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Posts Tagged ‘mughal-e-azam’

A recent article by Shah Rukh Khan describes what it is to be a Muslim in India.

It was published on January 29 in Outlook Turning Points 2013 (Published by the New York Times).  In a prompt reaction, the Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik urged the Indian government to provide security to its well-known Muslim actor. Malik’s statement is laughable and what followed is embarrassing. The Indian spokesman responded by advising Malik to take care of his own citizens. Shah Rukh’s response was even stronger “I would like to tell all those who are offering me unsolicited advice that we in India are extremely safe and happy,” said the actor.  “We have an amazing democratic, free and secular way of life.”  When Jyoti Malhotra, a senior Indian journalist, was invited to comment on the situation on Hamid Mir’s talk show she was surprised that a high official would give such an irresponsible statement. She even doubted if Malik had read Khan’s article. The Telegraph summed up the controversy as “a senseless diplomatic row between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.”

By building this blog on Shah Rukh Khan’s article I am not trying to say that India has not committed any crime.  In fact more sectarian violence is recorded in India than in Pakistan. But that is in the political arena in which I do not wish to venture. Mine is an observation of the cultural front where Pakistan has repeatedly failed to make its mark. If history can be a teacher it is about time that Pakistani officials should learn to discover and nourish their own stars. For this is what the founder of the Pakistani nation would have advised as evidenced from his recently discovered letter, published in the Tribune.

It will be fair to begin with the history of Pakistan and see how the authorities treated talent who migrated from India’s film industry?  To begin with only a handful had migrated during Partition, whereas the list of those who remained behind is too long. Most of them not only flourished but dominated the Indian cinema. Mughal-e-Azam, considered to be the greatest Indian film, was made by a team that consisted mostly of Muslims – K.Asif, Yusaf Khan (Dilip Kumar),  Madhubala, Nigar Sultana, Shakeel Badayuni, Naushad,  Mohammad Rafi  and even  Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan who rendered a raag. To judge the outcome you can watch the 3 hour long film condensed to 15 minutes here. Such magnum opus is not possible to create under dangerous conditions at least they were not around film industry.

Mirza Ghalib, a biopic on the great Urdu poet, made by another team of Muslims – Suraiya, Talat Mahmood, Nigar Sultana, Iftikhar Khan, Murad, Mukri, Ghulam Mohammad and Saadat Hasan Manto who wrote the story and screenplay and who migrated to Pakistan.  Out of all his writings Mirza Ghalib seems to be most dear to Manto, he had taken several years to complete this masterpiece. There were moments of frustration – and inspiration – during the scripting process.  Manto had complained about the dearth of material on the poet’s life and he had enjoyed walking through the streets of Delhi, the beloved city of Ghalib. Manto even named his son after Ghalib’s adopted son Arif and finally convinced Sohrab Modi to produce a film on a slice of Ghalib’s life.

In 1954 Mirza Ghalib was finally released in India. The film was a huge success and won the prestigious National Film Award in India.  Unfortunately by that time Manto was rotting in Pakistan. He was writing short stories for pulp magazines and selling them for Rs. 30 each.  The Pakistani bureaucracy, instead of lending patronage, charged him with writing obscene material. Yes, Manto also had a passion to write on the sub-culture of the sub-continent.  Prostitutes, pimps, tongawalas, and street urchins were some of his most memorable characters but he used them not for any sensual reasons but to highlight the ‘disease’ of society. People loved his short stories and Faiz Ahmed Faiz defended him in a courtroom.  A year after the release of Mirza Ghalib Manto died at the age of 42.

Mirza Ghalib was never released in Pakistan but Pakistanis enjoyed its songs on the radio. It must be admitted that many Pakistanis and Indians came to know Ghalib’s poetry through the ghazals of this film sang by Talat Mahmood, Suraiya and Mohammad Rafi.

Another irony.  The Pakistani government did not even allow the exhibition of its own film on Ghalib. I also came across this piece of information on Wikipedia: “The Pakistan government in 1969 commissioned Khaliq Ibrahim (died 2006) to make a documentary on Mirza Ghalib. The movie was completed in 1971-72. It is said, that the movie, a docudrama, was historically more correct than what the official Pakistan government point of view was. Thus, it was never released. Till this date, barring a few private viewing, the movie is lying with the Department of Films and Publication, Government of Pakistan.”

For most countries film has been a powerful medium to portray culture.  Hong Kong, at the tail end of British era, was marketing its culture of martial arts through films.  The French Ministry of Culture under the Socialists (1981-86, 1988-93) made films to highlight sensitive issues; India is known to the World mostly through Bollywood films; Venezuela makes four films a year, Pakistan can do at least half of this number to correct its distorted image. But film is at the lowest priority in Pakistan’s cultural policy and culture in general is ruthlessly neglected by policy makers. The only effective cultural policy, it is said, was authored in 1970s by Faiz Ahmad Faiz.  Perhaps he saw some hope in the new democratic government. I came to know the fate of his policy in one of his interviews. “It was neither accepted nor rejected by any regime,” Faiz revealed. “They accepted the parts which suited them and rejected the rest.”

