Lollywood Flashback

Sound of Lollywood: To French hit ‘Ne me quitte pas’ with love and the same regret

Jacques Brel’s 1959 pop hit gets repurposed for the Pakistani movie ‘Amber’ from 1978.

Amber is an Urdu movie released in 1978. With veteran director Nazrul Islam behind the camera and a gaggle of heavy-hitting stars such as Mohammad Ali, Nadeem and the versatile Mumtaz, Amber zinged off like a rocket, running for an incredible 85 weeks at Karachi’s Koh-i-noor Cinema.

As with many Pakistani films, it is hard to share the public’s madness for what today seems a run-of-the-mill romcom with the usual plotlines of inter-generational conflict, mistaken identities and parents struggling with drink and anger management issues. Which is not to say Amber is a complete waste of time. Nadeem once again shows his comedic skills, and Mumtaz manages to hold our attention with nary a twerk or breast boom.

Mohammad Ali, by now one of the elder statesman of Pakistani movies, plays Ali, a rich man wound tighter than a maulvi’s mouth in Ramzan. His beloved wife dies in childbirth, but Ali has little time for his son, Nadeem (Nadeem), The boy grows up to be a spendthrift playboy at university, always getting in and out of trouble with the help of his scheming best friend (Munawar Saeed).

The heart of the movie is a farcical double-cross-blackmail-deception powerplay that has Nadeem tricking Amber (Mumtaz) and her family into thinking he is a cook, which allows him to get close to Amber. The comedy is laid on thick as Ali, Amber and Nadeem grin, smack, drink and stumble their way through a series of circumstances that get more tangled than one of Nadeem’s bowls of noodles.

Robin Ghosh is charged with the soundtrack which, like the film itself, doesn’t hold up as well as many of his other scores. But the highlight, sung by Mehdi Hassan, is a desi cover of one of the most famous pop songs in the world.

In 1959, the Belgian folk legend Jacques Brel composed what he referred to as a “hymn to the cowardice of men”, Ne me quitte pas (Don’t Leave Me). The song’s doleful and slightly lethargic melody instantly caught on not just in the French-speaking world but across the globe. Versions of the song have been recorded in at least 26 languages, including Afrikaans, West Frisian, Arabic and Slovene. In English alone, 17 artists ranging from the country star Glen Campbell to the smoothest of all lounge singers Frank Sinatra have recorded If You Go Away, the Rod McKuen-penned Anglo iteration.

Ne me quitte pas.

Ne me quitte pas is often thought of as a love song, but according to Brel, it is nothing of the sort. At the time of the composition, Brel’s girlfriend became pregnant with his son. With what he termed masculine “cowardice”, Brel refused to take any responsibility for the child. His girlfriend threw him out and the song came out of a bout of Brel’s regret and remorse.

This backstory is somewhat mirrored in Amber. The song Thehra Hain Sama Hum Tum Jahan comes at the beginning of the film, on the occasion of Ali’s wedding night. As he falls into the arms of his young bride (Deeba), he sings of eternal love and never leaving her. She begins to tear up in a sort of premonition of disaster. Several months later, she dies whilst giving birth to their son Nadeem.

Ghosh doesn’t stray too far from the original melody though, of course, the words have changed to suit a different context. The key feature of the song, besides the golden nuanced voice of Mehdi Hassan, is the lovely plaintive violin that drives the melody gently forward.

Thehra Hain Sama Hum Tum Jahan, Amber (1978).

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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