the original Don director was the chief AD on this. And Premnath playing the Sardar, introduces the associated suffering of price rise. Brilliant.
10. Pal do pal ka saath – The Burning Train (1980)
As the exclusive single member inhabiting the disaster genre realm of Hindi cinema, almost all the characters had a sense of unease not witnessed earlier. Only Asha Sachdev as Raziya Bai is tuned to live life in fulsome glory. Kamleshwar’s screenplay combines commerce and philosophy and though panned on release, has slowly gained a cult status.
Sahir’s lyrics, some of his last before his untimely death the same year, are the crowning achievement of existential irony as unmindful passengers hurtle towards their inevitable doom while singing about the ephemeral joy of good times. It is about the attempt to beat time at its own game, a favorite human pursuit. Pancham proudly displayed his peacock feathers doing just the right amount needed, varying the pitch, pace and orchestration to match with the cross cutting.
“Aaj ki khushiyan ek haqiqat, kal ki khushiyan phasaane hain” (Only present joy is real, tomorrow’s happiness is just hearsay).