Once again a new government is in sight. We can hope to have a sane cultural policy that is capable of creating an environment where quality films can be made and a profound culture can flourish.

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The recent news of 14 year old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen, had shaken the world. But life goes on, Malala is recovering and I got distracted to a Sufi music ensemble. For the “first time in Midwest” said the advertisement while describing the event as “mystical fusion and mesmerizing Sufi songs.” Star performers were Ustad Hidayat Hussain Khan (son of legendary late Ustad Vilayat Khan) on Sitar and vocals, and the Grammy winner, Steve Gorn on flute. But what has Sufi music to do with terrorism?

Power of music can be calming and inspiring, it can be furious too. Raag Deepak, they say, is capable of igniting fire and can set forests ablaze; Raag Malhar can come to the rescue by bringing in rains. Legend and the film have it that Akbar the great Mughal emperor tested if it could also melt rocks. He ordered a competition between Tansen, one of his nau-ratans (nine gems) and Baijnath Mishra, a young obscure musician. And he let his anxious courtiers witness the supernatural spectacle.

In reality, however, Akbar believed in the powers of the saints and had walked barefoot to the shrine of Saleem Chishti to beg the great saint for the birth of a son. (watch the first scene of Mughal-e-Azam).The miracle did happen, Akbar was blessed with a son, he named him Saleem after the saint; Saleem the Moghul is popularly known as Jehangir.

Sufis and music go together. Sufi songs are hymns to the divine and odes to the beloved saints; set to music these can stir hysteria. Some of the Sufi saints have been poets and some of their disciples have written devotional verses that are still recited around their shrines and beyond. When Ustad Hidayat recited Amir Khusro’s evergreen “chaap tilak sub cheen lee mujh say naina milaikay” (here is a recording from one of his earlier concerts) it mesmerized a versatile crowd mainly consisting of Indians, Pakistanis and Americans. If music is the universal language it can be the binding force between nations, we can turn the pages of history to confirm this.

Sufism is a phenomenon of the vast and diverse non-Arab Muslim World. South Asian Sufism is immersed in poetry, music and dance, and nowhere it has been as effective as in India where it made Islam thrive in a climate of religious pluralism and where Sufis came to be venerated by non-Muslims. Even today the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer, attracts both Hindu and Muslim pilgrims from all over the country. The age old mystique continues in Pakistan where shrines such as of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Sindh are equally revered by the Hindus of Pakistan. Let’s not forget that Sufi saints themselves lived above religious and ethnic prejudices. Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, is known to have practiced yoga and meditation. Shah Abdul Latif of Sindh, traveled with the yogis to perform pilgrimage to Hinglaj Mata, the western most holy place of the Hindus. Sufi saints of Kashmir are even confused with Vedic rishis.  The legacy of tolerance continues as the musicians from India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Trinidad and United States ended their concert in Columbus, Ohio, by paying tribute to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Pakistan. And this reminds me of Runa Laila, a Bengali singer, singing the same song in the seventies of Pakistan.

The concert was a fundraiser for Asha Ray of Hope, a non-profit organization that protects women against domestic violence. Sufi music ensemble was just the appropriate choice as shrines had always been sanctuaries for women in South and West Asia. In their hours of anguish they often wail at the shrines and invoke dead saints through songs and dance. Women can even rise to sainthood in Sufi Islam, Rabia may be the most known women saints of the Muslim World but there are obscure women scions of ordinary saintly houses in rural Pakistan who are symbols of comfort to the many distressed women of their neighboring villages. Militant Islamist groups are certainly against this brand of Islam. In 2009 few days before bombing the shrine of Rehman Baba in Peshawar, they had warned the custodians to stop women from visiting the shrine. Three years later they have stooped to the level of targeting young girls who advocate education. Talibans eventually destroyed the Rehman Baba shrine, the grief and anger bought Afghanistan a step closer to Pakistan as the Afghan government responded by bearing the costs of reconstruction of the shrine. Rehman Baba is revered in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the tribal belt between the two countries; his poetry echoes in the Pashtun land.

Sufi saints continue to keep the countries united even in the worst of times. Sufi bondage between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India is worth recognition by the foreign policymakers of these countries. Perhaps this can be one of the strong pillars of the Afpak policy of Obama administration. Sufi music is equally evolving, it has the power of conquering the youth as it adjusts to the new trends and even creeps in the contemporary non-religious realm. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan has set the trend. And here is the Bollywood version, enjoy.

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