Lollywood's Club Culture: Where Lust, Danger, and Deception Collide
Lollywood historian Omar Ali Khan dives into the significance of the nightclub, or 'Killub', in 1970s Pakistani cinema and how the rise of disco eventually overshadowed it.
A nightclub in a Lollywood film of the '70s was more than just a place for drinks and cabaret acts. Yes, club members and guests often burst into spontaneous song and dance, but the underlying themes were far more sinister. These clubs, usually veiling illegal activities such as drug dealing and prostitution, often showcased club owners as criminals, smugglers, egomaniacs if not all of the above.
In Urdu films, a Club represents a sleazy Honey Trap to doom, ensnaring innocent lost women with deception, and slimy predators ready to pounce from every shadow. In Punjabi Films, the Club is more about "Bad Man" turf wars and gangsterism, with cabaret songs thrown in for a touch of bawdiness. Most of the time, the lewdest dances would translate to the good box office, even if they weren't as integrated into a storyline as in an Urdu Club film.
The Club is a moral battlefield, a place where thrill-seekers convene to live a life of shallow, liberal indulgence. 'Behaya' young women openly display their allure here, their Westernized lifestyles of carefree pleasure-seeking without thought for the 'morrow' or even afterlife reducing them to mere objects of desire. Frequently, the club doubles as a front for all manner of shadowy dealings. Bets are placed and agreements made as the club's diva takes the floor, swaying and cooing provocatively, inciting a downright uproar – the occasional glimpse of skin sending shockwaves through the room. The spectacle is heady. Hemlines are high, revealing much, while hair and hips fly in astonishing arcs, defying gravity's harsh pull. Club fashion manifests organically in budget Punjabi films, with the cinematographer resorting to inventive techniques for eye-catching distortions and a skilled play with the old zoom lens.
Channeling the madness of Faster Pussycat Kill Kill on a hallucinogenic trip, the club's atmosphere is thick with the menace of grinning rogues, smugglers, arch-villains, and smooth-talking womanizers, all adding significant heat to The Stylish Batch's sonic brew. A sensuous enchantress sporting a wig that is comically oversized adds to the spectacle with her mesmerizing movements—undulating and gyrating to the throbbing rhythms when it matters, in a manner that simply can't be ignored. The backdrop is a sultry, smoky number by a breathy Madam Noor Jehan, Mala, or Naheed Akhtar, presented in striking black and white contrast. Complete with a black and white checkerboard floor, this disreputable watering hole attracts Lahore's most dangerous individuals for a night of decadence.
The best clubs represent predatory danger, with sharks like Aslam Parvez sniffing the scent of vulnerability and desperate to get nice girls into rotten situations, after which they can exploit the position for a while before moving on to the next conquest. Every good Club of reputation would have a liberal smattering of such men. Ready to prey. "Virtuous" Men can also hang out at the Club because they feel sorry for themselves or perceive themselves as jilted and seek solace at the Club with VAT 69 scotch in hand. Most good men know about such clubs and avidly avoid them, preferring a game of badminton or perhaps a synchronized song around the grounds occasionally.
Girls who frequent such places have complexes and are insecure and ready to fall prey to cunning devils on the prowl. Girls who go to a club like The New Star Club to get Tipsy and do silly things that good girls should not do would be well advised to steer clear of such establishments. The Club is the domain of the bad hombres, the alpha predators, The Godless, those who have strayed from the righteous path, and those who thrive on lust and filthy ways. It's a grown-up's domain, and little children shouldn't be found, heard, or seen anywhere within a mile of a club worth its name. The Club is the ultimate allure in life, once seduced, never satisfied; a bottomless pit of obscenity, sadism, and hell fire. Very few who have grown close to the Club have ever lived to tell a story. It's one of those rules of the game. You never survive or outgrow a Club. Once tainted, forever tainted. The best you can hope for is redemption by saving the virtuous by jumping in the way of a bullet, thus bribing the audience not to be hated as much.
Poor people and Old People, AKA "Olds" are sneered at and shunned at the entrance as their inclusion in the Club would mean that "Club ka sara atmoss-fear kharab ho jata" to which a timely response would be "in Dakhyanoosi type logon ko Allah Allah kar ne do. Hum apna Saturday Nite kyun Khraab karein? Come on, Lats Anjoyy!" That's the spirit and the attitude of a hardened and devoted clubgoer - live for the moment and stop stressing about yesterday or tomorrow. Rid yourself of all kinds of destructive stress and take things in the flow because what is done cannot be undone, and what lies ahead, worrying about it, is certainly not going to help. So enjoy every minute while you can. That is the Clubgoer's mantra—girl Friends, Dancing, Romance, Gatt-to gather, All-Friends kinda fun. Nobody ever died of a jig at a club, yet there is frequently Blood on the Dancefloor in Lollywood.
