Skip to content

The Sublime Anjuman

March 30, 2012

I can’t quite explain why I’m this fascinated by the Punjabi film star Anjuman.

That’s actually not entirely true. I can explain its genesis. My aayah (or nanny, what have you), was borderline obsessed with Anjuman. While growing up, I would often be subjected to VHS tapes of Anjuman’s songs and at times entire Anjuman movies.

As a child, my interest in these was perfunctory at best. Some of the song clips were undeniably mesmerizing, I particularly recall one with a song and dance atop a train (eat your heart out Malaika Arora), and another that featured her in a string of disco themed outfits that were further disco-fied by the mere fact that these were Punjabi masala numbers. Imagine a glitter ball, covered in sequins, layered over with neon gauze, and with green eyeshadow. THAT was Disco Anjuman.

What this post is not trying to do is explore Anjuman as a mass phenomenon. My point of contact is solitary, therefore, to try and explain how the entire Punjabi movie going audience viewed her would be dishonest. What I do know is that Anjuman was a superstar and likely had millions of fans, but I have only one person to explain to me why she personally liked Anjuman as much as she did.

While recently back home I asked Ama (my aforementioned Aayah) why she liked Anjuman so much. Her response was quite simple, “Uss ka dance (her dancing ability), uss ki acting (her acting ability), aur kyunkeh woh kissi se darti nahin thee (and because she wasn’t afraid of anyone / homegirl didn’t take shit from nobody).

I decided that I would try and explore these three aspects of Anjuman in this post: Anjuman – Dancer; Anjuman – Actress; and Anjuman – Amazon Warrior. Upon closer inspection I came to realize that Anjuman, the actress, and Anjuman, the Amazon Warrior, were one and the same. The Amazon Warrior eventually just becoming the defining feature of her acting.

Anjuman – The Dancer

One must never underestimate the importance of dance in the South Asian film. Songs intersperse the action, at times with no particular reason, and at times to further propel the film’s narrative. While possessing the ability to dance well is important for a male actor, for an actress it is absolutely essential. Particularly when keeping in mind the 80s Punjabi film, where the lead actor is often stoic in the song sequences and the actress must do all the heavy lifting.

Anjuman excelled in this arena. Jumping from genre to genre of dance but still grounding it in the Punjabiness necessary for it to resonate with the audience.

Here we have Anjuman performing a typical girl-in-the-village-dancing-in-the-fields (yes, all the hyphens are necessary because this is a REAL category):

In this number Anjuman glides from pining-for-her-love slower dance, to I’ve-found-him-yay! close dancing / expressing her adoration, to finally-let-me-break-out-all-my-moves-for-you to show her utter excitement.

Then, we have Disco Anjuman. Disco Anjuman is very much a one-woman show. She is the center of attention, a slave to disco (or is disco a slave to her lycra bound hips?)

Anjuman is the star here. In her western garb, with her backup dancers in saris. Traditional? Save it for the khait. In the club, homegirl wants her spandex and she wants it now. She is on a single mode through this whole song: ridiculously fucking fast. Or as we know it, Punjabi Disco dancing.

However, there was one particular combination that made a Punjabi song soar to the greatest heights possible. Anjuman, Sultan Rahi, and the immortal Madam Noor Jahan. I present what is possibly the greatest Punjabi song from the 1980s:

Here Anjuman leaves no stone unturned. She plays seductress, accomplice, and ridiculously great dancer all at the same time.

That Anjuman could rise to the occasion with her dancing abilities no matter the test must have certainly burnished her credentials as far as Ama’s fandom for her goes.

