PORTRAIT OF A FILM-MAKER
AN INTERVIEW OF KHURSHID ANWAR
WITH JAVED USMAN
Khurshid Anwar-medium height, a slim frame, small eyes set in a face bearing marks of hyper-acidity, occasionally tremulous hands always holding a cigarette, a sharp voice-now 63, defies easy classification. Son of a leading criminal lawyer of Lahore, he was a student of extraordinary brilliance, topping the Punjab University exams in 1935 for his Masters in Philosophy. Prodded by his father to join the I.C.S., he barely escaped topping that exam too, and being condemned to the life of a bureaucrat, by virtue of having been a bomb-throwing revolutionary in his student days-a fact that did not exactly endear him to the selectors of the I.C.S. He was enamoured of music and wrote poetry, and was considered the equal of his slightly senior contemporary poets, Faiz and Noon Meem Rashid, in their college days. He also wrote radio plays of a high order. He went on to join the All India Radio as a programme producer from where he shifted to the medium of cinema in 1941 and has since written, produced and directed a number of films, besides composing music for many more.
It is, however, for his music that Khurshid Anwar will always be remembered. Amongst the greatest stylists of the subcontinent like Naushad or Salil Chawdhry, the micro-tonal pathos of his music shows a depth of feeling that is rare and sublime. Such is its individuality and beauty that his music is as clearly distinguishable from that of others as is Mozart's from other masters of the West.
Javed Usman: Could I start by asking you how you came to choose a film career instead of opting for the Indian Civil Service or some other profession?
Khurshid Anwar: Of course. I entered the profession through composing music. The primary musical influence on my mind was that of classical music. As a child and as a young man I had the privilege to be present at the twice a week soirees at my father's house which were graced with performances by such great names of the day as Ustad Waheed Khan, Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan and my own teacher, Ustad Tawakkal Hussain Khan. My father was simply mad about music. He had a collection of close to ten thousand records, mostly classical music. I myself was so enamoured of it that I failed to attend the annual convocation ceremony of my college in 1935 where, having topped the M.A. philosophy exam., I was to have been honoured with a gold medal and two purses. My absence caused hilarity and I was applauded for having proved myself to be a real philosopher by forgetting to come to the convocation! As a matter of fact I was listening, entranced, to Tawakkal Hussain Khan at home and preferred that to attending to ceremony which under normal circumstances I would not have missed at any cost. I also had an uncle who was quite a proficient sitar player-in an amateurish sense, of courseand he too was an influence. On his advice I started to take tabla lessons since an understanding of the intricate rhythm is rightly thought to be a sine quo non for a proper appreciation of our system of music.
Another very important musical influence was that of the Haryana folk singing. I spent a part of my childhood in Rohtak, Haryana, where my grandfather was the Deputy Commissioner, in absolutely the most idyllic surroundings-scented air and beautiful woods in which peacocks danced and deer ran away only when one approached too close. It was really like having entered the frame of a romantic painting. To cap it all was the incredibly beautiful folk music. When I later became a programme producer with the All-India Radio I could not help entering the studios whenever Haryana folk singers were broadcasting. Upon joining films I was the first composer to introduce Haryana style of music into the films.
Then there was my poetry. `Nairang-i-Khyal' was the top literary magazine of those days. I got one of my `ghazals' published in it when I was merely a child studying in the 8th class. In Government College, Faiz and Noon Meer Rashid were my seniors by one and two years, respectively. We all wrote poetry and got it published here and there. Akhtar Sherani once opined in his magazine `Rooman'-and I wonder if you can now get a copy of that issue to confirm this -that out of these three, young poets' Khurshid Anwar seemed to be the most promising. But that was when we were really young. Anyhow. ... And, by the way, I used to sneak off to the theatre pretty regularly. Upon being caught once I was granted official permission by my father to attend whenever there was theatre around.
All of this indicated to me with sufficient clarity my aptitudes quite early. Trying for the I.C.S. was really my father's idea. I was not, however, pressurized in anyway for he was the most loving and sympathetic father imaginable. It was merely his suggestion and he thought of the idea even better when I topped the Master's exams. I loved him so dearly that I went in for it just to respect his wishes, Anyhow, if I had not been making bombs earlier in the heat of revolutionary ardour I would surely have become a civil servant. You see those were the days of revolutionary movements springing up all over Europe. In India too, there was intense political awareness. I had been one of the accused in a conspiracy case and was tried and acquitted in 1932. So, even though I topped in most of the written papers in the I.C.S. exam, I was placed lowest in viva voce to let others with better antecedents supersede me. One of the candidates was awarded all of the two hundred marks possible. He was obviously much better suited to serve the English masters than I was.
After the 1.C.S. episode I went on to join the radio at Bombay from where I entered the film industry by composing music for the Punjabi film Kurmai.
J.U. I am curious to know as to what sort of music is this Haryana folk music and, second, whether you received from Tawakkal Hussain Khan any formal training?