The finest exponents of the Lollywood Club Vibe over the years: Nauroz, Naureen, Anita, Tarana, Aalia, Babra Sharif, Nazli, Ishrat & Meena Chaudhary, Mumtaz, Parveen Bobby, Chakori, Mizla, Husna.
The Disco may have sadly replaced the Club over the years, now confined to a specific period of Pakistani Film History. In its proper classic interpretation, the Club began with movies right from the outset, wherever the subject was a conflict between two cultures and the re-assortment of positive local values. The Club thrived most of all in the periods when James Bond-style movies arrived until gaudy discos replaced clubs by the end of the 80s and the club scene became redundant. Clubs have been replaced with living rooms, kitchens, gardens, and especially Birthday parties and teenage hang-out parties at home. Many of these events share most elements of a good strong club culture, and they are displaced people, a nation of people with no country.
Disco has been a major spoiler of the old club ways with its soulless mechanical and screechy songs set to flashing lights and gaudy costumes that were delightful and yet lacked the scuzzy, raw street vibe and danger of the Club of the 60s and 70s, nor some of the finest music ever composed for Pakistani films. "The Cheap Songs" as they were known to us during a misguided youth. These saucy, bold, sexy up-tempo songs were predominantly Nahid Akhtar's turf. Still, Madam Noor Jehan, Mala, and, to a lesser extent, Mehnaz, Rubina Badar, and even Runa Laila had significant contributions along the way. A cheap song is often characterized by its lyrical content, which focuses on the moral evils of society, such as freedom, living for the moment, independence, enjoying life, not caring about the future, being youthful, and partying like a lunatic, indulging in plenty of wonderfully energetic and stylized club dancing of the age.
Half a dozen or so Professional Club dance extras appeared in scores of party or club scenes which then died out or had to move onto synchronized dancing in parks and hills wearing bumble bee costumes of the disco age. Considering these definitions, the Club scene, including birthday parties and "events", would arguably be best covered in the mid to late 60s, continuing throughout the 70s and lasting till the middle to late 80s. During that time, Disco songs, lavish stylized sets, and a different style of dance moves and situations had evolved, and the club scene was suddenly a glorious moment of the past, never to return. Time and evolution in pop culture and changes in musical tastes played a significant role in "what killed the Club". That it coincided with General Zia Ul Haq's arrival was a contributor but not the main factor that the Club died out. Things changed. Yet, the 60s and 70s defined the Club scene. Shammi Kapoor's dash stretched a lengthy shadow across the border. Aslam Parvez in his perfect suit and hanky in the pocket, so immaculate and oozing slime, or perhaps Asad Bokhari or Mustafa Qureshi if a Punjabi film. Juliana Wilson, The Society Girl, lit up the Club with her superb song and dance but a conflicted and tormented soul in her mind and heart. Or the errant Westernized independent bratty girl like Babra who are far too trusting of their company and often have to learn the hard way.
The Club scene in Urdu films depicted women as free-willed and independent enough to resist conservatism and follow their hedonistic path. But in this independence, she is a lost soul with wolves waiting to deceive and devour her at any moment. A person who follows the rules and traditional ways would never head for the Club, as she would be caring for her mother-in-law at home like an unpaid maid, cooking for her husband and making sure she looked gorgeous and had memorized a lip-synch to a sultry Naheed Akthar number such as Aise Mausam Main Chup Kyun Ho?
Films containing some of the finest club dances and situations include Tarana in Naureen in a Moment of forgotten brilliance. Seductive and sassy and with the Gogo moves and hair throws down to perfection. Here Tarana shows why she was the goddess of the 60s. Brilliant Urdu club scenes in Mohabbat Zindagi Hai and Naukar feature Mumtaz and Babra in the finest club form. Aaj da Badmash, Pindi Wal, Nawabzada, Khatarnak, Ghairat, Warrant - all films with golden club moments. Essential Club films include Tehzeeb, Society, Aulad, Society Girl, Khuda aur Mohabbat, Anjam, Daman aur Chingari, Zubeidah, Playboy, and numerous others from the era.
The evolution of the nightclub scene in Lollywood, from a vibrant den of transgression to a sadly forgotten relic, mirrors the larger shifts in Pakistani society and pop culture over the decades. Even as new forms of entertainment have emerged, and the disco lights have dimmed on the golden age of Pakistani cinema, the 'killub' retains a mystique that continues to intrigue and captivate. The pulsating heart of 70s cinema, the smoky allure of the 'killub', now serves as a vivid snapshot of a bygone era, a cinematic time capsule of hedonistic exuberance and societal turmoil. As we navigate the complex and often tumultuous modern world, the nightclub scenes of yesteryears offer not just a glance into our cinematic past, but also a mirror reflecting our evolving cultural identities.