As far as years go, 1947 was a big one. At least on the Indian Sub-continent. After nearly two hundred years, the British Raj came to an end. In the words of Al Stewart in his song Post World War II Blues, “And Churchill said to Louis Mountbatten/ I just can’t stand to see you today/ How could you have gone and given India away?/ Mountbatten just frowned, said What can I say/Some of these things slip through your hands”
As Louis Lord and Lady Mountbatten packed up and headed home, millions of Indians hit the road too. The largest movement of people the world had seen and probably one of the most desperate. Muslims moved away from the towns, villages and cities of northern India to a new country in the west called Pakistan. Hindus and Sikhs whose families had lived for centuries in Punjab, Sindh and the Frontier ran the bloody gauntlet towards a truncated India. Horrible things happen in history. The Partition of India was one of them.
Five years earlier, a young Punjabi girl with a name, Nur Jehan (Light of the World) as beautiful as her voice (‘pure crystal’, according to one critic) had come to Bombay from Calcutta to try her hand in the movie business. By 1947 she had not merely succeeded. She’d triumphed. She’d conquered. Nur Jehan had acted in sixty nine movies and recorded 127 songs. She was the greatest singer/actress Indian cinema had ever produced and world knelt before her.
|Dilip Kumar and Nur Jehan in Jugnu|
In that year of upheaval, blood and bitterness Nur Jehan acted (and sang) across from a young rising male tragic-hero Dilip Kumar in a film titled Jugnu (Firefly). Filmfare Magazine the arbiter of all things cinematic in India panned it as ‘dirty, disgusting and vulgar’. In October 1948 Jugnu was officially banned for a few months, thanks to the moralizing of Filmfare, but has gone on to be considered a landmark film. Though Filmfare also turned its nose up at Dilip Kumar’s performance (they swooned at Nur Jehan’s) it went on to make him a superstar and the soundtrack, which we share tonight, is a genuine classic.
Jugnu was to be Nur Jehan’s last film in India. She and her husband moved to Lahore where, unlike most other transplanted Indian Muslim musicians, she thrived and dominated the Pakistani music and film scene until her death in late 2000.
The soundtrack of Jugnu is special for several other reasons too. With Nur Jehan’s departure from the scene, the curtain that had been descending slowly on the actor-singer fell quickly and ushered in the golden era of the ‘playback’ singer. One of the greatest of playback singers, who dominated the scene in the 1960s and 1970s, Mohammad Rafi, got his start in Jugnu. And the grand dame of classical singers, Roshan Ara Begum, also contributed a folky song to the film. Quite a feat when one considers the scorn in which most classical musicians held filmi singers. Begum sahiba moved to Pakistan as well, soon after the film was made but unlike Nur Jehan found the transition to be a challenge.
|A young Mohammad Rafi in Jugnu|
Nur Jehan has been called the great ‘what if’ of Bollywood. What if she hadn’t moved to Pakistan? Would Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle the two titans of Indian film music have emerged so strongly and figured so prominently? Both of them still consider Nur Jehan to be the greatest of all time.
We’ll never know but enjoy this wonderful soundtrack from 1947, the year it all ended. Or began, depending on your perspective. Nur Jehan, Roshanara Begum, Shamshad Begum and Mohammad Rafi…all together!
01 Umangain Dil Ki
02 Aaj Ki Raat
03 Lot Jawani Phir
04 Des Ki Pur Kaif
05 Tum bhi Bhula Do
06 Hamein to Sham-e-Gham
07 Woh Apni Yaad
08 Yehan Badla