K.A. It is obviously impossible to convey in words the immense beauty of the Haryana folk music, or any other music for the matter. One can only theoretically describe music in words; it is a very typical style of singing prevalent in Rohtak, Hissar and other areas. It employes what research has shown to be the basic scale of most of the folk music in the world-the major scale. The same scale, which in my opinion, was given to the sitar by Hazrat Amir Khusrau. Some types of folk music use two or three more notes of the upper register in a different scale but mostly the major scale is used.
As for, my training in classical music I learned formally from Tawakkal Hussain. And not only the various ragas and, their correct exposition but also, and this is crucially important, how to resist the temptation of expanding a raga with purely mathematical variations and permutations. Khan Sahib had this great ability to discard the mathematical variations and go in for only those of sheer beauty. He had what the other doyens lacked in singing-expression. He was a master at the use of the shrutis (microtones) which lent rare beauty to his music. I started off by imitating him. He once caught me at it and laughed. From then onward he gave me proper lessons. My own compositions reflect my classical training, especially in the use of the shrutis.
J.U. This micro-tone of our music is quite an elusive commodity having caused much confusion through centuries in the division of the octave and in the exact placement of notes in a scale. The octave is known to have been once divided into seventy or more shrutis and until quite recently it was divided into twenty-two such intervals. Now the tempered scale with its twelve semi-tones has been adopted. Do you think the shruti is a definite interval in the scale or is it merely to be used in a slow glide from one note to the other?
K.A. You are right is saying that the shruti has been the cause of much unnecessary confusion. There are two interrelated points to be considered. First, is the human ear sufficiently sensitive to tell the difference of a shruti? Second, does the difference of a shruti cause a change in the personality of a note? The answer to the first is that for all practical purposes the difference of a Shruti does not exist. To the second it can be said that a shruti does not in any way change the personality of a note. In any case human voice is not such that it can demonstrate progression from shruti to shruti. Our ears also are trained in a way that shrutis in this sense would jar us and cause a note to sound out of tune. The real importance of the shruti lies, as you have correctly said, in so gliding from one note to the other as to use the intervening frequencies for added effect, or to hover delicately slightly above or below a definite note for a second, to wander off elsewhere. Both these techniques are the essence of our music. Shruti as a distinct interval is a mirage.
In the Western system also Schoenberg, Stravinsky and others have experimented with atonality. They sought to free music from what they considered was the unnecessary restriction of the classical concepts of hannony, consonance, tonics and counterpoints, etc. They divided the scale into any number of notes. But after 60 years their music remains unaccepted but to a few who listen to it just as a weird novelty. Beethoven was a revolutionary also but his music got accepted within 10 years.
J.U. There is immense pathos in your music. To what do you attribute this in aesthetic and emotional terms?
K.A. That is a difficult question to answer. Creativity is a mysterious process. It springs from wells deep in the unconscious. I subscribe to Jung's idea of a collective unconscious and find it applicable to the origin of creativity. There is also a collective aesthetic which is buried deep in a race's or mankind's unconscious. How else can one explain how one man creates music-or any other art-and if it is authentic and beautiful it immediately strikes a responsive cord in the listeners, so much so that they become the artist's active partners in the creative process.
In emotional terms it is again the artist's unconscious in which are buried the memories of important experiences I can trace the pathos of my music to an early experience of mine which to this day has manifested itself in all that I have created. I fell madly in love with a girl when I was in my teens. She was a year younger than myself. It would be futile to try to express the depth and intensity of my love for her. When I turned 16 she suddenly died. I was completely shattered. The scar has remained.
J.U. May I ask you a rather frank question; are you shy and introverted?
K.A. Hard to say. I find there is evidence both for and against this idea. I have often been taken to be arrogant though I am not. I will tell you an incident. Faiz, and I were walking up a hill in Simla. This, by the way, was before the partition. A couple of Gurkha soldiers passed and made some indecent remarks. I checked them and on being scolded they went off. After about 15 minutes a whole group of them materialized and upon spotting us gave off a battle cry. There ensued, between the gurkhas and the two of us, a full, fledged mountain war in which stones were used as missiles. We got the better of them and completely routed them. This is hardly to be by expected of two people considered to be shy and introverted.
On the other hand, there has been a streak in me, since her death, which prevents me from becoming outward and warm. But, definitely, with the passing of years I have increasingly withdrawn into myself because of the deterioration in the quality of the people I have had to face in my professional as well as general life.
J.U. That raises an interesting issue. If the quality of art depends on the quality of the people creating it then it can be clearly seen that our society has been less than magnanimous in lending its best people to creative professions especially to film art. As a consequence the studios are today flooded with the type of people for whom you have just expressed contempt. What exactly is the stance of Islam towards art? It appears that the mulla's rage against fine arts has a lot to do with the society's antagonism towards them.
