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Yeh Lolly-Lolly Kya Hai?

April 22, 2010

this post is longer than most academic papers, and almost every magazine article. proceed at your own risk.

before i begin, i think i should make clear that this blog is not about Lollywood per-se. It is actually part of my preparations for my dissertation project, which is supposed to be a half-hour film. as such, the things i bring up on this blog are all related to my own plans for my project. i make this disclaimer in part because if you arrive here thinking i am someone who knows and loves Lollywood, you are bound to be disappointed. my knowledge of our film industry, and its films, is negligible at best. but, there are some great resources where i have often turned to.

first of all is this website, called the Pakistan Film Magazine. This is an amazing collection of links to films, articles and essays on Lollywood. it’s a real labor of love – you can find details of which films were hit, and which weren’t for every year since Pakistan was founded. it is an invaluable resources, and really warms my heart. you will find better writings in the subsequent links, but the reason PFM is the first link out there is because it is the definitive place to go for actual films – you don’t just find reviews here, you can find hundreds of films available to watch online for free. and that trumps all the rest in my book.

then there is the fan-fucking-tastic Hot Spot blog. in fact, Omer Khan deserves a lot of all the credit for integrating Lollywood into the popular culture for hipster Pakistanis. there is a scene in a student film made by a friend from LUMS, where a girl explains to her lower-class waxing lady that the reason she has an Anjuman poster in her room is because of all the similar posters put up at the place where she goes for ice cream. i thought that was brilliant, and true. if you haven’t seen the “Kiss My Chaddies” t-shirt, then you haven’t lived. and you have to check out the Hot Spot’s film reviews.*  they are like nothing else out there, and beneath all the sarcasm and macabre humor, you can see that the whole thing has been put up by a real connoisseur.

*(you will have to go to the link called Bollywood film reviews, where there is the Lollywood stuff as well. not sure why, because the link to Lollywood films doesn’t have reviews.)

speaking of connoisseurs, there is the incredible Khurram Shafique.  if Omer Khan can be counted upon to serve the best of Pakistani pulp, Khurram is there to dissect the grander ebbs and flows of Pakistani cinema. his writings are the only academic quality works i have found online about Pakistani cinema, and he has a lovely way of bringing together politics, culture and cinema. he has put up a list of his work which you can access here, and it is fascinating to go through it all.

finally, amongst all these giants, there is one blog which is young, but displays the same heart and originality. step forward – dishoom dishoom. this is the best place for forays into the wonderfully bizarre world of contemporary pakistan, and this guy has an amazing knack for discovering priceless pieces of cultural gold. and special points for the equal best blog title out there. (i was going to put him second to the joint winners – copypaste material and sasti masti, but then decided to be honest generous.)

There. Now you know where to go. So we can begin with this post.

i was recently writing a blog for copy paste material, and i was finding pictures for it. this usually means looking up a phrase on google images, or flickr. safieh’s blog was the one which influenced me to start using the pictures as extensions of my phrases. she convinced me of the advantage, and style of using pictures as extensions, or even simultaneous interpretations of the words. in other words, using them to add value to the words.

this is also how sound is meant to be used in films. the use of a background score, sound effects or a song is essential in presenting the thoughts and actions on-screen.

a famous recent film, gomorrah, eschews all background scoring in favor of completely documentary style sound. and yet, the film uses songs diagetically (sound which is coming from a source within the film, such as on a radio) during several key scenes. take this scene for example.

(to skip the credits, click here)

the scene begins with the sound of the tanning beds, and incorporates a song playing within the salon during the shootings. people complained that this movie’s documentary style was something they didn’t like. but you see hear how the use of sound shows that it’s just a more rarified version of filmmaking. sound is that essential to the element of the visuals telling their story.

in the backlash against the film’s haters, fans of the movie said that such people should stick to watching hollywood flicks with big explosions. in essence, listening to lots of louder, more theatrical sounds. this is because the use of sound also reflects the culture of  the film and the culture of its makers, its audience and its fans. and cultures have their own ways of telling a story.

that’s why pakistani films have such creative uses of sound. for most people, the sound aspect of desi music means its songs. nothing could be further from the truth. take noori nutt’s entrance in this famous scene, and listen to the background score at the moment mustafa qureshi enters the frame.

