Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: A singing star and a jazzed-up thumri from Pakistani cinema’s finest decade

‘Jiya More Lage Na’ from the 1974 movie ‘Bhool’, sung by Nadeem, is further evidence of composer Robin Ghosh’s talent.

Bhool (Forgetfulness) is an Urdu film released in November 1974. It ran for 52 weeks straight in Pakistan’s major centre, Karachi.

The year 1974 was just about the shining peak of the Urdu film industry. The mood in the country after a devastating decade of military rule, civil war and the loss of half of the country’s territory to the new state of Bangladesh was finally upbeat. The populist and very popular Islamic socialist leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the charismatic international face of Pakistan. Public life was relaxed and tolerant. Rock bands such as The Moonglows and Willie Po and the Boys had the young folks dancing, while Turkish belly dancers swayed and shimmied in the bars of Karachi’s finer establishments.

The movie industry was exploding as well. It was that golden time when talent and stars abounded. The early stars such as Santosh Kumar, Sahiba Khanum, Neelo, Noor Jehan, Mohammad Ali and Talish were the revered elders. A slew of newcomers, such as Waheed Murad, Shahid, Shabnam, Babra Sharif and Ghulam Mohiuddin brought a sparkling, relaxed and often irreverent attitude that perfectly matched the times to the screen.

Nadeem, who headlined in Bhool alongside his most prolific screen paramour Shabnam, was also pretty busy in 1974. He starred in 13 other films that year, two of which were released on Christmas Day and nine of which ran for at least 25 weeks. He was the very definition of “hot”.

Shabnam, a Bengali beauty was married to music director Robin Ghosh, also from what was once known as East Pakistan. Nadeem had been part of their circle in Dhaka in the early 1960s, and it was there that he tried to get his initial break into the movies as a playback singer. It was not to be. The young boy with the doe eyes and playful smile was made to be in front of the camera. The dream of being the next Mohammad Rafi was quietly abandoned.

In addition to a glittering cast of stars that included Babra Sharif and Afzal Ahmad, some very big names were involved off screen. Shamim Ara, starlet of the ’50s and early ’60s, was Bhool’s producer. S Suleman handled the direction. A respected talent, Suleman’s Gulfam (1961) is regarded as one of the best Pakistani pictures of all time. Throughout a long career, he developed a canny talent for making hit movies that often starred his brother Darpan, focused on progressive social themes and portrayed powerful women characters.

Bhool falls into the category of social drama that defined classic Urdu films. It is also evidence that Nadeem had not yet entirely reconciled himself to his decision to leave singing behind. In at least four of the films, seven songs, including the jazzed up thumri Jiya More Lage Na, Nadeem is the lead vocalist.

The pace of the song is quick and the mood jovial. A swell of strings provides the introduction and sets the stage for some Latin rhythms that quickly give way to a trumpet trio and a descending electric guitar run that signals “spy master-cum-playboy” approaching.

Everything Robin Ghosh does has class, be it a slow burning lover’s lament or a rocking party song. The way he is able to create excitement by combining modern pop sounds (slashing guitar, Hammond organ squelches), international flavours (Mexicali trumpets) and strings (silky then plucky) with a raucous call and response chorus is pure magic.

There is not a dull or lazy bar in Jiya More Lage Na. Indeed, the only downer is Nadeem. His voice wobbles like he can’t quite find the key. Even when he hits his stride, his voice comes out as flat and limp as wet cardboard.

Still, the song stands as a wonderful contribution and example of the genius of Robin Ghosh.

Nate Rabe’s novel, The Shah of Chicago, is out now from Speaking Tiger.

A version of this story appeared on the blog and has been reproduced here with permission.

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