K.A. True. But the orthodox interpretation of what the Holy Quran says about the arts is based on a complete distortion of the actual injunctions. In `Sura Ashu'ara' after a general condemnation of the wayward poets there occurs a serious qualification. After using the word `illa' (but) it goes on to exempt such poetry as is used against `kufr' (falsehood), to destroy falsehood and to uphold the truth. Why else is Hassaan Bin Sabit known as the poet of Islam? He wrote poetry during the Prophet's life. This means that any art, if it is the standard-bearer of truth, if it talks of the good rather than the evil, is perfectly legitimate. All great poets and artists Iqbal, Ghalib, Shakespeare, Beethoven have dealt with, or described, universal truth. That is exactly the reason why they are great artists. Truth, in fact, is what is aimed at by the three great systems or methods of coming to terms with the reality by synthesising the confusing contradictions of existence and the universe: namely, art, religion and science. A correct mathematical formula describes the truth at the physical level; art and religion do that on the emotional and spiritual planes. Whereas the method of science is analytical, art and religion operate by the intuitive method the intuition of Bergson or, closer home, as we find the concept with Iqbal. The goal of the three is common: Truth.
And beauty and truth are really the two sides of the same coin. Remember Keats famous line `Beauty is truth, truth beauty'; that is all. What is true in a scientific sense in E=mc^2, when comes out in art becomes beauty. As a matter of fact great scientists have said that looking at a true formula gives them the same aesthetic satisfaction as, say, looking at a great painting! Because truth, whatever the method of arriving at it, becomes, or is, beauty.
J.U. What degree of abstraction are you prepared to concede in art?
K.A. That reminds me of what Herbert Reed has said about abstraction; that abstraction is the highest form of art. In what way? If you take water and run electricity through it you will get two gases in a certain proportion. Or take these two gases and mix them up and you will get water. The essential truth of all this can be symbolically described as H_20, which is definitely a higher and vastly refined way of putting it. In the same way one can either draw the human form in tedious detail or one can employ a linear formula and convey it with economy and elegance in a few lines. And who says the abstractionist is not a realist? He is because he is describing the truth.
J.U. There must be necessity of an anti-thesis of true art and true abstraction. How is one to differentiate between the two?
K.A. I will give you an example and you will see how easy that actually is. In the period that I am talking about the basic principles of cinema as an art form had emerged. The camera movements had been evolved and the concepts of mood lighting, etc. were all there. The German school of film-making was at its creative zenith. The famous Vaudeville had been made; Lubitsch was there, so was Fritz Lang; and Emile Jennings had made Variety and The Way of All Flesh. This was around the mid-thirties. A film-maker using the best techniques and equipment available made a film. The filmmaker was Leni Riefenstahl and the film was Triumph of the Will. The idea was to propagate Nazism. Now as far as the filmic conception goes it had everything in it. Any one familiar with films in a technical sense could not help applaud the film as well-made. But what happened to it? Since it was based on falsehood the idea of fascism and racial superiority the film was a complete disaster as a work of art.
Out of this example emerges, 1 think, the standard by which false art can be sifted from genuine art. Time is the judge. Since Riefenstahl dealt with what was grotesquely false, her film is now a museum curiosity. On the other hand, art which deals which simple truth is immortal because simple truth is eternal.
J.U. When you apply this standard of true art to our films, what ............ ?
K.A. I am absolutely disgusted. You, go to the set of a Pakistani film and find that the setting is false, the story is false. In sum, everything is the negation of art, of truth, of beauty. I think I said this before in an interview that unless our films are brought close to life they will never qualify as art. The more aware section of people has protested time and again against the distortion of life in the Punjabi films especially. This is precisely my quarrel with the industry. Here is a village maiden overly dressed and overly made up and when she opens her mouth to sing, the cinema hall in filled with all sorts of sounds emanating from electric organs and guitars and jazz drums.
J.U. Don't you think that the very act of opening her mouth to sing is hardly representative of the real situation in strict terms, however authentic the orchestrisation or setting?
K.A. You have raised a very interesting point. One, an element of fantasy is inherent in the very process of cinema. Second, realism does not mean literalism. The history of cinema shows both fantastic and realistic films emerging side by side. In my opinion you are not a realist only when you are making documentaries. I think that Walt Disney, for example, was one of the great realists in cinema. Why? Because his Mickey Mouse or Donald. Duck had true and logical motivations in the human sense. If the motivations, actions and reactions of the characters are logical and the situations plausible then the film, or the play or the book, is realistic. I ask you-what about futuristic, science fiction films? Are they false, bogus? What is wrong with making a fairy tale if it is otherwise truthful and, like Aesop's fables, has a profound moral truth to convey?