(for the whole scene, including extended examples of sound, go here)

as you can see, the score in our style of narration is a lot more evocative than in the italian film. of course, the use of sound effects makes a further, more obvious point – the kaminash sound made every time a person is hit.

of course, with us being postmodern and all nowadays, it works very well to use sound as a juxtaposition, to make an ironic or parodic comment. (i don’t really know the academic stuff that well, so refrain from trolling about how i am wrong and this is not how zizek talked about it or what not)

the second one is a lot funnier, but the editing in the first one is sublime – you have a tough time believing this video was not made for this song. and again, the sound helps us understand the narrative, which is a parody of the video and the song.

another example, showing the comedic sensibilities of another culture, comes in this scene from a british film. the important point here is that its not using sound as a score or a sound effect. it is actually speaking about sound itself, and how when the images and sounds don’t match, its funny or bizarre or in this case, stupid.

(btw i would be highly surprised if this film isn’t epic. it already gets 10/10 for depicting muslims as terrorists, and its humor is so organic that it can easily soar above the usual tripe diaspora muslims dish out. watch the amazing trailer here)

if we return to blogs, we can see how the pictures work. they act as complements, extensions, or even juxtapositions to the written words. this presents another important, and intriguing idea.

can the pictures replace the words altogether?

firstly, why would one want to do so? the reason is that doing so takes the narrative away from a literal sense. if the pictures alone tell the story, then the story becomes one of oral rather than written narrative. it is important here that i did not make this distinction on a literate/illiterate scale. apart from their condescending connotations, they are also disingenuous in this context- there is a difference between oral traditions and written traditions narratives, or rather story telling. the contours of oral storytelling, and their limited appeal for contemporary people is explained quite succinctly in this review.

But this, I suspect, is part of a larger quandary of the contemporary reader’s sensibility for whom oral epics necessarily present tricky encounters: such stories are baggy, repetitive, and often, as in the present case, very (very) long.  The contemporary reader, trained on a lean appetite of tightly-knit, well-crafted stories, reacts to the long-windedness and ornate language with understandable peevishness. He’s aggrieved by their digressiveness and repetitiveness. (but) why speak in apologetics anyway – let’s be plain about this: there’s no other agenda of these stories other than giving you a darned good story. Oral storytelling thrives on archetypes and uses them to great effect. So… whenever a man – whoever he may be, a good warrior or an evil sorcerer – falls in love, he falls in love like the archetypal hero of a lover in Islāmic culture, i.e., Majnun, who after being separated from his beloved, roves deserts for the rest of his life (writing poetry and befriending animals, among other activities). There is no ambiguity here: love is the name of one kind of affliction that affects everyone the same way and is alleviated only by a union with the beloved.

oral traditions lie at the heart of a lot of our filmmaking. the degree of reliance on this form varies. its manifestations include multiple zoom ins (made infamous by desi soaps) the use of dramatic expressions by the actors, the over the top nature of action scenes etc.

in this very simple example below, just notice the use of the zooms and the score make very clear the nature of the relationship between the two characters.

this is something that filmmakers in contemporary pakistan need to realise. story telling in pakistan is largely split between oral and written traditions. traditionally, the oral style of filmmaking complements the oral style of the narrative itself – explained in the excerpt above. but for the contemporary audience, especially the pakistani one which is open to both, there is the opportunity to take one and juxtapose it on the other. we can use for example a contemporary style of narrative within the plot, and use oral styles of filmmaking to make our twists and turns more explicit.

the challenge then would be to make something which can co-display a lean, or tightly-knit, or carefully structured plot and the faculties of oral storytelling, in such a way that someone who doesn’t understand the words can make sense of it – if they know how to interpret the visual and audio symbols. a film which makes sense to someone who doesn’t understand the dialogue. of course, a literal fidelity to this challenge might be better suited for a short, or artistic film. but if the essence of this notion is maintained, it could still end up being successful.

and there is another reason which makes this option almost an imperative. we are living in an age where people watch movies on mobiles and laptops, on streaming flash videos, with the ability to change the channel or close the tab and be distracted immediately. therefore, the filmmaker has to retain oral elements within the film so that someone not paying 100% attention could still end up following what’s going on.

this is therefore, where the future lies.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2010 18:25

    Your disclaimer made me too cautious – this wasn’t thaaat long . But at the same time the clips were great, and I think the second Ludacris one was hilarious.

    • April 22, 2010 20:41

      i suppose its better that you felt it wasn’t too long, rather than feeling like ‘that disclaimer was not harsh enough’

      (i meant to leave smiley face here, but wordpress smileys are so insincere…)

  2. April 22, 2010 20:19

    KK, loved this entry. my 2 cents since you have researched this in detail.

    background sound in Nuri Nath clip reminds me of Sholay, especially scenes where Thakur’s family (barring sis Jaya Bhaduri) is murdered by Gabar Singh & he himself is maimed. i do not particularly care for the genre but loved your analysis of it. on youtube ismail tara’s version of Nuri Nath (on an episode of fifty-fifty) seemed to carry a lot more social commentary than the original

    • April 22, 2010 23:23

      what i loved about both sholay and maula jutt was that their scores were so contemporary, and using contemporary instruments too.

      and the 50-50 one is absolute gold – it works on so many many levels!

