Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: A touch of warm Bengali folk music in ‘Aakhri Station’

Suroor Barabankvi’s movie, set in East Pakistan, is an underrated labour of love.

Aakhri Station (Last Station) is an Urdu film released in December 1965. Based on the Urdu short story Pagli by the feminist writer Hajra Masroor, the film was a labour of love by the popular poet Suroor Barabankvi, who produced, directed, scripted and wrote the songs for the movie.

Aakhri Station is a prime example of East Pakistani film making: literary, socially conscious and proudly Bengali. Set against the backdrop of a large industrial project in rural Bengal the story centres on the romance of Jamil (Haroon), an honest engineer who is framed by corrupt contractors, and Fawzia (Rani) the station master’s daughter.

Shabnam, who in the 1970s would go on to be Pakistan’s most beloved actress, plays Jamila, a mad woman who lives on the platform of the station. Though she has few lines, Shabnam delivers a memorable performance full of understated pathos. Her character represents and reflects the cruelty and corruption that permeates every society, even a young and hopeful one such as ’60s East Pakistan. It is tempting, but probably unfair, to read a political message into the story, of how powerful Urdu speaking outsiders have raped an innocent beautiful Bengali woman and abandoned her on the margins of society.

Suroor Barabankvi, a writer and poet from the Urdu heartland of Lucknow, had attended several poetry recitals in Dhaka in the early ’50s. Like many others, he found himself so captured by the artistic atmosphere in the city that when he was offered the job of heading the Anjuman-e-Taraqqi-e-Urdu (Society for the Advancement of Urdu) in Dhaka, he officially migrated to Pakistan. In addition to editing a literary magazine, Barabankvi turned his hand to script and song writing for the small film industry that began to emerge in Dhaka in the late ’50s.

Though he is best remembered for his lyrics and poems, Barabankvi did produce three films, one of which is the underrated Aakhri Station. He enlisted the services of another Renaissance man, Khan Ataur Rehman, to set his lyrics to music. Rehman was from a well-off family and on track to become a doctor until he dropped out of medical school in the hope of becoming a playback singer. In 1956, he starred in the famous art movie Jago Hua Savera.

Rehman’s score for Aakhri Station oozes with the warm, genteel, folk feeling that characterises Bengali music.

Ae Mere Anokhe Hamrahi, Aakhri Station (1965).

Ae Mere Anokhe Hamrahi is a little gem of a song, melodious and simple. Sung by Bashir Ahmad, another Bengali with an impressive pedigree (he was a student of both Vilayat Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan), the song is the point at which Jamil first expresses his love for Fawzia.

Bashir Ahmad had a bouyant tenor voice that was not dissimilar to that of Ahmed Rushdi, whom he clearly admired. After the 1971 war that resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh, Ahmad took his chances in West Pakistan, but Rushdi was at his zenith. Ahmad found it difficult to interest music directors in a voice that sounded so like the leading playback singer. In 1975, he returned to the East, where he continued to write and sing in the fast growing Bangladeshi film industry. In 2003 he won the Best Male Playback Singer Award.

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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