Anjuman was a platinum jubilee superhit in 1970, with the public lining up at cinemas for 81 weeks straight to watch the show.
The film tells the story of Anjuman, a much-sought-after tawaaif (courtesan) who has caught the lustful eye of Nawab Wajahat Ali (Santosh Kumar). Anjuman (Rani) is depressed and lovesick. She has no interest in the Nawab but under pressure from her mother strings the nobleman along to get access to his millions.
Meanwhile, Asif (Waheed Murad), the Nawab’s younger brother, has an unhealthy set of feelings for his sister-in-law, Nawab sahib’s wife, played beautifully by Sahiba Khanum. These feelings are eventually (and thankfully) redirected to Nusrat (Deeba), an old childhood friend who has recently migrated from India.
The more he hangs out with Anjuman, the more coldhearted Nawab becomes towards his wife and one day his excuses of “working late” are exposed as lies. He confesses his affection for Anjuman to his wife but tells her to put up and shut up, which, of course, she does.
Asif is sent on a mercy mission to the dancing girl’s house. In a pique of righteous rage he tells her to stay out of his family’s affairs and desist from seeing the Nawab. As soon as she lays eyes on the handsome Asif, Anjuman falls in love. She agrees to break things off with the Nawab on the condition that Asif replace him.
So much does Asif love his sister-in-law that he agrees. “At least I’ll save her marriage,” he says to himself.
Asif becomes increasingly alienated from himself and his family and Nusrat and sinks into the bottle to soothe his conflicted feelings. About two-thirds of the way through the film you are hit with the depressing realisation that all the main characters are incredibly unhappy, either abandoned by those they love, stuck in torturous moral dilemmas or scorned by society. Eventually, though, things turn out okay. Sort of.
The story may be full of moral quagmires, numerous loose ends and uncomfortable depictions of unchecked human desire, but the music once again provides a degree of artistic ballast.
The tawaaif film is a well-established sub-genre of South Asian cinema and is usually set in mid-19th century feudal India. In the case of Anjuman, the location is contemporary 1960s Lahore, which adds a hint of implausibility to the movie. Music director Nisar Bazmi does his best to cater to this split world by working in two idioms. In scenes involving Nawab, he creates the familiar haunting sarangi-based soundscape that such tawaaif movies employ. However, when Asif is in Anjuman’s company, he resorts to a more modern, western sound led by non-traditional instruments like the guitar.
Dil Dhadke Main Tujh Se Yeh Kaise Kahoon (My Heart Races to Tell You) is a song Anjuman sings as she dances temptingly in front of grim Asif who has come to scold her.
It’s a delightful little song for a number of reasons. First, the twangy electric guitar intro would not be out of place on a Marty Robbins or Johnny Cash record. The country & western sound is so unexpected and refreshing at this point in what has turned out to be a heavy story you immediately perk up and find new energy to continue watching.
Second, it is a reminder of how connected the film culture of Lahore was with what was going on elsewhere in the world. Sounds and musical styles from north America and other places were familiar to music directors in Pakistan and it is a testament to their creative talents that they could so quickly and naturally adapt these sounds to their own context.
Third, the smooth-as-polished-leather guitar playing is proof of just how talented the anonymous studio musicians in Lahore were. The string section too, is able to conjure a sound that is every bit as emotional and on point as Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra.
But in the end, it is the coquettish delivery of Runa Laila that makes the song so cool. Laila was a Bengali woman raised in Karachi and grew up hearing the rock/pop music of Karachi’s then active nightclub scene as well as falling in love with the vocals of Ahmed Rushdie.
As soon as she burst on the scene in the 1966 film Hum Dono (We Two) she was recognised as an exceptional talent. In a few years she was a regular performer in India and the UK. She was one of Pakistan’s true pop stars and made well-received records of non-film music as well.
Her light and crisp voice is perfect for pop and upbeat music. Dil Dhadke is certainly one of my current favorites.
A version of this story appeared on the blog https://dailylollyblog.wordpress.com/ and has been reproduced here with permission.