Other logs from the fire: Lollywood

Although I’m guilty of the crime as much as anyone, I really don’t like referring to the Mumbai-based Indian cinema industry as Bollywood.  It rings false, as if it somehow were not serious, frivolous and needs to be associated (linguistically) with Hollywood to be legitimate.  But most of all, it is the narrowing of the frame of what defines an Indian film that makes me most uncomfortable. India is full of regional cinema with some of the world’s most acclaimed directors working in non-musical based cinema.

But, hey. This is a world and an epoch that demands a label. So we say Bollywood.

The next few posts will be about the other pieces of ‘wood’ in the cinematic fire of South Asia. Starting, today with India’s immediate neighbor and cousin to the west, Pakistan. Pre-Independence, the cities of Lahore and Karachi had lively studio complexes that produced films in the local languages (Punjabi, Sindhi, Gujarati) and indeed, many of the great heroes of what everyone now considers Indian (Bollywood) movie history had their start in these centres. Mohammad Rafi, Noor Jahan, C.T. Atma among the singers; Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and the Kapoor dynasts among the actors and directors.

Even before Independence in 1947 the consolidation of the film industry had begun however, with Calcutta losing its preeminence to Bombay and Lahore, Dacca and Karachi losing much of their talent to what would soon become the ultimate film city of Asia.  Come 1947 and Partition, the film industry was not spared the wrenching decisions that the rest of the country’s Punjabis, Bengalis and northern Muslims faced; to stay or go ‘home’.

Many leading lights, especially Noor Jahan and Manto, did opt for Pakistan. Over the 50s and even into the 60s others followed hoping perhaps that their careers would get a boost by helping to rebuild an industry.  This sometimes happened, and sometimes not. Making films in Pakistan in the 40-50s was hard work. Money was scarce and investment hard to come by. Some found artistic freedom restricted compared to India. This feeling increased in the 70s with the advent of Zia ul Haq’s , let’s-make-Pakistan-more-Islamic, campaign.

Others with more knowledge have written about the history of Pakistani cinema, which is now referred to as Lollywood, thanks to the centre being the studios of Lahore. A good article is posted elsewhere on this site.

Today I share an album with the fairly straightforward name of Best of Pakistani FIlm Songs.  This is a delightful record because it is instantly familiar and  yet very different. The familiarity comes from the styles of music, the poetry and the motifs which are identical to those used in Indian film music of the time (60-80s). But the voices are refreshingly new. No Rafi, Kishore or Mukesh. No Lata, or Asha.  Rather we are treated to the silky chords of the likes of S. B. John, Irene Parveen, Habib Wali Mohammad, Surraiya Multanikar and Masood Rana.  And we are treated to the elegant strains of Iqbal Bano,  Noor Jahan and the vamp-queen Sab se Bari, Nahid Akhtar.

Lollywood lived and barely survives today in the long and deep shadows of not just Bollywood but its own recent lively past.  But that should not be seen as evidence of its inferiority. Indeed, as others have shown, some of the coolest, funkiest most daring pop styled film music was born and bred in Lollywood.  Today, and for many years now, some of the most adored voices in Indian pop music and playback are Pakistani.  So, let’s simply clap our hands and say, shaabash.  Here is some top stuff from Lahore!

Track Listing:

01 Tu Jo Nahin to Kuchh Bhi Nahin [S.B. John] (Savera)

02 Agar Tum Mil Jao [Tasawwar Khanum] (Imandaar)

03 The Yankeen Keh Ayen Gi Ratan [Nahid Akhtar] (Suraiya Bhopali)

04 Allah Hi Allah Kariya Karo [Tahira Syed]

05 Tu Lakh Chale Ri Gori [Iqbal Bano] (Gumnaam)

06 Ulfat Ki Nai Manzil Ko [Iqbal Bano] (Qatil)

07 Barre Be Marawat Hain [Suraiya Multanikar] (Badnaam)

08 Ratain Thi Chandneen [Habib Wali Muhammad] (Baazi)

09 Yeh Alam Shauq Ka [Tahira Syed]

10 Jab There Shehr Se Guzarata Hoon [Sharafat Ali Khan] (Wada)

11 Itne Bade Jahan Man Koi Nahin Hamara [Irene Parveen] (Maa Kay Aansoo)

12 Allah Hi Allah Kiya Karo [Nahid Akhtar]  (Pehchan)

13 Muddat Hui Hai Yaar Ko Mehman [Noor Jahan] (Ghalib)

14 Aye Mausam Rangeelay [Zubaida Khanum] (Saat)

15 Tumhi Ho Mehboob Mere [Masood Rana]  (Aaina)