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08 juin 2008

Pakistan Panorama: French connection makes waves

by Kamran Rehmat -The Peninsula

Have the French taken a liking to Pakistani work of art?

There is considerable evidence if latest events are anything to go by. Recently, a book was launched at Alliance Française d’Islamabad depicting the life and works of music legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

It was like a breath of fresh air – given the connection, perhaps, French air!

Dr Pierre Alain Baud, the French author of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Messenger of Qawwali is owed profound appreciation for his accomplishment.

For Islooites – a popular term to describe the citizens of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad – the event also helped change the current mood, which is frayed at the edges with a daily diet of political soap, power outages and shortage of one essential commodity or the other.

But to return to the subject, while taking a collective bow to Baud for his effort at giving Pakistanis the opportunity to get up, close and personal with the qawwali (devotional music of Sufis) icon, on reflection, it shows how the locals either don’t have the thirst for knowledge or simply lack the inclination to acknowledge their heroes.

Once again, it has taken a foreigner to bring them home to their own legend and that, too, in their backyard.

Even in his lifetime, Nusrat won his rightful place at home only after recognition in the West – an unusually reverse pattern for glory.

Nusrat’s first public performance was in 1965 but it wasn’t until his collaboration with Eddie Vedder on a soundtrack for the Hollywood hit Dead Man Walking that he began to make a global impact.

Soundtracks for The Last Temptation of Christ and Natural Born Killers took his pitch to a new high but it was the international celebrity Peter Gabriel, whose Real World label released five of Nusrat’s albums containing traditional qawwalis and experimental work with Mast Mast and Star Rise that propelled him as a fusion guru.

Baud’s tribute went beyond the book launch. It was quite a tour de force for the audience in Islamabad with anecdotes, docu-films, musical presentation and poster exhibition.

The French author’s love for the Pakistani qawwal’s mesmerizing work is abundantly clear with the various descriptions ascribed to him and reproduced in the book: "Singing Buddha’ in Japan, "Voice of Heaven’ in the US and "Pavarotti of The Orient’ in France.

The maestro also won plaudits from the French Ambassador in Islamabad, Regis de Belenet, who told the audience with some relish that one of Nusrat’s first concerts was in Théâtre de la Ville in Paris. The Paris rendezvous, Belenet felt, produced the electric effect that turned Nusrat into one of Pakistan’s finest ambassadors.

Thanks to the author’s keen interest in Sufi music, he developed a rapport with Nusrat, which soon turned into friendship, leading to his contribution in organizing global concerts. Subsequently, he produced articles, booklets and CDs exploring the genre of Sufi music and the contribution of Pakistani artistes.

A participant had a point when she said: “It makes you wonder if it is not something that we, Pakistanis should have done ourselves: to promote a soft image of their country.”

I recall with some vividness watching Bollywood flick Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya in Muscat’s Al Nasr cinema years ago in which Nusrat appeared as a guest star. The moment he adorned the screen, the audience broke into a rapturous applause that continued for nearly a minute.

What makes Nusrat’s music tick across cultures, even for those who do not understand the languages he sang in, is explained by one fan thus:

“His music invites us to eavesdrop on a man communing with his God, ever so eloquently. The deepest part of Nusrat’s magic lies in the fact that he is able to bring our hearts to resonate with the music, so deeply, that we ourselves become full partners in that offering.”

It has taken another Frenchman to highlight the value of prized Pakistani work – scripted by a giant luminary but lost to the gathering dust of history.

It took Film Director Philippe Jalladeau’s painstaking effort to locate the work of art – Jago Hua Savera (Day Shall Dawn) – penned by the inimitable Faiz Ahmed Faiz almost half a century ago.

Jalladeau, a passionate film buff, who has been running an international film festival in France based on documentaries and fiction films for four decades, was in Pakistan recently after he secured the only existing print of Jago Hua Savera – the country’s first feature film produced in 1959.

Praising its impressive execution, the French director told leading Pakistani daily Dawn in an interview that Jago Hua Savera was “the most beautiful film ever made in Pakistan” and that he had watched it three times.

The film was screened last month in Lahore at the auditorium of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan – an unusual platform to take a shot at reviving past glory but perhaps, apt given the maltreatment it has received.

Faiz’s daughter, Saleema Hashmi, revealed that the only print of Jago Hua Savera had been lost before being eventually found by the French director in a London archive.

Describing the film as a “piece of education”, Jalladeau lamented that Pakistan did not have a properly maintained archive, an example he said compared unfavourably with even war-torn Afghanistan!

For the discerning, Jago Hua Savera – set in a East Pakistani village – was declared the sixth best Pakistan film in a country list of top ten by the British Film Institute in 2001.

Jago Hua Savera is the story of a fisherman’s struggle to build a boat. The future income of his entire family depends on whether he succeeds or not.

It was Pakistan’s first realistic and experimental film. All pervasive poverty, deprivation, ill health and ignorance are the major obstacles the fisherman has inherited from his environment. The film won a prize at the Moscow film festival as it reflected socialist ideology through the struggle of the proletariat, viz., the fisherman.

This classic award-winning film originally premiered in London 50 years ago.

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