As you know very well I have reverted to classical music and am busy recording the authentic renditions of about a hundred ragas which are to be preserved in the shape of long playing records. I should have been doing this anyway but the immediate cause has been the hideous musical trends in our films lately. Under the influence of the Western pop music, sex and violence have become the central the memes. I remember that about seven or eight years back a controversy started in the `Time' magazine about pop music. A gentleman wrote that after wondering what exactly, appealed to his children in a certain song he detected a four letter word-f...... something-in it. He asked his children if they had noticed it. After some embarassed laughter they said that was exactly why it was so popular! The magazine subsequently invited a panel of song writers and composers to a discussion. One of these gentlemen said that his song was a hit because it depicted sexual intercourse in the back seat of a car. Another confessed that a glorification of lesbianism was the reason for the success of his song, and so on. Is it right for us to imitate this kind of music? An art which does not talk of the positive nature of life is dangerous for society. If the be all and end all of life is sex and violence then the situation is hardly enviable. And, as I said before, there is no permanence in such art because it does not deal -with the Truth. The West had its jazz, then came swing, then rock'n roll, then twist, pop, and so forth. The fashion changes every two years.
J.U. It is obvious that you have been using the word Truth with a capital T, the elementary, eternal Truth, as you called it. I think there is also a truth with the small t the immediate truth.
Technology, the skyscrappers, the breakup of the family, rat race, the, spiritual vacuity -all these have generated tensions in certain societies that have resulted in the problems of drugs, sex and violence. What is wrong with an artist describing his predicament in a society like that? I mean if you find sex and violence on the screen or in their songs it is because the situation there is like that. In a scene of the American University of today it is perfectly legitimate to show a girl student streaking across. Why not?
K.A. So far as the function of art is to merely mirror the existing ugly reality, what you have said is correct. But it that all? Should the artists suspend the exercise of his moral judgment? No. The artist should not merely depict but also condemn immorality. A genuine artist has a duty to rise above the mundane confines of immediate reality and reach out to grasp the eternal. He must show the way out of a predicament. Pasolini, who died recently, was a sodomist and a pervert. But he did not wallow in perversion. He was a great artist. His film on Christ is considered to be a masterpiece, although he himself was an atheist and a communist. What I am saying is that perversion in an artist or in his environment is no reason for its public glorification. One can show all the girl streakers of America to capacity-packed halls, but that will not be art.
J.U. Now we come specifically to Pakistani cinema. I have discussed the shortcomings of our films with different directors and have got a variety of responses. What do you feel is the first wrong step in the making of a film here?
K.A. The beginning! The director, before he decides to do this favour to the nation of making a film, must make up his mind as to what he is going to say. Cinema, as the truism goes, is a medium of expression, Communication. The film-maker must have something to convey. Here the director goes about empty-headed in search of a writer, or somebody with some money goes in search of a director, in both cases it has already been decided to make a film. What about? Nobody knows. And if you come across Arsh Lucknavi or some other hack writer like him, you end up making a film on what he has to say. That is why I feel that, ideally, the director should be his own writer. If not, then at least he should indicate the basic theme and sit with the writer to strictly control him and make his own suggestions. This, as you know too well, seldom happens. Even NAFDEC made this mistake of contacting the directors instead of the writers.
J.U. No, but NAFDEC invited scripts not directors.
K.A. Well, then it should not have invited scripts from all and sundry. People working for it know who the competent writers are.
J.U. Anyhow, to get back to what we were discussing. After the director has decided upon a story comes the central problem of communicating it to the audience. In other words, the technique of film-making now comes, or should come, into operation. Apart from the fact that our movies don't move much, watching a Pakistani film usually creates a feeling of unease. It seems as if the characters are not doing what they ought to be doing under the circumstances. What is wrong here?
K.A. A proper concept of how to stage a scene is lacking. How a scene is to proceed in terms of the motivation and movements of the character is of the utmost importance to film-making. Take the simple example of viewpoint. From which character's viewpoint is the scene to begin and how a shift in the viewpoint is to take place will completely alter the significance of, and the technique for, that scene. And what I said before also applies here-the scene should be truthfully staged. The motivations of the characters, their movements and dialogue should all be truthful and logical. Suppose in a scene a character is sitting in a room and his enemy armed with a revolver comes and stands triumphantly in the door. It is obvious that if the intended victim is to run for his life he will rush towards the window and try to jump out. But I will tell you what will happen on our typical set. Provided he has sense enough to actually ask the character to rush the proper way, the director will probably be requested by the cameraman to ask the actor to move in the other direction since he has lighted up that area! Horror of horrors, the director will probably accede to this request!
The basic problem, however, is the script itself. In the whole of the industry one cannot find a single competent script writer. The story is not visually conceived, rather the stress is on the spoken word. This weakens, mostly annihilates, the image. The characters are not the multi-faceted people of real life but bogus, card-board characters with utterly illogical psychological motivations. The situations are equally implausible, so the whole thing is a mess.
The confusion is complete when such a script reaches the average, incompetent director. He does not have it altered because he cannot perceive the fault clearly. When he starts shooting on the basis of a script which would be impossible for the best of the directors to film, he obviously cannot translate it into effective visuals. Since he is blissfully ignorant of the fundamental rules of framing, etc., he is at the mercy of his equally incompetent technician-in-chief, his cameraman. If the director and the cameraman cannot tell the difference between the relative importance of the characters on the right and left of the frame then everything that goes on explains itself.