      • April 23, 2010 08:44

        THanks KK, for introducing me to HOTSPOT. Just read one review on Haseena Atombomb (HA) and was in fits of laughter.

        since we were talking scores, at 1:21 of this song from HA, features Axel F’s Theme from Beverly Hills Cop.

        Lastly, Filmazia Thursday latenight Pushko segment will give you loads of research material.

  3. April 23, 2010 21:42

    First of all, thank you sir for mentioning my work.

    Interestingly enough, I randomly uploaded a video off Omar Saab’s Zibahkhana a few days ago. First one is the opening credit music, which incidentally have the same kind of funky music.
    The opening credit music kind of set up the movie for me. (I also uploaded the Noori Nutt entrance in Maula Jatt 🙂 )

    The second one, which I almost did was when the Burqa clad guy was chasing one of the young protagonists. It had the best use of dhamaal style Dhol I have ever seen, recently. I might just upload that as well, soon.

    Good stuff!!! And did I see Sultan Rahi in latex? Hilarious!

    As for Sean Paul/Attaullah Esakhelvi, it is really interesting that video had trucks in them, as we associate Attaullah’s music with truckdrivers! Haye! Also, the same channel has this another video by Li’l Wayne with the music “Saadi Rail Gaddi Aye” . That is sublime as well!

    • April 25, 2010 22:10

      fuck yaar – hadn’t seen zibakhana, but the use of dhamaal was something i wanted to do in my final film. oh well, it ain’t called copy paste for nothing.

  4. April 25, 2010 22:02

    I have not read the entire article yet because the disclaimer at the top is enough to drive away even the most devoted of procrastinators/ blog prowlers. However I have two critiques of the disclaimer itself.

    1. Opportunity for ‘that’s what she said’ joke totally wasted.

    2. This article is a mere 1,905 words long. As a graduate student I take offence that it is said to be longer than most academic papers.

    • April 25, 2010 22:09

      1. only michael scott is allowed to make that joke. i’m awaiting his inevitable comment.

      2. beta this blog is not just words, its videos and sounds too. in order for the words to make sense, the posted videos have to be seen, heard, and thought about. as such, the disclaimer is there to weed out people not willing to log in the hours required to seriously appreciate my point, which words alone can not hope to get across.also, really disappointed that you would balk at the read just cuz of the disclaimer. all those bloody useless pol-sci readings at lums tou you lapped up always.

  5. April 30, 2010 08:40

    Is ‘khuda ke liye’ lollywood? or ‘Slackistan’ for that matter?

    Just curious. I dont know much abt Lollywood except for the few weeks filmasia was the preferred choice of background noise to writing long often needless academic papers.

    That was before the cable wala opted for a channel running MQM jalsa videos

    • April 30, 2010 12:54

      i think these films are probably loath to describe themselves as pakistani – certainly the director of slackistan has made that very clear. that said, i think that attitude is a bit disingenuous.

      i have a post on slackistan and its relationship to lollywood etc. don’t feel ashamed of lack of lollywood knowledge – filmazia was also my main, and perhaps only source of lollywood for the longest time as well. hope to see you around again 🙂

  6. April 30, 2010 12:57

    “i think these films are probably loath to describe themselves as pakistani* – certainly the director of slackistan has made that very clear. that said, i think that attitude is a bit disingenuous.”

    *i meant to say lollywood rather than pakistani

  7. April 30, 2010 20:18

    Yeah, when Syed Noor was asked about “Khuda Ke Liye” and even “Khamosh Pani”, he said something on the same lines. These movies, like Slackistan, were independently financed, shot, and released/distributed (Well, Khamosh Pani wasn’t released, I think).

    You already had a post on Slackistan? (Though, I’m sure that film will be worse than ARY’s attempts at high school drama, but i’ll keep my mind open)

    Speaking of which, HAVE you seen this?
    (I don’t know what the storyline is, the promo is too confusing. Who is the bad guy/villain? State , Mujhaadeen, or Sikh? (Given the movie, there has to be a defined evil. Lollywood doesn’t do subtle moral relativism).

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  1. Yeh Lolly-Lolly Kya Hai? | Tea Break

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