Anjuman – The Amazon Warrior

Prior to writing this post, I emailed Ahmer Naqvi (of Copy Paste Material, @karachikhatmal and Sasti Masti fame – you should seriously check out Sasti Masti; a great homage to the Pakistani masala flick), to ask what he thought of Anjuman. I will defer to a paragraph he wrote in response which helps a great deal in understanding how Anjuman differed from earlier Pakistani film stars:

“In the 80s the gender contrast in Lollywood became starker, and films that were successful were increasingly rural-centered, with the action and dishoom dishoom taking center stage not just here, but in Bollywood and Hollywood too. And Anjuman allowed a template for strong female characters to be written. Contrast that with someone like Zeba or Shabnam whose strong characters were urbane women entrusted with moral responsibilities, and dealing with them by trying to sidestep the zaalim samaaj or not let it get them down. Anjuman just kicked the zaalims out of the samaaj.”

Keeping the above paragraph in mind, let’s start things slow; because Anjuman did much to zaalims of many shapes.

Let’s begin with Anjuman not having time for nonsense like whose car should back up so the other vehicle may move:

Sultan Rahi has the temerity to stop his car in front of hers. Anjuman, clad in blue spandex (always the spandex), tells them to move their car. When threatened, she pulls out a strategically placed gun in her hat and shoots the tyres of the offending vehicle. In short: don’t mess with her.

At times even women tried to get in on Anjuman’s action. But Anjuman is the Only Ghundi (The Punjabi OG one may say), and well, takes care of her as she would anyone else:

Needless to say, the challenger gets well acquainted with a dhobi ghaat.

However, Anjuman need not always be a ghundi. Her ability to take the zaalim out of the samaaj was just as effective when she’d lend her hand to law enforcement:

Thus far we’ve seen Anjuman take no shit from anyone as an urbanite, as a deyhaati ghundi, and a policewoman.

WAIT. It gets better. Because Anjuman can singlehandedly take on large groups of men through sheer force of will (or Punjabi masala film director imagination).

Anjuman rides in on a bike; removes a helmet to reveal she’s a woman. The goons quite clearly seem non-threatened by her:

Too bad she knows Tae Kwon Do. And has the reflexes of a feline-human hybrid. In motorcycling gear.

If Anjuman had an equal, it could only be Sultan Rahi. In the following clip, Anjuman tries to take on Sultan Rahi but gets defeated. Never mind though:

She later kidnaps him while veiled. Reveals herself to be the same ‘bebass kurri’ he had earlier referred to; and well, the jokes on him.

In all, the characters Anjuman took on rarely took shit lying down. She is ghundi, she is vandal, she is policewoman, she can take on multiple goons at once, but she most certainly is not bebass.

Anjuman – The Superstar

Upon further probing Ama’s reasons for her passionate Anjuman fandom, I think I came to find why Anjuman resonated with Ama so deeply, “Kabhi kabhi, mujhay lagta thaa keh woh bilkul meray jaisi thee” (At times, it felt as though she was just like me.)

In my opinion, what differentiates a movie star from a superstar is the ability of the actor to maintain a semblance of approachability. Approachability is, (I stress to say) in my opinion, a defining feature of likeability. To be likeable on the scale that Anjuman was, she had to remind women that she was like them, and she had to remind men that in many ways she was not too different from your regular Punjabi gal.

I direct messaged the author Mohammad Hanif (namedrop alert), to ask him if he had any view on Anjuman that could help me hone my thinking on this piece. He mentioned a particular incident he witnessed. Mr. Hanif saw an army recruit saluting a poster of Anjuman and delivering an apology directly to her for having missed ‘Sher Khan’. It would therefore not be out of the realm of possibility to claim that Anjuman did indeed have transcendent mass appeal.

When Anjuman staged her return to film in 1999 with her final hit “Chaudhrani”, Ama went to see the first show. She returned raving about it. The film was successful, so I’d have to imagine her other fans must have raved about it too.

Perhaps they feel for Anjuman, what Anjuman’s character sang in Sher Khan:

Tu ju mere hamesha kol ravay,

Tay mein duniya nu keh davaan paray paray

Dil de ke duniya tun kaun daray

Advertisements

Pakistan: A Phallic History

March 25, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls,

Time to take a trip down memory lane,

A phallic monument to independence:

A phallic monument to Pan-Islamism:

A phallic monument to war:

A phallic monument to capitalism:

A quadri-phallic monument to religion:

Dick:

Dick:

Dick:

Ugh, just look at him. Dick:

This has been a phallic history of Pakistan.

