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Sound of Lollywood: A Pakistani Western asks, ‘Tell me dear, to which nation do you belong?’ Sound of Lollywood: A Pakistani Western asks, ‘Tell me dear, to which nation do you belong?’

‘Khotay Sikkay’ from 1981 has a fine example of the national song genre in Pakistani film music.

By Ted PoeJames Clad

The American Western movie, with its themes of individual and national identity, has been an inspiration for many Indian films, such as the iconic Sholay (1975) and Dharmatma (1975) as well as more recently, the hilarious send-up of the gunfighter-comes-to-town genre, Quick Gun Murugun (2009).

In Pakistan, you could argue that the entire output of the Punjabi film industry and its one-of-a-kind superstar Sultan Rahi, is, in essence, a local interpretation of the Western. The rugged rural landscapes of Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and its deserts, complete with old forts and remote villages, afford a spectacular backdrop for the elemental struggles of righteous, vengeful heroes against villainy and corruption.

The borrowing of titles, storylines and melodies between Bollywood and Lollywood is a tradition that stretches back to the very beginning of movies on the subcontinent. Khotay Sikkay (1981) is one of many Pakistani films that borrowed titles from older Indian movies, in this case, the Feroz Khan starrer Khote Sikkay (1974).

A song for the nation

Khotay Sikkay achieved silver jubilee status and ran for 34 straight weeks in Karachi. The movie was filmed on location and fielded an all-star cast led by the veteran Mohammad Ali and Lahori actress Babra Sharif. Badar Munir, the single biggest name in Pashto movies, who made his reputation as a tough and rough type, was also drafted in to give the otherwise urbane cast a certain rugged authenticity.

The musical players were equally stellar. M Ashraf, probably the greatest musical director of his era, led the effort supported by the voices of several outstanding artists, including A Nayyar, Mehnaz, Nahid Akhtar and Akhlaq Ahmed.

There exists in Pakistan a whole genre of singing known as qaumi naghme (national songs), which are usually presented on TV shows in front of well-behaved middle-class studio audiences. These songs extol the virtues and positive aspects of the Pakistani state and encourage listeners to adopt high-minded ideals of tolerance, moderation, piety and loyalty.

Almost every singer in Pakistan, including the very biggest names, has sung such songs. Even though they are musically rather drab affairs most singers claim to enjoy singing them.

Our featured track, Tum Kaun Ho, is one such patriotic duet. Performed by Nahid Akhtar and a team of male playback singers, it is a very interesting song, if for no other reason than the number of cans of worms it begs one to open.The title is a question Nahid Akhtar asks as if she were the Mother of the Nation:

“Who are you/tell me dear/to which nation do you belong?”

Shaukat Ali is a popular singer from Lahore who covers a range of styles, including ghazals and folk music, but who shot to fame as a playback singer in Punjabi movies. He has won many awards, including the highest arts prize, the President’s Pride of Performance award, for his contributions to Pakistan musical culture.

He is the first to respond to Nahid’s question in the form of “I am a son of Punjab.” Ali sings mainly in Urdu in this verse, but breaks into a few stanzas of Punjabi that include the cry “Balle balle!”– an instant signal to listeners that this is a Punjabi singing.

Next, Ghulam Abbas travels to Sindh, where he invokes the desert Sufi spirit of the great mystic Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (where 76 people were killed in an ISIS attack at his shrine in Sehwan in February) with a rousing chorus of “Dama dam mast Qalandar, sakhi shahbaz qalandar.”

More verses follow. Short portraits relate typical Baluch and Pashtun national characteristics, which in the case of the latter, include, “Guns are my toys.”

The song’s grand statement is delivered in the final two-and-a-half minutes:

“This Sindhi, Punjabi, Baluchi/ are just English words
Why do you divide yourselves among the provinces
A single holy book/ a single faith community
The single Ka’aba is ours
Mohammad is all our inheritance/The one god is ours
Our heads will bow in response to one call to prayer
God is great
Our mother’s hundred beloved sons/ will be called one
Dear Mother’s sons/don’t divide your mother into provinces
Don’t let hate destroy our great leader’s garden
We are neither Sindhi, nor Punjabi, nor Pashto, nor Makrani
All who live in Pakistan are all Pakistani.”

The national anthem then plays as the song fades out.

Musically the piece is very satisfying. Ashraf keeps the music moving steadily at a medium pace throughout the first several verses. He skillfully introduces instruments such as rubab, sarinda and dhol, which are particular to each region of Pakistan, as well as inserting lines and phrases from some of the regional languages.

But the tension is really ramped up in the final key verse as strings break through and swell majestically at the end of each couplet. The male singer’s voice responds by jumping up an octave. All the while the Pakistani affinity for rhythm is evident in the excited beating of tabla and dhol. The pace slackens dramatically and respectfully for the call to prayer, but then picks up again until the national anthem draws the song to a dignified close.

The song is an outstanding example of a qaumi naghma, one that is worthy of repeated listens even if more for its music than lyrics.

The lyrics may or may not appeal to the casual listener but suffice it to say they point to a number of issues – language, ethnicity, geography, faith, inclusion – that continue to challenge the world’s first confessional state 70 years after its birth.

A version of this story appeared onthe blog has been reproduced here with permission.

The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of World Views Pakistan


Courtsey: Scroll.In