There was a time when Pakistan film music used to be popular and everyone knew the songs. Today, that isn’t the case at all. People don’t even know the singers who are lending their voices in whatever movies produced, leave alone the songs they’re singing. Pop music survives due to private TV channels and radio shows but film music is dead.
The bygone years — from the 50s to the early 70s — produced good films and even better songs that are still popular today. What was initially called filmi pop with the emergence of ‘Ko Ko Korina’ in 1966’s Armaan eventually became ‘Paap music’, the music of sin.
By the early 70s, the conditions of Pakistan’s film industry began deteriorating. With what was then East Pakistan out of the competition, the film industry in Pakistan decided to restrict itself to Lahore and Lollywood was born. Karachi was kept out and music composers from Karachi decided to stick to their roots. Some even joined the new medium — television — and worked there.
Famed musician Muslehuddin bid farewell to movies, Sohail Rana moved to TV, while Robin Ghosh joined hands with ace director and fellow Bengali Nazrul Islam. Whatever music was featured in Dada’s movies was mostly Ghosh’s work. Musicians of those days never did injustice to a song nor did they bow to distributors’ demands. The generation they were working with was on its last legs and a VCR infected youth was ready to fill their spaces.
It began with the sons of legendary director/producer Shabab Kairanvi. The talent of both his sons Nazar and Zafar combined, sadly, never matched that of their father’s, who introduced a number of stars to the industry. The experiments they did in the name of movie-making cost the industry dearly in the times to come.
In 1976, when songs from the Bollywood film Julie were all the rage, musician M. Ashraf, from the famed duo Manzoor Ashraf, tried to do a Rajesh Roshan. Manzoor and Ashraf composed for films from 1960 to1968, ‘Gol Gappay Wala’ being one of their best songs. After Manzoor was sent to jail for murder, Ashraf began composing on his own.
For Nazar Shabab’s Shabana, he tried hard to replicate ‘Dil Kia Karay Jub Kisi Say’. Mehdi Hassan Khan, a ghazal singer by default, was asked to do a Kishore Kumar. ‘’Na kuch tere buss me Julie na kuch mere buss me’’ became ‘’pyar mera oh Farzana bhool na jana’’. It’s still puzzling why such a beautiful song (read: it could have been the finest) was not given to Ahmed Rushdi, who sang dozen of such numbers. Insiders reveal that Rushdi was forced to leave Lahore by the mid-70s due to the lack of creativity and heavily reliance on ‘references’ from across the border.
The opening music of ‘Tere Siva Dunya Me’ matched the steps of Waheed Murad and Babra Sharif shooting at Islamabad’s Rawal Lake. The only out-of-sync element was Hassan Sahab’s vocals which were all but perfect for the song. Listeners still argue, after nearly five decades, whether he was trying to say “my love is with you” or “my life is with you”.
The song also had a female version, in which Naheed Akhtar failed to do justice to it. The only thing that was catchy in this version was the perfect lifting of the music before ‘Dil Kia Karay’. Unfortunately, no one even remembers this version anymore.
After the success of ‘My Heart is Beating’ in Julie, Ashraf went out of his way — and out of his language, I presume — to make a song where the heart beats. Alamgir, riding high on the success of his ‘Hum Chalay Tu Hamaray’, was contacted to sing a song in English. In a country where writing is restricted to a few, putting up a song in English turned out to be a failed experiment.
Taslim Fazli, a lyricist who had a habit of turning up with songs in no time, penned a few words on the pattern of ‘Damadam Mast Qalandar’, the famous qawwali. Alamgir demanded grammatical corrections and eventually rejected the song. He was threatened by the musician, who even said he would make sure Alamgir never gets a song again. Rushdi was approached and at the tailend of his illustrious career, ended up singing it.
Alamgir, a thorough professional, was against touching the feet of a singer when they arrived for a recording and was quite aware of the spat when Noor Jehan slapped Runa Laila during a recording for not standing for her — which strong reason why Laila left. He simply rendered couple of songs in films and focused on his performances on TV. He became the most sought singer on TV and, years later, films needed him, he no longer needed them.