 

Something I Wrote On Pakistan Day

March 23, 2012

As I begin to type this I am entirely unsure as to where this piece of writing is going to take me. I want to explore what being Pakistani means to me, what it means to others, or if it means anything at all.

Twitter is a terribly noisy medium, more prone to invective than intelligence. I must, however, admit to having moments of sudden clarity in the midst of snark-laden exchanges. Some tweeters, much wiser than I, can often respond to arguments within 140 characters with cogency that I can only wish I possessed.

I recall tweeting a piece (written by Asad Munir, I believe) on the preferred bête-noire of some op-ed writers of late: middle class morality and its romantic affiliation with the religious right. In line with my beliefs at the time (religious right bad! ‘Islamism’ evil without a cause! Silly middle classes!) I tweeted a link to the article approvingly. I possibly praised him for the great clarity with which he saw the issue.

Among the approving retweets, and the disapproving hisses, there was one comment which stood out to me. While I cannot recall the comment verbatim, it essentially went “[Munir’s] argument assumes that the middle-class, unlike the other undefined classes, somehow does not aspire for peace or stability or happiness.” Many of you may disagree with this comment. Nonetheless, a comment on Twitter had somehow forced me to come face to face with my biases.

Believe me when I say that confronting your own biases or assumptions is (at least for me) a deeply harrowing process. You’ve convinced yourself of the righteousness of your argument to such an extent that a valid critique of it is almost physically painful.

In this instance, I came to understand that Pakistanis, of all shapes and sizes, and of all political hues, certainly necessarily share common goals. Our desire to simplify the ‘other’ robs them of the complexity that is inherent in any human thought. It often leads to a position where we are unable to see that all  (or at least very many) of us, indeed, do aspire for peace, stability, and happiness.

Similarly, I recall an interview of Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s (the former Ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islaami) daughter Samia Qazi given to Newsweek Pakistan. Ms. Qazi sees no contradiction between defining herself as an Islamist (a term which I personally dislike due to its overuse and misuse to paint all conservative Muslims) while also striking a somewhat progressive feminist chord. Ms. Qazi was of the opinion that women should work. That our society is too male dominated. She was also of the opinion that Islam is the superstructure that everything else should fall under.

As is wont to happen in the social media sphere, this led to a protracted war between those who saw Ms. Qazi’s position as feminist and those who argued that an Islamist position was inherently incompatible with any form of feminism. How I saw it (and I am certain many others did too), was as an addition of another layer of complexity to a previously much too facile division between Feminist and Islamist.

My relationship with Pakistan is deeply conflicted and very complex. I feel like every Pakistani’s relationship with Pakistan is deeply conflicted and very complex. This is because Pakistan is not a piece of land – Pakistan is the people that constitute this piece of land. These people bring with them their views, their experiences, and, yes, their various biases.

However, in the process of putting forth our views we often end up painting the ‘other’ as inherently biased. We (and by we I mean all people across the political and religious spectrum) strip them of rationality or of a desire for a happy ending. We paint their actions or their intentions as evil solely for the sake of being evil.

Surely, in a nation as diverse (and as fucking noisy, Jesus Christ, the noise) as ours we should explore each other’s complexity instead of dumbing it down.

You’re My Firewall!

March 5, 2012

The Government of Pakistan has decided that they need state-of-the-art infrastructure to quickly and effectively censor up to 50 million websites.

I respect the government’s decision to do so, and ask them to follow this course with renewed vim and vigour. Shutting down an avenue of unfettered opinion exchange is without a doubt a time honoured tradition in our nation. We have seen such instances time and again over our nation’s brief, yet eventful, life.

