Photos: Sarfaraz Farid Nihash
Photos: Sarfaraz Farid Nihash

Qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia, has been featured in numerous movies over the years. Since the inception of the talkies, qawwali has been utilised as a musical form to enhance storytelling, add cultural richness and entertain audiences.

When moviemaking resumed in Pakistan after Partition, filmmakers incorporated qawwali sequences to capture the essence of Sufi music and its emotional depth, to add religious zeal and flavour. The first instance of a qawwali that featured in an Urdu film was back in 1950, when actor/director Zahoor Raja had one composed for his film Jehad. It was titled ‘Muhammad [PBUH] Khuda ka dulara.’

Zahoor Raja, who had migrated from India at the time of Partition, played a crucial role in establishing Pakistan’s film industry. The qawwali in Jehad was rendered by Zahoor Raja himself and Imdad Hussain and was penned by veteran lyricist and poet Tanvir Naqvi, while Karim Dad Anwar composed its tune.

‘Shah-i-Madina’ is considered the first qawwali that truly encompassed all the elements of the Sufi devotional song in films. Rendered by Saleem Raza (real name: Noel Das) along with a chorus, written by Tanvir Naqvi (again) and enacted on screen by Darpan (real name: Ishrat Abbas), it was composed by Hassan Latif, a hardcore leftist, and produced by J.C. Anand, who belonged to the Hindu community.

Over the years, qawwalis have been an integral part of Pakistani films, often used to add religious fervour or to signal storytelling arcs of redemption…

The popularity of the devotional song overshadowed the Hindu-Muslim-Christian combo usually represented in Manmohan Desai’s Bollywood flicks in later years.

A year earlier, in a movie titled Darbar-i-Habib, Hassan Latif featured two qawwalis: ‘Khuda aur nabi ke wafadar’ and ‘Janab Ghaus-al-azam.’ Hafiz Ata Muhammad Qawwal and Inayat Hussain Bhatti rendered them, respectively. Music director Rehman Verma also chipped in with a ‘Tootay huay dilon ka sahara’ in the same film project, where Imdad Hussain and Santo Khan took care of the vocals.

Born as Abdul Rehman, Rehman Verma became famous in India as part of the Sharmaji-Varmaji musical duo of the early ’50s. Vermaji came over to Pakistan while Sharmaji became known as the legendary music director Zahur Khayyam, aka Khayyam, who went on to compose music for Yash Chopra’s films.

It was in 1959 that a qawwali in a film titled Alam Ara became an instant hit. Inayat Hussain Bhatti’s rendition of ‘Ramazan ke maheenay ki dastaan suno’ was composed by Rehman Verma and penned by Shabab Kairanvi.

Shabab Kairanvi’s film Nasheman also had a soulful qawwali, ‘Ab chhorr ke dar tera deewanay kahaan jayein’, which paired Ahmed Rushdi with Mehdi Hasan for the only time in their respective careers.

The ’60s saw several qawwalis becoming part of film soundtracks. Mostly used to bring ‘lost souls’ home, they were placed at crucial junctures in the story. The most famous was from S.A. Hafiz’s film Tauba (1964), ‘Na milta agar tauba ka sahara’, where the title character played by actor Kumar undergoes a transformation from a villainous character to a good one.

Famous for his role as a sculptor in K. Asif’s Mughal-i-Azam (1960), Kumar, like director S.M. Yusuf and lyricist/producer Nakhshab, had also migrated to Pakistan in the late ’50s.

S.M. Yusuf, who had produced/directed several Muslim social films in Bollywood, continued with the pattern here. Be it Aulad (1962), Eid Mubarak (1965) or Shareek-i-Hayat (1968), he would carve out a situation for redemption arcs.

Director/producer Pervez Malik was also fond of spirituality and made qawwalis a part of his films. Although his film Pehchaan (1975) is remembered for Naheed Akhtar’s ‘Allah hi Allah kiya karo’, it was the qawwali at the climax of the film Sachchai (1976) that not only redeemed the infamous characters of Masoom and Miskeen (played respectively by Agha Talish and Alauddin) but also charged the audience.

‘Teri nazar-i-karam ka sahara’ was rendered by the legendary Sabri Qawwal brothers, who were not new to films. Ghulam Farid Sabri and Maqbool Sabri first rendered a qawwali ‘Mera koi nahin hai tere siwa’ for Ishq-i-Habib (1965), which had music by Zafar Khursheed and was penned by Masroor Anwar.

The Sabri brothers were also part of the soundtrack of S. Suleiman’s Ilzaam (1972), with the famed qawwali ‘Aaye hain tere dar pe tau kuchh le ke jaaein gey.’ However, their evergreen qawwali, ‘Bhar do jholi’ drew crowds to cinema houses when it was included in Bin Baadal Barsaat (1975).

The words by Purnam Allahabadi were enacted perfectly by actor Muhammad Ali on screen. Ali was seen seeking Divine intervention and complimented the qawwali with his powerful expressions. The ever-famous ‘Tajdar-i-haram’ was also part of another film, Saharay (1982), featuring Muhammad Ali again.

‘Bhar do jholi’ was also part of the soundtrack of Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijan (2015), where singer Adnan Sami Khan rendered it with a different set of lyrics during the climax.

‘Tajdar-i-haram’, which has been given a new lease on life by Atif Aslam in Coke Studio Season 8, has also rekindled nostalgia at a time when listening to qawwalis seemed to be becoming a thing of the past.

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 31st, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

Border clashes
19 May, 2024

Border clashes

THE Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier has witnessed another series of flare-ups, this time in the Kurram tribal district...
Penalising the dutiful
19 May, 2024

Penalising the dutiful

DOES the government feel no remorse in burdening honest citizens with the cost of its own ineptitude? With the ...
Students in Kyrgyzstan
19 May, 2024

Students in Kyrgyzstan

BEING stranded on foreign shores is hardly an agreeable experience. And if the environment is hostile — as it...
Ominous demands
Updated 18 May, 2024

Ominous demands

The federal government needs to boost its revenues to reduce future borrowing and pay back its existing debt.
Property leaks
18 May, 2024

Property leaks

THE leaked Dubai property data reported on by media organisations around the world earlier this week seems to have...
Heat warnings
18 May, 2024

Heat warnings

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with...