Night Club (1971)
Cast: Shamim Ara, Kemal, Aaliya, Talish, Zamurrud, Rangeela
Director: Iqbal Yousuf
Nutshell: A murder mystery set in the early 70s Pakistan of Night Clubs and evil western debauchery.
Night Club is a film shot at a time when the nation was transitioning between its colonial past to the fledgling independent state trying to find its identity and make its mark as an equal in the world community. The Night Club was typical residue of the Colonial era; the domain of the westernized elite or those who aspired to follow in their ways. Alcohol flowed and home grown Rock bands would belt out their tunes as couples danced to the latest craze that would drift along from the West. Handsome Pakistani men dressed in the best frills, bow ties and bell bottoms would dance the night away with their partners, also sporting the latest thrills, frills and cuts from the West.
The Night Clubs along with cinemas and other places where men and women could mingle freely were increasingly maligned as being part of a borrowed culture that was alien to the indigenous populace. A populace that was suffering an identity crisis and had lost touch with their eastern values and their roots. In the late 60s Pakistani cities were littered with “clubs” that catered to those who considered themselves to be the “new British”; the “Brown Sahibs” from Oxford and Cambridge as opposed to the home-grown Pakistani who spoke with a “bad accent” and didn’t have “proper manners”.
By 1970 the general perception of the elite and the Night Clubs, Country Clubs, Golf Clubs etc. were that these were pockets of Western influence that there was no room for in a nation reflecting eastern rather than Colonial values. Alcohol and Night Clubs were soon to shrivel up as Islamic influences and street power was increasingly able to coerce successive governments to bow down to their demands that Pakistani society and its identity reflect its Islamic values rather than those instilled by the British ex-rulers. Values were changing and the Nations identity slowly beginning to take shape according to external influences swirling around it.
Night Club stars Shamim Ara who was a major force at the local Box Office in 1970 following a string of highly successful hit films and along with her Kemal who was not quite in the “A” league of Lollywood actors but one who was striving to make the jump from being a popular actor to a superstar. It never happened and he remained a popular actor without ever enjoying the heights of popularity or success as others such as Nadeem, Mohammad Ali, Shahid, Waheed Murad and co. Part of Kemal’s claim to fame was that he somewhat resembled a superstar from across the border named Raj Kapoor and was even cast in Lollywood’s version of Mera Naam Joker with Kemal in the lead role.
Night Club starts off with the murder of one of its dancers at the hands of a bunch of hired goons. Kemal plays a private investigator who has the task of working out what exactly happened to the lovely Miss Zuby (Zubaida) who was a popular dancer at the Night Club but who has recently been murdered by an unknown killer.
Kemal and Rangeela, his bungling sidekick are hot onto the trail of the killer but who could it be? Maybe the mysterious driver with the shifty looks? Could it be a rival at the Night Club? Somebody who she was having an affair with? A disgruntled customer? Could it be the rich philanthropist with an unusual interest in the sleazy matters of the club? Could it be the evil eyed club manager? Bit by bit Kemal and Rangeela unravel the case but not before we are treated to long stretches of vintage Rangeela playing the buffoon; its only occasionally amusing. There are numerous club dances, mostly performed by the shapely and voluptuous Aalia while Shamim Ara provides the feminist angle, representing those “good girls” who are forced to work out of circumstances and hardship but who do not deserve to be degraded or marginalized as prostitutes.
The film is mildly entertaining even if the audience will work out the mystery of the killer within the first quarter of an hour of the movies start. Despite that, its mildly diverting with reasonable performances delivered by those involved. The film reflects a time of changing attitudes with Shamim Ara’s character representing working women who are judged negatively by society and Kemal whose morals are typically tinged by religion and thus stand in judgment over people who are forced into difficult decisions by hardship. Shamim Ara is only possible as a romantic partner as long as she is not dancing at the Night Club; her character sullied and damaged as long as she continues in this dubious line of work. There is no way he can “take her home to mother” and introduce her as a girl who dances at the cities sleazy nightclubs.
Not a particularly potent film in any sense but rather a snapshot of a changing society, changing values and the shift from the colonial past to a new identity as an Islamic State whatever that entails as well as a glimpse into Pakistani urban life in a decade of upcoming upheaval and seismic change.