For the longest time, we just felt no need to expand the scope of our television media. We also had the Zia years, which were akin to perfection as far as censorship goes. Someome say something wrong? Go pick ‘em up. Lock them in the fort. Why should they complain about that? The Lahore Fort is a World Heritage Site! Do you have any idea how much it would cost to spend a night there? Leave alone months on end!

Nawaz Sharif had that phase where he decided that pop music should be banned. Thank goodness he went ahead with that. How would Lay’s find spokespeople if they hadn’t abandoned their musical careers? That was well before Nawaz Sharif decided that he liked being called a ‘democrat’. I dislike his new incarnation. Not buying what he’s selling.

And now, aided and abetted by the Courts, our most vengeful democrats ever have decided to extend their revenge agenda to the internet.

And why shouldn’t they?

Look all around us! We are a nation ravaged by instability. People must not take to the internet to talk about things like LOLCATS and their aversion to Humsafar or their struggles for dignity. The internet is giving rise to an awful sense of entitlement among people. Entitled to their opinion? Entitled to make it known? I think not.

I’m sure the government’s aim is absolutely pure. They just want to make the internet a decent place. Did you know that switching on your internet machine takes you to a website called Google? Did you know that Google means boobs? Shameful.

They’re going to just ban porn, obviously. It falls under the category of ‘obscenity’ – of which we will have none in our nation. As we all well know, kids watch porn and then are overcome with an immediate desire to embody EVERY SOCIAL ILL THERE IS! Especially all those ills that predate this mass availability of pornography like misogyny, rape, murder, genocide. Oh just all of them!

And the people of this country? Of course they support this enormous expansion in censorship. Just a few days ago, we learnt of a brave 15 year old who compiled a list of 780,000 pornographic websites. He proceeded to send the list to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, with a little note saying, “Had my fill of these. Please ban away.” This is active citizenship! How dare anyone make fun of it.

Yes, please, Government of Pakistan. Please limit my rights! I don’t want more access to information. In fact, I want to give you the power to arbitrarily decide what I can and what I can’t see. (Just so we’re clear – I don’t want to see information on the Baloch independence movement. I DO want to see lots and lots of jihadi websites.)

I trust you blindly.

Much love.

Pakistanica (An Incoherent, Late Night Rant)

February 24, 2012

And so, here we are. Liberalism is defined as the consumption of a bottle of mango juice and conservatism as the disallowing of trade with our neighbour. If this does not reek of a rotten state, I ask you what does?

To say that Pakistan has lost its way would be to shortchange the monumental failings of everyone involved in this country. When I say ‘everyone’, I truly do mean everyone. Me, you, them, us, everyone.

If our notion of defending an embattled minority is to purchase goods manufactured by those from their community that are most well to do, then we have failed. If our notion of defending the country’s integrity is to rally against trade with a state whose enmity is dwarfed by that which the right feels towards the US, then they too have failed.

Difa-e-Pakistan Councils swirl, and Shezan swilling liberals abound, but we have no aim. Nothing that we aspire towards. Both camps just know what they don’t want, and this is never to going to result in a country that achieves anything of any worth.

Our greatest achievements today appears to be the crushing of dissent in Balochistan and the muted voice with which we try to take up the issue. The national Information Technology fund seems to be focusing on blocking 50 million URLs, and the best we can muster is a little rah-rah on Twitter and Facebook. A ship asunder with no direction, and with little direction coming from anywhere. Those at the helm are clearly asleep, and the crew is too busy with their internecine conflict.

It would appear, once again, that the mythical Pakistani liberal (all two dozens of them) are to blame for this. Their inability to take up a valid cause, or to rationalize the behaviour of the ‘other’, is where the fault lies apparently. That no attempt is made to rationalize the behaviour of the liberal is immaterial, and in some ways even justified. The liberal just wants to sip on his Shezan and declare it a victory against the Lahore Bar Association – clearly the most fearsome adversary in this land of ours.

I don’t mean to advocate for some great liberal-conservative rapprochement in Pakistan. This is not going to come anytime soon, or, in fact, anytime ever. There is no common ground. Daggers drawn on all accounts; drones, democracy, the economy, the internet, and the constitution.

