Alaram (1978)


Alaram (1978)
Cast: Mustafa Qureshi, Aslam Parvez, Najma, Chakori, Bahar, Adeeb, Talish
Director: Daud Butt
Music: Tafo
Nutshell: Vendetta, mayhem, blood feuds, sirens, action…the usual masala and more!


Another muggy, miserably hot monsoon day and nothing much to do other than waste away wallowing in air-conditioned apathy – both body and mind atrophying into spam-like blubber. Just when one was in danger of wallowing all the way to oblivion the last few functioning brain cells came up with an idea that seemed like a lifeline to survival, mentally if not physically. The answer was to adrenalize and invigorate the rapidly depleting brain cells by zapping them with a dose of (hopefully) electrifying Lollywood Punjabi cinema from the golden era of the 70’s. In the current condition of drowning by inertia, surely the only quick fix cure could be a high voltage dose of vintage Lollywood Lollypop Punjabi style.

Alarm (1978)

And so, with medicinal intentions did I venture into the dimly lit dark room where all the Lollywood VCD’s are strewn to find the title that might work a miracle cure and blow away the miserable monsoon blues. The criteria for selection would be the title of the movie, preferably an English title of a Punjabi movie and secondly a director with a known record for grit, action and sleaze would get the nod, so basically one was looking for an Akram Khan sizzler that may have slipped through the net or then a Hyder Chaudhary masala flick or better still one by Daud Butt of Dada fame.

The choice became rather a luxury with titles like Black Warrant, Sergeant, Warrant, Cobra, Accident, Lathi Charge, Gunda Tax, all coming up for close scrutiny but it was a film by the name of Alarm (pronounced Alar-rum in local jive) that finally got the nod, the deciding factors being a quite mouth-watering cast consisting of Mustafa Qureshi in a lead role along with Najma who was well known for her saucy roles and uninhibited dances. These two supported by Bahar, Aslam Parvez and the glorious Chakori in a film directed by renowned sleaze merchant Daud Butt promised a treat of considerable proportions, especially as the film’s score was composed by Tafo and that it was shot in black and white which enhances the grit and grime factor of the entire experience.

Alarm starts with a village scene of Bahar in wig two sizes too large for her exploding with joy at the news that her son, the well renowned and much feared criminal Badshah has once again escaped from jail. The audience at this point knows through years (and hundreds of films worth) of association that any son of Bahar can only be a champion of the Punjabi soil. Bahar has made the role of the Punjabi anti-hero’s mother all her own and in countless films did she spawn the angry and vengeful Sultan Rahi, though oddly enough in Rahi’s most famous portrayal, the mother role went to Seema, probably because Bahar was too busy to supply dates.

Mustafa Qureshi plays Badshah with panache and style and in fact it’s fair to suggest that his infamous role as Noorie Nut from Maula Jat was a continuation and a slight fine tuning on the character he plays in this film. Alarm was shot and released a year before Maula Jat was made and in many ways, they tread very similar ground, but then, don’t most Punjabi movies? The plot here is not dissimilar to hundreds of other Punjabi potboilers – you have the personal feud and enmity that fuels the film, then there is the battle against injustice and the prejudice of the legal system and the police system that is stacked against the hero. The odds are stacked against our hero but in typical style he manages to right what’s wrong in a series of increasingly bizarre and unreal scenarios.

Alarm (1978)

Seasoned Lollywood character actor Talish has a significant role as the jail warden’s dim witted but golden hearted help. His exchanges with Mustafa Qureshi are well written and engaging as is his relationship with his rather imbecilic and overgrown school girl daughter Najma is well written. The father daughter banter is charmingly devoid of the gushing goody two shoes kind of love that is normally stressed to the point of nausea. Here the father and daughter spat and fight and bicker and joke, it’s all rather reassuringly normal even if her bursting into hi dance numbers punctuated by violent thrusts, swishes, jiggles and swishes are not perhaps so normal. But then what else is a Punjabi girl supposed to do to express her feelings!?

Chakori plays the tragic role of a woman who has to earn the money to pay for her father’s eye operation. She has to sell herself by night in order to stash away the money that will one day pay for the operation yet in a tragic twist of fate, one day her blind father feeling terribly cold manages to light a fire to keep himself warm but the paper he uses to light the fire with happens to be his daughters stash of money!

Wretched luck on the poor girl. Her luck does change however and later she can be seen rejoicing as she bursts into one of the films succulent dance sequences that give the term hi-energy a completely new dimension. Wow can be the only word to describe the pyrotechnics on display – breathtaking.

Anyway, the film winds down to its conclusion amidst loads of people jumping in the way of bullets to save others – vintage stuff really. This film has got the lot – it’s a cracking good no-brains entertainer with loads of the masala that make Punjabi movies like these so entertaining. Mustafa Qureshi is at his charismatic best as Badshah with a great quip “Lahore chhad deyan? Chhad deyan Lahore?” that was a precursor to his Maula Jat antics in many ways. The chemistry between him and Chakori is also palpably evident, another factor that worked so brilliantly well in Maula Jat where Chakori enjoyed the role of a lifetime as Qureshi’s psychotic, blood-lusting sister. Chakori had a screen presence and some fire which elevated her from the usual bit dancer type roles and she enjoyed quite a successful run as a character actress cum dancer – arguably the most successful of her kind during that era though Ishrat Chaudhary might think otherwise.

Najma in her Brittney Spears schoolgirl outfit looks and behaves ludicrously as is the norm for women in Punjabi films. She does the idiotic, brainless, bumpkin village belle thing with embarrassing ease. Bahar does what she was best known for – delivering one or two defiant lectures and standing firm in the face of adversity. The music is not one of Tafo’s vintage scores yet the dances are so high voltage and thunderous that somehow the lack of a heavyweight Madame Noor Jehan number isn’t felt quite so badly.

Daud Butt delivers a gritty, energetic, bristling with crazy energy sort of film that features some top-notch Punjabi style dialogue exchanges, rock solid performances, enough sleaze to keep the frontbencher from nodding off…who could ask for more! If only Alarm had arrived a year earlier no doubt it would have been far sleazier still as the democratic government had not yet been overthrown by the military and films tended to get away with quite a bit of sleaze. If only there was a director’s cut!!