J.U. This right and left reminds me of stage. I, fore one, am extremely suspicious of anything theatrical in films.
K.A. My purpose was merely to give an example and not to alarm you. No doubt our films are threatrical in the sense of being anticinematic. That is a pity. Despite being different, cinema has association with thc stage. It is rightly said that in theatre the event is brought to you: in cinema you are taken to the event. Stage, apart from other important contributions towards the evolution of cinema, has lent some of its best writers to films. Osborne (Look Back in Anger), Bert Hart (The Man Who came To Picnic) and Cocteau (all of whose films are from stage plays), are people who have contributed tremendously to film writing.
J U. You have made interesting use of background music in your films and have made experiments like establishing distinct musical symbols for different characters etc. What to your mind is the relationship between the image and sound?
K.A. Actually it is better not to talk of background music, we should rather use the term sound track, for the latter will include musical as well as non-musical sounds. Which incidentally reminds me of the title music of Bridge On The River Kwai which was composed entirely of sound effects. Anyhow, to get to your question. To my mind the sound track or background music should not unnecessarily duplicate the image but should run parallel to, or ahead of. The image with its own meaning and theme. The track should be used to enhance the significance of the image and to add depth to it. I would go to the extent of saying that the essence of the scene should be reflected in the sound track. I will give you some, interesting examples of what I mean. Pudovkin quotes a scene from one of his films in which the workers are being shot and killed by troops. As the corpses pile up it becomes obvious that all will be killed. And gradually on the sound track comes a triumphant march tune! It rises to a pitch as the camera surveys the scene littered with corpses. Why triumphant music? Why not violins and cellos wailing and moaning? Because Pudvokin wanted to convey a much deeper truth than was obvious in the scene: that the workers' eventual victory is assured despite temporary tragedies. How incredibly crude it would have been to try to convey the same by either having the workers shout slogans of victory or hurriedly giving lectures in Marxism before dying, or may be a flag going up somewhere, or some such device. Have you read Truffaut's book?
J.U. on Hitchcock'? Yes
K.A. In that Hitchcock discusses a scene in which a husband and wife are sitting around a table with another lady. As the husband says to his wife `I love you' he presses the foot of the other lady with his own! Here the sound track lies while the image conveys the truth. This is how the image and sound should complement each other.
In our country the concept of sound exists in a grotesquely distorted form. If a scene is weak (it always is) it is thought essential to introduce all kinds of instruments to give it a boost with sound. If by some strange accident the scene is genuinely, climactic then a need is felt for any number of `Bangs'! It is really quite distasteful.
J.U. Could you add to the above examples from some of the 30 films that you have done as a music director?
K.A. Yes, indeed. In my film Intezar the central character was a blind girl with no one in the world except her old father. (Her uncle and other are all crooks). There was a scene that while she is standing at some distance from the hut, their home, the father is playing the veena inside. Suddenly he starts playing in a strange, ominous manner and the girl becomes restless. She starts groping back to the hut when a string of the veena snaps and she says `baba' and hurries inside. We cut to a shot inside the house with the old man bent over his veena, dead. The edges of the frame were left empty. Now the conception of the shot was that as soon as the groping hand of the girl comes into the frame we will trolly out until the hut remains in the distant long shot and the scream of the girl would indicate that she has discovered her father's body.
The scream was then to be dissolved with a trumpet for the next scene. For the purpose of this movement we had also dismantled the door of the hut to allow the trolly to move out. The idea behind this movement was that here is a scene which is too tragic to be seen. This reminds me of Parvez Malik's absurd assertion in an interview with you that he was the one to introduce movement in Pakistani films. I say movement should also have some meaning. Anyhow, Now because of my cameraman's mistake-it was Nabi Ahmed`s first film with me and he has since become very competent. Unfortunately the trolly movement was started before the girl's hand could enter the frame rendering the whole movement quite meaningless. The mistake was discovered after seeing the rushes. Between the filming of the scene and the screening of the rushes we ourselves had to trolly out of Shahnoor, so to speak, on account of a quarrel between Nur Jehan, our heroine, and Mr. Shaukat Rizvi, the owner of the studio. We were now on the horns of a dilemma. The girl's presence in the hut was the motive of the movement which was now absent. Reconstructing the sets and reshooting would have involved further time and expense. On the other hand the scene was a very important one. What to do? Since I am a soundman, apart from being a script writer and a director, I thought hard. At last a solution occurred to me. It was simplicity itself. Just before the movement starts I put in a word `baba', on the second track by the girl and immediately we know that she is inside the hut and now we move out. You see, not only was the defect in the image corrected, the scene was made more powerful because it was made even more subtle.