The epic ‘Bhaandey Kali Kara Lo’ from film Susraal, where actor Shahid and his goons were roaming the streets to ‘kali’ the ‘bhaandays’, is so hopeless that it may even miss the list of the most pathetic songs of all time. Released in 1977, Susraal was a remake of super hit film Mehtab (1962), and Nazar Shabab, trying to emulate the magic of Ahmed Rushdi’s ‘Gol Gappay Wala’, made a mockery of the film written as well as directed by his father.
For the Pakistani version of Kora Kaghaz (1978), Naheed Akhtar was persuaded by musician Nazir Ali to render a song with complete English lyrics. Ali was an associate to Ashraf, and as is evident from his choice, English was not his cup of tea (as in ‘Sweety’).
There also was a film by the name of Akbar Amar Anthony. In the film, we see beauties in two different colours. Naheed was there as well.
Zafar Shabab, the elder brother of Nazar, was equally painful at times. One of his films Dard (1969) had Mehdi Hassan singing “teri mehfil se yeh diwana chala jayega,” which was lifted from one of the greatest songs by M Rafi. I can only imagine that the title of the film must have emerged from the pain endured by Ejaz Durrani, who was playing the piano.
Mehdi Hassan was a legend as far as ghazal singing was concerned. As a playback singer, he has numerous songs to his credit and his command over Urdu was as flawless as his command over raags. He was the one legendary music composers turned to when singing of a slow, romantic or a soulful number was concerned. Following of his film songs are still popular, as they were made for him.
It is believed that Mehdi Hassan, also known as Khan Sahab, used to say “mashallah” after listening to his recordings, but if that was the case, he should have uttered “laholwallah” when the music composers of late were narrating the ideas of fast paced songs to him.
Old timers recall that Rushdi once complained after listening to these songs saying, ‘’Khan Sahab kuch gaanay hamaray liye bhi chor dia karain [please leave some songs for us too]’’. The downfall of the industry started when choices were preferred over merit. It ended the careers of many singers.
Rushdi, credited as the pioneer of pop music in films, shifted to Karachi where he died at the age of 49, out of work. Mujeeb Alam was also kept away and a trained Muhammad Efrahim (a disciple of Muhammad Rafi) never made it big. Had it not been for film star/producer Nadeem, Akhlaq Ahmed would have been sidelined too.
Pop music needs a different mindset and proper execution which cannot be acquired by selecting Mehdi Hassan or Noor Jehan, for instance. They may be greats but they lacked what a pop singer has — energy. M Ashraf, credited with soundtracks of over 500 Pakistani movies, failed to utilise Khan Sahab as effectively as others did. Robin Ghosh used the ‘Kharajdaar’ voice of Mehdi Hassan for faster songs, which are still popular today.
Music director Nisar Bazmi also used Hassan’s deep voice for the most complicated ‘tarbiya’ songs.
The ‘Paap music’ virus spread to other directors and Shamim Ara’s film Playboy had Nadeem lip syncing to Mehdi Hassan.
The good thing was that the female version of the same song had some of expression and lot of energy.
Once, during a meeting, Nisar Bazmi was asked a strange question: why hadn’t he ever selected Mehdi Hassan for such ‘painful’ songs? Bazmi sahab picked ‘Akele na jaana,’ a song that won the Nigar Award in 1966, to explain his point. He said that the scale got to its highest at “bhala kia jiyenge”, which came naturally to Rushdi, but Khan sahab “ke bus ki baat nahi thi [wasn’t capable of it]”.
PTV Karachi was the saving grace for the generation that grew up in the 80s. Music that was killed in Lahore lived in Karachi. Established singers like Alamgir, Muhammad Ali Shyaki, Khalid Waheed and Tehseen Javed provided the generation with something to listen to. Sajjad Ali, Nazia Hassan and Zohaib Hassan were the products of later years and Lahore, as a music centre, became secondary for some. Pop music flourished in Karachi and whatever came out of Lahore was Paap music, somewhat of a sin.
Sanity prevailed in Bollywood and music directors rarely came out with such nightmarish experiences. Imagine the late Jagjit Singh singing ‘Khaike paan banaras wala’, Pankhaj Udas ‘Pooch na yaar kia hua’, Talat Aziz ‘Papa kehtay hain’ or even Anup Jalota ‘Koi kahay kehta rahay’.
They won’t let that happen, because working on merit needs what so-called music composers in Pakistan don’t have. Sadly, those who don’t treat music as the language of the soul die a death like Pakistani films have.