Shamim Ara in Chingari (1964)

Chingari has all the qualities in greater measure of its predecessors: a musical score of rare virtuosity, mature craftsmanship, and a high standard of artistic integrity. What makes it stand out still higher is the significance of the theme, for it touches upon an issue of life as important as any other, and compels the audience to reflect as to what kind of society they might become if they did not find their cultural bearings. The theme poses a challenge, only a cultured mind (and in the present setup – a filmmaker of some courage) would dare to meet. And not only Khurshid Anwar, but the whole national cinema has reason to feel proud of the result achieved.

Like Fellini, Khurshid Anwar is deeply provoked by the corrosion of social, cultural and moral values in his society. But unlike the celebrated Italian, he neither assumes the role of a detached observer nor succumbs to morbid despair. While warning the society against dangers ahead, he does not find to offer a more satisfying alternative. There has been some slogan mongering on the subject on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border but Chingari must rank as the first positive, cogent attempt to analyze the problem and tackle it in a sound and rational manner.

The film is aptly subtitled the story of a smoldering society. The source of mischief is identified, through a beautifully assembled title montage, as the unobstructed exposure of the youth to western sex literature, alien music, strip tease entertainment and the cult of exhibitionism.

A graphic presentation of the consequences of surrender to this cultural invasion forms the substance of the story. Two women, a young girl (Deeba) and her step-mother, are caught in the whirlpool of drunk parties, twist dancing, and frivolous living. One vice attracts another and life is corrupted to the core. A virgin compromises her virtue and a husband is driven to crime by faithless wife. By the time, the characters concerned awaken to the ugly realities of their situation, ghastly tragedy has engulfed not only the guilty but also the innocent ones associated with them.

In contrast, there is another set of people equally educated and prosperous who continue to enjoy the blessing of tranquility by pursuing their native cultural traditions. It is most significant that the writer does not cast his good set as a group of unenlightened obscurantist who blindly shun modernism. They are the people who have evolved a synthesis of the modern and traditional, who can distinguish love from lust and the joys of youth from a license for waywardness.

The medium selected for bringing out the contrast between the two sets of values is music. It is an appropriate selection, for music is capable of making the required comparison and it is used by a man eminently qualified for the job. Khurshid Anwar has no hesitation in characterizing alien music as a harbinger of cultural anarchy and pernicious influences, nor has he any difficulty in demonstrating the edifying and soothing effects of our own musical tradition. And while projecting the comparison he enlarges the scope of argument to include the criterion of artistic evaluation as well as the responsibility of the genuine artist. If the rejection of the concept of art as something divorced from the purpose of living is implied, the criticism of artists who turn away from contemporary life and people’s native tradition is pointed and explicit.

It is possible that some people will disagree with the thesis presented here in total or in part. But that is immaterial because this is the case of an artist putting forth his point of view and his convictions. The fact that matters is that Khurshid Anwar has blended image and sound to advance his arguments most effectively. This is film direction in the true sense of the word. He treats the allegory like story with remarkable single-mindedness. There is no superfluous incident, no melodramatic digression (such as a less uncompromising artist might attempt when a girl beseeches the man she loves to marry her sister), no forced relief; and no concessions to the vulgar. His sole interest is to show, quite unobtrusively, the revolting nature of things he wants people to despise, and the beauty of things they should appreciate. His montages are exceptionally effective especially where a twist dance is inter-cut with the wild frenzy of a mob incited to murder. All along, sound supplements the effect of the image and helps in recognizing the character’s motives. Whenever an evil thought crosses the misguided girl’s mind, a shrill jazz tune is played on the soundtrack and every moment of tender love is illustrated with soul raising melody.

The artistes play their assigned roles most convincingly. Deeba soars to stardom with a performance which is without blemish. She carries the major burden of the story with the assurance of a confident artist. Shamim Ara and Santosh display dignified restraint and Talish and Nighat do their bit adequately. Even Ejaz and Komal respond to their roles enthusiastically.

The music, as said earlier, reveals the wide range of the composer’s genius. Less than that it could not have served the purpose of the story. It will be unfair to treat it separately but those who must do so should not fail to appreciate the haunting melodies exquisitely scored and rendered with feeling by Noor Jehan and Mehdi Hasan. The lyricists also get into the mood and find words to complement the effect of visuals and music. The film’s technical values are excellent, the photography in particular – I. A. Rehman

Cast and Production Credits

Year – 1964, Genre – Drama, Country – Pakistan, Language – Urdu, Producer(s) –Mian Zahoor, Bashir Asghar and Kh. Khurshid Anwar, Director –Khurshid Anwar, Music Director – Khurshid Anwar, Cast –Shamim Ara, Santosh, Deeba, Ejaz, Talish, Komal, Nighat Sultana, Khurshid Shahid and Asad Jaffrey

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