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February 10, 2002

The Melody Queen lives on

By Shanaz Ramzi

A recent fund-raiser by a non profiting organization served a double purpose, for not only did it help to further their cause, it achieved its target by holding a befitting tribute to the memory of Malka-e-Tarannum, Noor Jehan. Compered by the inimitable Zia Mohyeddin, the event was well organized.

With the sprawling lawns of the Defence Authority Golf Club providing a picturesque venue with the all-white decor — white tents and centre table arrangements, the stage was set for an interesting evening. The huge backdrop with Madame Noor Jehan in her prime, her eyes dancing coquettishly, did complete justice to the personality that mesmerized the subcontinent for six decades.

With one of Pakistan’s key problem being a high rate of illiteracy, organizations like The citizens Foundation have been working for the last six years to promote mass scale quality education. With the help of donations from various philanthropists and their annual fund-raising programmes, the organization aims to build 1000 school across Pakistan, 80 of which are already in operation.

The show began with a visual presentation of the schools, the presentation also anchored by Zia Mohyeddin, after which the Chairman of TCF, Mushtaq Chapra highlighted their achievements in the short span since their inception in 1995. With their first batch of students that started school from grade five appearing for their grade nine Board exams this year, and two of their students winning prizes in the Unilever Art Competition for which 2000 entries from schools across the country had been selected, Chapra and his team indeed have a lot to be proud of.

From then on, it was Zia Mohyeddin tracing the life of Allah Wasai, the little girl who had a passion for singing through her days of glory, transforming into Noor Jehan of the silver screen, to ultimately receiving the title of Melody Queen. What could have been a somewhat boring biographical account of the maestro’s progress had it been handled by anyone lesser than Mohyeddin, was turned into a literary feat wrapped in humour and information.

Beginning with the controversy about when she was born — “Choose any year between 1924 and 1927. It didn’t matter in those days for fathers would decide the year of their daughter’s birth at the time of their nikkah!” — Mohyeddin would volunteer bits of information about the virtuoso in between presentations of her songs. The first song, rendered by Fariha Pervez — Tu kaun si badli mein meray chand hai aaja from film Khandan — transported the audience down memory lane. A video presentation of snippets from her film songs followed, albeit after an awkward pause, when the cue for the first song — Aaja meri barbad mohabat key sahare was missed by the backstage help.

Dispelling myths surrounding Noor Jehan such as her acting in silent movies, some more songs were presented on the screen, the quality of which unfortunately left a lot to be desired. It is indeed sad that no attempt has been made to preserve the archival material of the renowned artists of our country. Although it was a pleasure to see the young, attractive diva of the silver screen, considering the state of the prints it might have been better if only short segments of these had been shown and instead the songs depicting her versatility, sung much later as a playback singer, had been selected. As it was, as Zia Mohyeddin himself pointed out, her earlier numbers were all ‘sad’ — Jehan Badla; Andhiyan Gham Ki; Teray dar par sanam, Pehle to Apne Dil Ka Raza, etc — while her later renditions were definitely livelier.

In fact one missed her happier numbers, few as they were in her earlier repertoire — such as Mehki Fazain and substantial as they are after the sixties when she gave up acting. Zia described her later numbers as Kutch mithi, kutch khati, but sadly, hardly any of the ones sung on the occasion were kathi. One missed songs like Kuch log ruth kar bhi, Chiti zara sayan ji key and many more. Mehnaz was invited to sing the all-time favourite Ho Tamana Aur Kya, followed by a classical number, Pya na hi ayae that displayed the remarkable control she had over her voice. Ja, ja mein tu sey nahin bolon was sung by Fareiha Pervez with aplomb. Bushra then came on the stage, and contrary to everyone’s expectations, instead of offering some popular numbers, sang a couple of relatively obscure ones.

Zia Mohyeddin’s readings of the pieces written by Manto on Noor Jehan were entertaining as were his little anecdotes about the temperamental personality of the great maestro — like the time Khursheed Anwar decided to produce a film, Mirza Jat and not use her as a playback singer, and she retaliating by releasing her own production called Jat Mirza, before his film could be exhibited. Needless to say both the movies flopped, but she taught everyone not to challenge her supremacy.

Only one of Noor Jehan’s war songs recorded for television — Aai watan key sajeelay jawano was screened, although her contribution in reviving the morale of our soldiers has been so phenomenal that it surely merited a little more attention. One also felt that Zia Mohyeddin’s description of the innocence one finds in all of Noor Jehan’s songs — a Bachpaney ka bhagar as he described it — was carried a bit too far when Bushra Ansari sang a couple of Noor Jehan’s numbers with a toddler’s lisp. Bushra does a superb job of mimicry, and in fact the audience had been waiting for it ever since her first appearance on stage, but one wishes she had not distorted the songs in the process. Her pouting face and hand movements were delightful enough and required no caricature to drive home the style of the great artist.

The programme nonetheless managed to hold the audience’s attention, with the performances by different artists, video presentations, and commentary by Zia Mohyeddin. Had the selection of the songs been better ones, it would have been the icing on the cake.

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