Our film, their film

The poster of 'Dosti'  

Every time there is a freeze in India-Pakistan relations, a section of the population goes out of its way to create a false dichotomy between the two nations. The efforts extend to denial of visas, expulsion of artists, cancellation of people-to-people ties, all in the name of national interest. It is completely overlooked that the cultures that form a common bond between us predate the creation of our countries by several centuries. Most of the languages spoken there — like Punjabi, Urdu and Pashto — have their equivalent forms here. Many of their art forms — like ghazal and qawwali styles of singing, kathak and bhangra dances — have an Indian connection. Naturally, themes that form part of our cinema find their reflection there and vice-versa. By extension, artistes from there become part of our cinema.

A look at two films — Dosti and Hamrahi — released in the mid-60s reveals that though Pakistan’s identity was premised on an opposition to India on religious grounds, the concerns of its ordinary citizens were no different from our own. Dosti (1964), was a classical tale of the triumph of the underdog, made during the Nehruvian-era of idealism and hope. Hamrahi (1966) was only slightly different in context, set as it was in the aftermath of the India-Pakistan war of 1965.

A viewing of the two films reveals that though the two nations were in conflict at their borders, their problems — poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, lack of health facilities — were similar. Both Dosti andHamrahi are about two teenagers, disabled by fate and accident, helping each other add meaning to their lives. Ramu (Dosti) and Naami (Hamrahi) lose their mobility in accident, their mothers to illness, and their education to poverty. When desperation makes them hit the streets, they have an encounter with exceptional talent: Ramu meets Mohan, while Naami meets Yousaf—both without eyesight but blessed with natural singing talent. The street-singing of the blind troubadours, and the money and recognition they earn, helps the lead protagonists achieve educational excellence.

Both films strive to create the prototype of an ideal citizen out of their lead characters. As a result, they now come across as moral science lessons, as testified by their different aspects: Physical handicap or poverty need not act as an impediment to pursuing education; an ideal friend is a selfless companion; a compassionate teacher can be more than just a mentor. Ramu’s mother wants him to emulate leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose, while Naami’s mother wants him to be as accomplished as the ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ (Mohammad Ali Jinnah) and and Allama Iqbal. However, what prevents the films from turning into a documentary is the music, and the melodrama.

Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s tunes, with a young R. D. Burman playing the harmonica for Ramu, Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics and Mohammad Rafi’s singing catapulted Dosti’s album to timelessness. The music ofHamrahi, composed by Tassaduq Hussain whose musical roots were in the Hindustani Patiala gharana, sounds fairly similar. The lyrics, the tunes, the singing style, all sound so identical that it is easy to see the two albums as part of a continuum.The first Dosti song, ‘Ek Insan Hoon Main Tumhari Tarah’ (‘I’m a human being just like all of you’) is placed in a situation where Mohan calls attention not just to his own plight, but to other poor, disabled people people like him.


Its equivalent lyrics in Hamrahi are: ‘Dekhi Lo Mujhko Ki Tum Jaisa Hoon Main’ (‘I’m just as much a human being like you’). ‘Meri Dosti Mera Pyaar’ (‘My friendship acts as a beacon’) becomes ‘Raah Dikhlaaye Mera Pyar Mujhe’ (It is my friendship that guides me).


The most important song, ‘Rahi Manva Dukh Ki Chinta Kyon Satati Hai, Dukh To Apna Saathi Hai’ (‘Pain is a constant companion, a soulmate, why should we be deterred by it’), where the protagonists take in the brickbats thrown by their importunate lives with poetic stoicism, takes a religious overtone inHamrahi: it becomes ‘Karam Ki Ik Nazar Humpar, Khudaaya, Ya Rasool Allah’ (‘Have mercy upon us, o almighty’).



One element that is indigenous about Hamrahi is the nationalism shoehorned into it, to create a spirit of solidarity and pride in the aftermath of the 1965 war. It begins with an invocation of political leaders like Jinnah, Ayub Khan and poet Allama Iqbal through ‘Yaad Karta Hai Zamaana Unhi Insanon Ko’ (‘Posterity only recalls those who overcome adversities’). Raja Hafeez, Hamrahi’s director, also finds a need to present Yousaf as a victim of Indian aggression in the 1965 war. The maudlin background music and the dilapidated buildings are emblematic of the gloom in Pakistani Punjab in the immediate aftermath of the war.


Dosti and Hamrahi both belonged to a period of innocence, when the difference between good and evil, ethical and unethical, and friendship and enmity was clearly defined. However, there is an unadulterated geniality about their characters; a certain naive sweetness about their music that makes them watchable even now. And the similarities in their themes, and their treatment by film-makers, affirm what is obvious but rarely articulated: the shared cultural influences of India and Pakistan transcend the political compulsions of our national boundaries.


The songs of Hamrahi were all sung by Masood Rana, Pakistan’s equivalent of Mohammad Rafi.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 4:00:42 AM |

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