In my film Ghunghat the hero constantly hears a beautiful mysterious voice singing to him and sees, he thinks the spirit of his dead beloved. A great amount of outdoor shooting was involved and I had chosen a locale with lots of mist around it, employing the mist as a symbol of the hero's confused state of mind. In outdoor shooting one has to, as a technician, take special care of a few things. Say you are shooting in the evening light and have to resume in the morning. But now the shadows would be on the opposite side. So you have to reverse the camera angles and its movements, etc. In a scene in which the hero, after considerable wandering about, finally comes across the imprint of the mystery girl's foot in soft earth, his looking down was shot the next morning. I don't know what exactly went wrong Ä perhaps we all became careless since the general diffusion owing to mist takes care of some difference in the strength of light-but upon seeing the rushes it was realized that while the hero was looking down his face was in the shadow, with the sun setting in the background and when he looks up his face is all bright since the sun is now in the front. Absolutely mismatched. It would have brought us ridicule if we had put in those shots. Here again I used sound to rectify a defective image. As he is looking at the foot print the mystery girl's voice echoes down to him-'Aajaa, Aajaa'. He suddenly realises that she is calling for him and as he lifts his head to look around we have the glowing face of a deliriously happy man. Thus I made the scene psychologically correct and it acquired added depth of meaning.
J.U. These examples are most enlightening, but the last one especially brings up the question of theme in films of those days. It appears to me that a number of them had stories of the type which contained mistengulfed hills and valleys, haunted villas, spirits, echoes and strange sounds and tinkling of far-off bells, and amidst all this otherworldly atmosphere was placed slightly deranged heroes talking of eternal love and so on. There was beauty in the music and the scenery, but the attitude behind all this heavy romantic imagery seems one of escapism to me. Would you care to comment?
K.A. You have raised a very important issue. I have thought and talked about it before also. Have you seen Barua's Jawab?
J.U. When was that?
K.A. `44 or `45 if I am not mistaken.
J.U. No. I wasn't around then.
K.A. Well. Barua was one of our great pioneers. An incomparable scriptwriter, good director and Leftist. His Jawab revolved round the character of an indecisive, weak and utterly wasteful young man. When the young man rises for breakfast there has to be. sitar playing before he can get into the right mood, for example. Two girls love him but he is incapable of choosing between them. In the end they decide the issue among themselves. That is a rough idea of the plot. Babu Rao Patel in those days considered himself to be the leading film critic of India and he also owned a top magazine `Film India'. He too, by the way, was a Leftist. Patel tore Barna to pieces and criticised him for having made a film on an incredibly ridiculous situation. Patel thought the character was too unnatural to make any sense. Barua in his rejoinder destroyed Patel's criticism by simply pointing out that the young man in fact was a symbol of the contemporary middle class which, in his opinion, was devoid of all will to make decisions for itself and, as in the films others decided its fate while it sat smug in its petty comforts. In the same way my approach toward Ghunghat's main character was extremely critical, one who is shown to be living in a world which is a figment of his imagination. He wanders in the valleys in search of her dead beloved. His wife poses as a spirit to win him back and jolt him into realising that he has been acting stupidly.
J.U. But, really! That happens only in the last scene. I mean, mostly the romantic atmosphere would probably act as a temptation to day dream rather than something to be avoided.
K.A. I do not think so. Daydreams are beautiful because they are projections of fantastic wishes. But they remain what they are -unreal. As for your protest that the fantasy lasts for 99% of the film it can be said that the plot was so constructed as to keep an aura of mystery right till the climax, which after all, is the universally accepted dramatic technique. Further, in films there is always the pressure of the box-office considerations to be kept in mind. In any case nowhere in the film is the hero actually shown enjoying himself in that atmosphere. On the contrary, he is throughout quite melancholy and miserable, and thankful in the end when he comes to his sense and accepts his wife.
J.U. This box-office pressure, how real it it'?
K.A. Quite real. Certainly it cannot be used as a defensive argument to explain away all the faults of film-making here, but consider this: a panwallah or a tongawallah can be ignored completely when it comes to Ghalib or Iqbal's poetry or Chughtai's paintings. But when it comes to a film then it is he who makes it a failure or a hit. In cinema finance is an eternal problem.
J.U. To continue with your films. What had you to say in Zehr-i-ishq and Chingari?
K.A. Zehr-i-Ishq dealt with the universal theme of motherhood and through it I showed the triumph of higher emotion over baser instincts. Chingari, which I wrote and directed, had to do with the cancer of the corrupting Western way of life which is creeping into our society. Kids buying alcohol and pornography, and the inexplicable stupor of a society which knows what is going on but looks on helplessly without raising even its little finger in resistance. In this film I got a chance to experiment with pop music since I had a character in it whom it could fit. The title music set the tone of my conception of the film. It begins with two tanpuras sustaining the drone while trumpets and sexophone played the melody. As the titles end the Western instruments fade away only the drone remains. What I wanted to say what that it is our, the Eastern way of life which is going to prevail and the West's corruption and immorality carries the seed of its whole society's death within it. Throughout the film every evil action was accompanied by Western music and every scene embodying some positive value by our own music.
