A biopic on the popular Pakistani-British singing siblings Nazia and Zoheb Hassan is taking shape somewhere between London and Mumbai. Zoheb Hassan did not reveal too many details about the production in a recent interview, except that he had been approached by an unidentified Indian writer, an unnamed Indian director was attached to the project and the musician Biddu, who launched Nazia in 1980 in the movie Qurbani, was working on the music.
The telegenic brother and sister worked together on non-film albums in the 1980s, but their journey started with the song “Aap Jaisa Koi Mere Zindagi Mein Aaye” in Feroz Khan’s crime drama Qurbani. Nazia was 15 years old when Biddu met her on Khan’s recommendation at her apartment in London. The massive success of “Aap Jaisa Koi”, which also owed something to the fact that it was filmed on a svelte and sexy Zeenat Aman, bagged Nazia a Filmfare Best Female Playback award, and her career as a star of the disco-themed club song was set.
Naiza began singing with Zoheb for musical shows in Karachi in the late ’70s. In 1976, the duo appeared in Pakistan’s first English language film Beyond The Last Mountain as extras in a song sequence.
The success of “Aap Jaisa Koi” led to another collaboration with Biddu. He was approached by the music label HMV to record its first non-film album with Nazia, he writes in his memoir Made in India. Biddu asked Zoheb to compose a few tunes too, and the 16-year-old singer came up with three songs. Some of the titles initially under consideration were Disco Party and Music Ke Deewane.
Disco Deewane was released in April 1981 and sold 100,000 copies on the first day of its release, Biddu writes. The songs played not only across the Indian subcontinent and the South Asian diaspora in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the Caribbean, but also in Brazil, South Africa, Russia and Indonesia.
Buoyed by the success of Disco Deewane, Biddu came up with a movie plot about a young man who becomes a successful singer. Directed by Vinod Pande and starring Kumar Gaurav and Rati Agnihotri, the soundtrack of Star (1982) had eight tracks by Biddu, all sung by the Hassan siblings. The soundtrack was also released as the album Boom Boom, the title song of which was another smash hit.
The Hassans collaborated on other non-film albums, including Young Tarang in 1984. The music videos that featured the siblings were popular in Pakistan, but they also attracted the ire of the country’s military dictator, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Zia ordered the state-run television and radio networks to stop playing “un-Islamic” disco music. The siblings were reportedly summoned to the President’s residence in Islamabad and given a lecture on the appropriate behaviour to be displayed while performing such songs, including avoiding physical contact between male and female singers and sticking to the local dress code. The ban was lifted after the Hassan siblings complied with Zia’s diktats and dressed demurely in subsequent music programmes.
Nazia and Zoheb Hassan collaborated on two more albums, Hotline (1987) and Camera Camera (1992). Nazia retired from singing after Camera Camera. She died of lung cancer in 2000. Zoheb Hassan, always the weaker of the two singers, tried to re-establish himself as a solo artist in the late ’90s and the early ’00s. In 2006, he released the album Kismat.
Although Zoheb’s singing career was never in the same league as his sister’s, proof of the enduring popularity of their musical partnership can be found in his appearance on Coke Studio, in which he sang “Chehra” from the album Young Tarang.