I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Sunday, March 27, 2011

...Of A Truly Amazing Find

Apart from one perfectly horrible day, the month of March has been extraordinarily kind to me. An amazing birthday has been followed by a torrent of wish-fulfillment. I've found some extraordinary things, some of which I had been searching for, for almost five years. These include the phenominal 13-part documentary on American silent film directed by Kevin Brownlow and the rare Jafar Hussain Khan Badayuni album I didn't have in my collection. Yesterday however, I found something absolutely phenominal.

One of the most informative and enjoyable books I've read in the recent past has been Raza Ali Abidi's "Naghma Gar" A history of Popular songs in 20th Century India, it is a labour of love that is a masterwork of scholarship as well as a highly enjoyable read. It has given me a new appreciation of the literally hundreds of songs that I've loved for years and years, introduced me to the characters behind the genesis of those immortal melodies from the golden age of Indian cinema as well as introduced me to artists, lyricists and composers that I hadn't paid sufficient attention to in the past.For example, it was due to this book that I rediscovered the brilliant C. Ramchandra, who I now rank with Naushad and Salil Choudhary as one of my favorite film composers. It is my aim to one day look up all the obscure songs, composers, singers and lyricists that Abidi saheb mentions in his book, thereby exponentially expanding my appreciation of sub-continental film music.

On page 98 of said book, the author writes about the great Kashmiri singer Malika Pukhraj;

"Unn ki woh film ab tak ba-hifaazat mehfooz hai jo Maharaja ne Europe se aayi hui film-saazon ki ek team se banwaai aur jis main Malika Pukhraj ne mehel ke kisi aaraasta kamray main siyah saari pehen kar aur tehal tehal kar gaana gaya. Bartaanvi television par woh film dekh kar andaaza hua ke Malika Pukhraj Maharaja-e-Kashmir ki manzoor-e-nazar yun hi to nahi theen."

My curiosity was instantly piqued by this passage. A rare film of one of the greatest singers of the last century in her prime was something that had to be seen. However, finding it proved to be an almost impossible task. Googling a number of search terms proved fruitless, as did scouring the dozens of internet message-boards that specialize in sub-continental music. Dozens of emails were sent, none of which provided any leads. I resigned myself to using my imagination to recreate that almost mythical recording, losing any hope of finding it.

A few days ago however, on an obscure file sharing site, I chanced upon a video file titled "Malika Pukhraj Rare 1930's", eagerly downloaded it and voila!! There's Pukhraj, the set looks like a 'mehel ka araasta kamra', the dazzling sari is indeed black and she has sung 'tehel tehel ke'. I'm pretty sure I've found the clip Abidi saheb mentioned in hes book (I'll ask the author to corroborate as well).

A delightful little time capsule. the clip is a short film shown as part of a double bill in theatres. Such brief musical films were made in the prepartition era ,mostly by the famous studio Wadia Movietone, and showcased some of the greatest artists of the time, such as this one featuring Ustad Habib Khan and Ustad Ahmed Jan Thirakwa (take a close look at the narrator at the start of the clip, for he appears again in this post). The Pukhraj clip begins with a spoken word introduction by a brilliantined, well attired gentleman which mentions the "super-film" that accompanied this short, 'Kahan Hai Manzil Teri'. The brief introduction is followed by a wide shot of a room with a figure in the corner, seated on a desk. Next we see Pukhraj in her beautiful black sari, writing something on a piece of paper with her back towards the camera. She puts down the pen, pushes away the paper, turns and then.....

The ghazal is typical Daagh, a light composition that would have been sung by the courtesans of the day. Pukhraj sings it in a beautiful, languid style which is terribly expressive. Her voice is clear as a bell, perfectly highlighted by the beautiful sarangi and clarinet accompaniment. The performance is phenomenal, elevating the rather commonplace kalaam to heights of great artistry. The picturization is also charming and seems unforced and very natural. At the time of the recording, she was at her prime, the court singer of Kashmir and a darling of the radio-listening public, and it's not hard to understand why. The Pukhraj we saw on PTV in her latter days ,complete with those trademark shades, had a unique style, adayegi and a peculiar 'pahaari' andaz that was a pleasure to listen to, but still felt somehow 'quaint'. Here though, we see the artiste as a young woman, and boy is she a sight to behold.

1 comment:

  1. Co-incidentally I have been listening to lots of Malika Pukhraj after recently discovering her spellbinding ghazal "Bezubaani zuban na ho jai". That ghazal, just like this recording, revealed a magical Malika Pukhraj to me. I read her translated autobiography "Song Sung True" recently which is an interesting document about her years in Jammu and then Lahore though obviously unreliable in large parts. My post on her lies abandoned but maybe one of these days:
    Here 'Bezubaani' if you haven't heard it: