Qawwali in Sub Continent's Cinema

Qawwali in Sub Continent's Cinema
Published On: 31-Aug-2022

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Qawwali became a part of movies after the arrival of cinema. It attracted audiences by its traditional and cultural presentation and uniqueness. After street theatre (Natak Mundlis)  and storytelling, cinema was a big medium of entertainment among masses regardless of religion, caste, gender and race. It has become a trend to include music in different forms in movies, Qawwali being one of them. Although music was originally used as a mood enhancer and the narrative aid for the cinema audience was slowly becoming an integral part of the film itself, to color scenes, to suggest a general mood, to speed up a story or emotional stress.


The Sufi song genre of Qawwali has been a prominent part in Bollywood films since the 1940s, when the Golden Age of Bollywood filmmaking began. Because of the subcontinent's diverse sociocultural and theological heritage, it's common for even South Asians to think of Qawwali as a strictly Islamic devotional song and miss the existence of its filmi equivalent. The Qawwali, like many religious traditions, has expanded from private sacred spaces to public secular spaces. Qawwalis were first utilized in films to accompany muslim narratives and ideas, and their cinematic adaptations stayed substantially true to the ancient practice. However, the musicality, visualization and context of filmi Qawwalis has changed dramatically over the decades.


Talking about the history of inclusion of Qawwali in Indian movies, it has become known that“Humen to loot liya” sung by Ismail Azad Qawwal and Party was the oldest Qawwali music which was  included in the movie “Al Hilal” which was released in 1958. Mehboob Khan made his directing debut with this project. He later rose to prominence as "one of Indian cinema's pioneering filmmakers”. Munshi Ehsan Lucknavi wrote the lyrics, and Pransukh Nayak composed the music. The movie portrayed a fictionalized version of history in the guise of an Arab-Roman struggle, including the capture and subsequent escape of the Ottoman Empire's son by the Roman army. Coming to the Pakistani earlier movies which have Qawwali music are Tauba and Shokan mele di released in 1964 and 1975 respectively. Qawwalis“ Na milta gar ye tauba ka sahara and Aj meri vi faryad suno” from these movies became very popular.


Qawwali has been used as a medium through which different meanings and messages are communicated, it involves both language and media. Media has become a source through which people’s minds are controlled. The purpose of Qawwali has been to convey some message to the audience through its form and way of presentation have changed over time. This change not only occurred intra-culturally but it can also be observed interculturally. Since the base of Qawwali pertains to the sub-continent, many of its components can be commonly found in the Qawwalis of both Bollywood and Lollywood. But after the separation of the sub-continent, many changes have taken place so far.

Bollywood's music, including Qawwali, is heavily influenced by Islamic inspirations. Filmi Qawwalis are a fascinating musical subgenre because they not only transpose the centuries-old Sufi heritage to the big screen, but they also restructure and represent it in a particularly modern, popular, and secular light. They may be manipulated to fit a range of subjects and appeal to a wide audience, which makes them perfect choices for Bollywood cinema songs. Ethnomusicologists have looked at Qawwali's shifting identity and attempted to assess the meaning and role of the filmi Qawwali in comparison to its predecessors.

At a time when the art of Qawwali was changing its color, the Sabri brothers of Pakistan emerged who tried to revive its old form and played an important role in taking it back to the past. It was a time of revival of Qawwali. Although there were a large number of Qawwali singers in India and Pakistan at that time, the most prominent ones were the Sabri brothers. After these brothers, Sufi poetry was given color and harmony by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but he didn’t live long. Aziz Mian Qawwal brought the art of Qawwali to its peak in a special way and established his own identity. These days, Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and some other efficient Qawwali singers are popular and their voices are being heard from Dargahs to movies. In addition to all these, some new young Qawwali singers are demonstrating their skills by learning this art.

Qawwali has been given a place as genre music in both the cinema films. According to the script and events of the film, Qawwali has been used in it. In some places it has become an adornment of shrines and in other places it has been used in social gatherings like birthday celebrations, wedding ceremonies, religious ceremonies, Rabi-ul-Awal or Shab-e-Meraj. Qawwali has been used in movies to suit the occasion. Qawwali would be given prominence in Bollywood movies from the very beginning and with the passage of time, innovations came in its presentation, such as in its poetry and also in the use of musical instruments. Qawwali is still being featured in Bollywood movies, “Dedh Ishkia, Jodha Akbar, Rockstar, Bajrangi Bhaijaan'' in it, Qawwali is portrayed as a powerful tactic to address issues, emotions, dependance, helplessness, desires and their fulfillment. 

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