J.U. Well, there is something in what you are saying which disturbs me. What sort of people are we, really? Look at the massive hypocrisy, corruption, the heartless exploitation that are facts of everyday life. I feel it is a delusion to think that our undoubtedly noble music represents truly what we now are.
K.A. You are right, but the point is that when I made Chingari the corruption had just started taking root and I cried out that something out to be done about it. It was a passionate appeal to curb the alarming trend towards vulgarity in everything including films. Plato has said that art imitates life, here the opposite has been the case. Life has fashioned itself after what it has seen in films and the corrupted music. Both have had a terribly vulgarising influence. But nobody paid any attention and see what the result has been.
J.U. What about the actors and actresses that you have worked with?
K.A. Habib, Waheed Murad, Deeba, well, in fact all of them are third rate, absolutely third rate artists. When a film succeeds at the box-office the artists in it start riding a high horse. I cast Habib in Zehr-i-Ishq in a sort of midly non-hero character. I say mildly because it was not really a bad character but, shall we say, just amoral. He simply could not understand the role. The public was also slightly discomforted because they were used to seeing only good samaritans as film heroes. In Jhoomar I unfortunately cast Sudhir in the leading role. The mistake here was entirely mine. Allaudin slaps Sudhir in a scene and Sudhir, who is guilty of having seduced the other fellow's sister, sinks in his shoes. His fans would have none of that. The crowds in the cinema halls, primarily the frontbenchers, roared and jumped asking Sudhir to fight back. Santosh did much better in Ghunghat, mostly because he was physically right for the part. But on the whole we nave got terrible actors.
J.U. The famous Jaal agitation got the industry a complete protection against competition. with Indian films. The way this protection has been taken advantage of by the producers is most unfortunate. What was your role in the agitation?
K.A. I can assure you that I took absolutely no part in that agitation. It was a conspiracy hatched by the producers and other vested interests to have a free hand to commercially exploit the home markets. With the Indian films out of the way it was left to these ignoramuses to dish out fifth rate plagiarized films to a choiceless audience. Some suffered from an unnecessary inferiority complex and thought that banning of Indian films for a certain period would give a chance to our industry to stand on its own feet. You and I have seen the results of course. The correct thing to do was to have signed a barter agreement with India so that a film could be exchanged for a film.
I may tell you that Intizar created such a sensation that Palanji, K. Asif, and Dilip wanted to release it in India from Mugal-iAzam office. S. Wassan of Gemini Films was so thrilled that he wanted to make its Tamil version and asked me how much I would charge for the story. I replied that since Intizar was a crusade against vulgar music anyone wanting to remake it was a comradein-arms and I would charge nothing from him. This was in a period when our writers used to sell their stories to the Indians secretly. And then Intizar was made in Tamil. What I am saying is that banning the Indian films completely was a mistake. We could have competed with them on equal footing through original music and original stories.
J .U. Now I would like you to talk a little about what it undoubtedly your forte-song music. Your great Indian counter-part, Naushad, has often praised you ("Khurshid Anwar knows the art of reaching into the depth of one's soul") and it can be fairly said that you have created the best film music in the country. How did your style develop?
K.A. Natural musical talent, like any other, is not susceptible to logical analysis. Again, why a melody, a musical idea, is good, bad or indifferent one does not know. That it is good or bad is usually quite obvious. What can be analysed is the treatment or the use of the melody to different ends. My style, in so far as it consists in the use of the shruti, the glide and other ornaments, has basically emerged from my training in classical music. But in film the music, like other activities, is determined by the content itself. What the story is about, what the characters are like, whether it is a period piece or a contemporary drama, are factors which will determine what music can be appropriately used. If the story deals with the unreal, as in Ghunghat, then obviously music will make use of echoes and strange sounds to create a surrealistic effect. Heer Ranjha, a Punjabi folk story, required and got a musical treatment correctly representing the milieu in which the story was set. On the other hand when it came to a film like Sarhad I quite easily dispensed with my usual style and composed songs like Tujh pe Qurban Dilber Khan. The character for this song was a tough and simple Pathan girl-how can she be expected to sing with the finesse of a classical singer? The fault with our present-day music directors is that a concept of how a particular character will sing does not exist. They of course know how a prostitute will sing in Heera Mandi, or how somebody will go around singing in a bazar with a harmonium, but they do not know how a refined and educated girl will sing, if at all.