Even those who get what they want, feel that they must kvetch about it. Imran Khan get’s an independent election commission he’s been asking for since ages? Why, it must be a conspiracy against the PTI! The Supreme Court is taking on the ISI? That must certainly be smoke and mirrors to deflect attention off their clear alliance with the military!

I can think of no one that can define a vision for this country. And just so you know, “corruption free” is not a vision, it’s just a step towards achieving something greater. What is that ‘something greater’ that we’d like to achieve? Where do we want Pakistan to be?

The unfortunate answer is that no one really knows. We just know that in the shortest-term, we don’t want to be X. Or we don’t want to be Y. But as we inch towards being neither, and try to appease as many as we can, we run the risk of turning into both.

In some ways, we already are. I get to live in my liberal bubble in Pakistan. I get to do as I please, consuming whatever illicit substance I desire while pointing and laughing at the Difa-e-Pakistan rally. The Difa-e-Pakistan gets to do as they please, threatening those that indulge in ‘immorality’ while pointing and laughing at the out-of-touch elite, without realizing that they too constitute a significant portion of the New Pakistani Elite.

But, hey, at least we have nukes! And we have Coke Studio! And we are the Fortress of Islam! And we have Fashion Weeks!

Yup.

We’re fucked.

Dear Team Pakistan, (A Love Letter and Apology to Misbah)

January 30, 2012

I am not a cricket writer. I cannot dazzle anyone with the depth of knowledge of the game that many other astounding bloggers can.

I am also not a sports writer. I don’t spend time pondering over statistics and building fantasy teams on their basis.

My relationship with sports, and in particular the Pakistan cricket team, is purely emotional. It is visceral. While I fancy myself a rather rational person in general, I am unable to inject any objectivity when watching a sporting event.

I’m a good sport in actual life, I’m a terrible sport when watching the Pakistani team. Is Stuart Broad bowling an astounding spell right now? I couldn’t give less of a shit and am secretly praying that he falls and breaks a bone in his foot. Alastair Cook is making our bowlers look like amateurs? I’d very much like to see a bouncer come straight to his face.

This in part explains why it took so long for me to come around to Misbah-ul-Haq. Brought up on a steady diet of caprice from the Pakistani team, I could not abide his tuk-tuking his way through his innings. Many expletives would be lobbed his way, and when they weren’t expletives they’d mostly be about what a selfish piece of excrement he was.

I was aghast when he began moulding the team in his image. An army of tuk-tukers hell bent on defense? I could not bear it. My hatred began to take epic proportions.

“Responsible batting you say? Selfish motherfucker is what I say!”

I wasn’t going to come around to Misbah. The only way I could ever like him was if I fell for him. Hard. How does one forgive the antagonist of Mohali?

One doesn’t. You just dive headfirst into the other category. One of unadulterated adulation. You only begin to speak of cracks in your armour of Misbah hatred when inside you already know that he’s the right guy for the job. That he’s more than just a cricketer of average intelligence. That you actually now really, really like him.

And when he and his bowlers bamboozle the world’s best side you just melt into a puddle of adoration. You whoop and holler at every wicket. You take immense pride in every over bowled that slowly constricts the air supply of the opposition. You marvel at the tenacity of two young batsmen rebuilding what you’ve assumed is a lost innings.

And when it’s all over, and the final wicket tumbles, you jump out of your chair. You dance a jig or twelve. You call your father who is verklempt. You join the chorus of Pakistan Zindabad and #TeamMisbah that breaks out on Twitter. You proudly proclaim yourself a lota.

And you just let it wash all over you. The purest, most visceral joy.

1971 – 2011

December 17, 2011

The month of December, every year, brings with it memories of 1971 and the secession of East Pakistan that established the independent nation of Bangladesh. It provides us with a chance for deep, thoughtful introspection and to learn from the mistakes of our collective past. It is, therefore, incredibly unfortunate that 40 years on we have not been able to deal with the ghosts of ’71.