The most important aspect of composing for song, however, is the relationship of the word and tone. What the words express should be truthfully reflected in the melody. As in the relationship between the image and sound where sound contains, or should contain, the essence of the total meaning, in a song the music should contain the essence of the words. In the song from Intizar which you were praising some time ago in our discussion, us din se piya dii le gaey, there occurs a line `dil jaltey jaltey jal gays piyar ki thandi aag mein'. Now notice (and here K.A. sang to reproduce the examples) the phrase thandi aag (cold fire). The way it is sung in a resigned, short downward glide the fire seems to lose its heat and becomes cold! In Kabhi tuni bhi ham se the ashna, the stretching and rounding of words in to galay se mujh ko laga liya contains a perfect impression of a soft, loving embrace. To quote another example ankh se ankh mila le is being sung by a drunk temptress. The whole song is slightly off-beat and its melodic line wavers and staggers subtly to become the picture of drunkenness itself.
J.U. And Raat Chandni men akeli in Zehr-i-jshq, I think ranks as an all-time best.
K.A. Yes, yes, it is one of my best compositions. Naushad has also specifically praised it. The word akeli is uttered softly after a pause. This pause at once separates the word from the rest of the line so that the pause and the word express deep and anguished loneliness.
J.U. Most of your songs have been sung by Nur Jehan. It must have been an interesting relationship.
K.A. Without her voice I would not have been able to accomplish a tenth of what I have. She has been the only real voice in Pakistan. She has now unfortunately spoiled her voice by over-exerting it. Besides a voice containing bass spoils with age especially when the method of singing is a full-throated one. Lata Mangeshkar, on the other hand, sings with a constricted throat and age has lent bass to her voice so it has become increasingly beautiful with the passage of time.
J.U. What exactly is your method of composing?
K.A. With the situation clearly understood-in fact most of the situations are my own since I have written the scripts of most of the films that I have done as a music director-I sit down with a blank mind and let the melody strike me. It often happens that words and music come together, but mostly I spent time with my song-writer when he is writing. We, Qateel and myself, sometimes get away from the din of the city life and hide ourselves away in the quiet countryside. Anyway, if the song has been written already, I let the music come to me. There is no conscious effort at this stage to force it out. When the idea has emerged I tune my surmandal to sing the melody. I never use the harmonium or the piano. The relationship of the music with words that we were discussing is an unconscious and automatic happening with me. The analysis comes only after they have joined together in a certain way.
At this stage I call the musicians and we rehearse diligently. The singer, too, has to rehearse a lot before we can get down to the business of recording. My orchestration is rather intricate and I give equal importance to the interval pieces. One of the primary reasons of my virtual retirement from film music is the non-availability of musicians who could rehearse. When they can charge a full shift at the studio why should they come to Khurshid Anwar to rehearse? And I can assure you that my music is not such that it can be played or sung without rehearsals.
J.U. What do you have to say briefly about Naushad, Salil Chowdhry and S.D. Burman?
K.A. Naushad has basically a rather limited knowledge of the classical music but despite that he has constructed a vast and magnificent palace of music. Of Salil Chowdhry I am very fond. It is said of Milton that he is a `poet's poet'; it can be said of Chowdhry that he is a `composer's composer. But the greatest of them is S.D. Burman who is capable of drawing equally from the folk as well as the classical music.
J.U. Your musical career has been quite consistently brilliant except the beginning (Kurmai) and, to date, the end (Shirin Farhad). Shirin Farhad is easily a faux pas. Frankly, is it not possible that, apart from other considerations the reason for this is that you are past your prime as a creative composer?
K.A. I cannot help agreeing with you that the songs in Shirin Farhad were poor. The background music was quite good but since the film was a fantastic flop nobody noticed it. I know the reason for the poor songs although I am not sure if it should be on record, I will tell you any way. Sharif Nayar, the producer/director, is an old friend. He is-well, he has a way of doing things and has to have a say in everything. He does not know much about music, Now usually I do not accept interference in my domain, but here a situation was created in which I found myself quite helpless. The film's schedule lengthened but Nayyar quietly used to send me my monthly sum. I did not have the guts to protest. After every couple of months Qateel would come with a meaningless song. wailing how one line was slashed yesterday and another two got the treatment the day before , we were both almost straitjacketed. Involvement is a pre-requisite to creativity. How can a song like 1k din ten mehfil mein ainge wafa ban ke, dharkan ki dua ban ke involve anyone? As a matter of fact I have not been able to make head or tail of it. Add to all this my frustration when I had to wait for a month or so after composing a tune for the musicians to materialise for rehearsals. To this situation I resigned and hoped to God. In hindsight, it was an error.
J.U. Last question. What is your own and the industry's future?
K.A. Before I answer that I would like to state that all that I have said about the incompetence of our film-makers does not in the least apply to Masud Pervez. I am not saying this out of consideration for a life-long friendship but it is my frank opinion that he really knows the grammar of this medium. What we need is directors like him capable of making good films aesthetically and of reaching out to a mass audience. As to your question, I am afraid I see no future at all for the industry. As for myself I have virtually retired. There was some hope of a brighter future when NAFDEC came into existence. I regret to say that it has not lived up to even modest expectation. This conclusion is invitable when NAFDEC, too, releases Ajnabi or S. Suleman's films. Is that an improvement?