Yesterday, many people on Twitter were sharing a piece written by Anthony Mascarenhas in June 1971 on the conditions in East Pakistan. Mascarenhas used to be the Assistant Editor of the Morning News in Karachi at the time. (I highly recommend everyone to read this piece here.) The piece itself was published in the Sunday Times in London.

While the entirety of the account is deeply disturbing and harrowing, a few specific portions of it left me sick to my stomach. I would just like to highlight a few of these portions from the account:

“”Why kill him?” I asked with mounting concern.

“Because he might be a Hindu or he might be a rebel, perhaps a student or an Awami Leaguer. They know we are sorting them out and they betray themselves by running.”

“But why are you killing them? And why pick on the Hindus?” I persisted.

“Must I remind you,” Rathore said severely, “how they have tried to des­troy Pakistan? Now under the cover of the fighting we have an excellent oppor­tunity of finishing them off.”

***

Sitting in the office of Major Agha, Martial Law Administrator of Comilla city, on the morning of’ April 19, I saw the off-hand manner in which sentences were meted out. A Bihari sub-inspector of police had walked in with a list of prisoners being held’ in the police lock-up. Agha looked it over. Then, with a flick of his pencil, he casually ticked off four names on the list.

“Bring these four to me this evening for disposal,” he said. He looked at the list again. The pencil flicked once more. “… and bring this thief along with, them.”

***

Riding with Iftikhar to the Circuit House in Comilla on another occasion he told me about his latest exploit.

“We got an old one.” he said. ” The bastard had grown a beard and was posing as a devout Muslim even called himself Abdul Manan. But we gave him a medical inspection and the game was up. ”

Iftikhar continued :” I wanted to finish him there and then, but my men told me such a bastard deserved three shots. So I gave him one in the balls, then one in the stomach. Then I finished him off with a shot in the head. “

***

Reacting to the almost successful breakaway of the province, which has more than half the country’s population, General Yahya Khan’s military Govern­ment is pushing through its own “final solution” of the East Bengal problem.

“We are determined to cleanse East Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means killing of two million people and ruling the pro­vince as a colony for 30 years,” I was repeatedly told by senior military and civil officers in Dacca and Comilla.

The West Pakistan army in East Bengal is doing exactly that with a terri­fying thoroughness.

***

The treatment of a province as a colony; the belief that minorities are traitors waiting for a chance to pounce; an abiding belief that excessive force must be used to deal with dissent – these are all aspects of our collective, and particularly military, behaviour that are no different today than they were in 1971.

They say that madness is expecting a different result while employing the same methods over and over again. If I were to take this maxim at face value I would have to declare the state of Pakistan insane.

***

In Pakistan today, we derive our sense of honour from the barrel of the soldier’s gun and our dignity from the statements issued by our intelligence agencies.

I reject such false notions of honour and dignity.

The nation’s honour comes from the wishes of the people, and we can only be dignified when we ascribe dignity to the lives of the Pakistani. Our various elite structures, dominated by the military, continue to trample on the stated desires of the people for the purpose of following their narrow institutional interests. Interests which include the acquisition of economic and politicalpower, the collection of weaponry, and the accumulation of retirement benefits that rival the greediest bankers in the West.

This elite structure spoonfeeds the nation a belief of honour and dignity that divorces everyday life from both those concepts. It somehow necessitates poverty and hardship for the good of the nation, when we have seen, time and again, that it is for the good of the few. A willing and abetting media, great beneficiaries of the elite structure, broadcast these notions to all and sundry. Anyone deviating from this belief is a miscreant or a traitor in their eyes.

I wish for all Pakistanis to live in a society that provides them with basic rights such as food, economic security, education, and health. Aspects of life which would enable them to live truly dignified lives. Not false notions of honour, where the individual’s dignity is tied up with the opacity of our defence budget. Or where those that have abused us the most are unanswerable to the state itself.

Such honour is false.

I refuse to derive my feeling of pride for the nation from it.