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Critique: Noor Jehan by Saadat Hasan Manto

  Ahmad​​ 7

When a person hears the word entertainment, the things which come​​ to​​ one's​​ mind are​​ movies,​​ TV series, songs, dramas, etc.​​ mostly in this era of technology and the internet​​ in which​​ all​​ visual modes of​​ entertainment​​ are the most common source of joy and are​​ generally referred​​ to​​ as the entertainment industry. In the United States of America, almost 180 million people watch videos online every month​​ (Camp).​​ As so many people watch movies and​​ listen​​ to​​ songs in just a month, it is not​​ strange​​ that movie​​ stars and singers get popular​​ among the people who get entertained by them.​​ Speaking of these stars, one cannot merely neglect Noor Jehan, who undoubtedly​​ has reached the​​ entertainment​​ industry's pinnacle​​ due​​ to​​ her singing and acting.​​ The article under consideration, "Noor Jehan," is by Saadat Hasan Manto and is taken from Manto's booklet​​ “Noor​​ Jehan Suroor Jehan." The booklet is a collection of short stories that contain Manto's memories of Noor Jehan when he lived in Bombay.​​ The article was translated from Urdu by Richard McGill​​ Murphy, a journalist and strategy consultant​​ who​​ currently writes for Fortune and Business Week.​​ It is considered that Saadat Hasan Manto is​​ one of the​​ greatest writers​​ in South Asian history who​​ usually​​ wrote about the brutal truths that no one else dared to​​ even talk​​ about.​​ Noor Jehan was a​​ Pakistani singer and actress whose real name was Allah Rakhi​​ Wasai​​ and was called Noor Jehan by her fans because of her awe-inspiring beauty. She was also given the title of Malika-e-Tarannum (The Queen of Melody).​​ In the article "Noor Jehan," the author​​ describes and​​ discusses the beauty of Noor Jehan and her singing by comparing it with others and giving narratives​​ from his​​ firsthand experiences.​​ From the nature of the article, it can be said that the​​ audience of the​​ report is the​​ fans of Noor Jehan and those people who are obsessed with songs and movies.​​ The purpose of this article is to make people know that​​ its​​ readers​​ know how much Noor Jehan is admired.​​ Although the author sometimes deviates from the topic​​ at hand and​​ is​​ somewhat​​ biased​​ towards Noor Jehan, however,​​ he​​ is​​ still​​ able​​ to​​ fulfill his intended purpose​​ by​​ using​​ personal narratives, simple​​ vocabulary,​​ comparing​​ Noor Jehan with a lot of​​ high-profile​​ contemporary and old​​ performers, and an out of the way ending​​ with a lot of examples of Noor Jehan’s admirers in the text.

 In the article, Saadat Hasan Manto​​ talks about how​​ famous Noor Jehan was and how​​ people, ranging from writers, cooks, barbers​​ to​​ even children,​​ were obsessed with her singing and acting. The author compares Noor Jehan with the likes of Lata​​ Mangeshkar, Nomi, etc.​​ and believes that Noor Jehan is far better than them and​​ is his​​ personal​​ favorite.​​ The​​ author also writes about a case​​ in which Noor Jehan was accused of beating Nighat Sultana.

​​ Manto wrote this article about Noor Jehan and tried to depict how much people adore Noor Jehan. Still, sometimes​​ he deviated off-topic, which resulted in the dilution of his message. One such example of this is when Manto started to talk about​​ the​​ sons​​ of Noor Jehan, namely Akbar Hussain Rizvi and Asghar Hussain Rizvi​​ when he​​ tried to describe how good Noor Jehan danced; while doing so, he went on a tangent and started discussing how Noor Jehan was worried whether her sons would join the entertainment industry like their parents – Noor Jehan and Shaukat Hussain Rizvi – and went on to compare them with the Kapoor family of Bollywood.​​ Also,​​ when​​ Noor Jehan refused to sing​​ in front​​ of Manto’s wife, Safiyah Manto, and her girlfriends,​​ the author, got off track and​​ started to discuss his temperament​​ and​​ hot-headedness​​ and discussed at length his stubbornness.​​ 

Although a writer should be completely unbiased​​ and should always provide a holistic​​ view​​ of the discussion​​ at hand, however,​​ from the article, it seemed as if​​ Manto​​ harbored a bias​​ towards Noor Jehan.​​ This is very clear from the fact that when Manto writes about the case in which Noor Jehan was accused of beating up Nighat Sultana, a rookie actress at that time, the writer did​​ not​​ take a firm stance and hesitated to give his​​ opinions​​ about this case​​ and found​​ an easy way out​​ by saying​​ that this case is​​ still before the court. It is​​ not right for him​​ to say anything about it. However,​​ the​​ author fails to discuss this issue in detail​​ as he ignores​​ the fact that​​ if​​ Noor Jehan was being trialed for scratching​​ Nighat’s​​ face and knocking her around.​​ Also, he writes​​ about Noor Jehan’s arrogant streak​​ in the article​​ and then justifies it by saying​​ that she deserves to be haughty because of her mesmerizing voice.​​ This all shows that Manto is not willing to​​ accuse or call Noor Jehan evil at any cost​​ because she is his​​ personal​​ favorite, as​​ evident by the article.

Saadat Hasan Manto has used​​ an effortless​​ writing style, no metaphors, and easy vocabulary in​​ his article, which conveys his thoughts more clearly and allows​​ the audience to effectively engage with the writing.​​ One cannot find any​​ problematic wording: the article's beauty because even a​​ layperson​​ with some basic knowledge can read it. The author talks in the article about​​ the many admirers of Noor Jehan; he does this by giving examples of cooks who​​ always keep​​ a portrait of Noor Jehan above the stove and​​ sing her songs when they​​ are preparing​​ food in the kitchen. He talks about the​​ servants who do not know anything about music or acting but still​​ are in love with Noor Jehan because of her beauty. They cut out pictures of Noor Jehan​​ whenever or​​ wherever they find one, and​​ then, they​​ keep staring at those pictures when​​ they are free.​​ The author also gives an example of​​ a barber​​ to show that​​ some of Noor Jehan's fans were so much​​ in love with​​ her​​ that​​ they could​​ even​​ die for her. The barber used to sing Noor Jehan’s songs all the time.​​ Once, the barber was questioned of​​ his love and devotion to Noor Jehan by his friend​​ and was put to the test like Mahinwal in the Punjabi folk story, Sohni Mahinwal, by his friend.​​ The barber replied​​ that you could cut any​​ flesh on my body you like the most. The​​ barber's​​ friend​​ cut a piece of meat​​ from​​ the barber’s arm​​ and ran away. The barber​​ fainted​​ because of​​ blood loss and then was​​ revived​​ in​​ the​​ Mayo Hospital​​ in​​ Lahore.​​ This use of simple vocabulary that barbers, cooks, and servants – people not typically well educated – can understand shows a substantial understanding of the audience.

Moreover, in doing so, the author has very beautifully used pathos​​ and played with his readers' emotions​​ to​​ make his examples and arguments more credible.​​ Manto​​ also​​ talks about Shahid Jalal, a​​ four-year-boy​​ at that time,​​ also known as Taku, the son of Manto's nephew and sister-in-law.​​ He writes about how​​ Taku is the most enthusiastic admirer of Noor Jehan, who lives in his house because Taku​​ always sings the songs of Noor Jehan and never watches a movie​​ not played by​​ Noor Jehan.​​ Manto then describes how, whenever Taku​​ sees a beautiful young girl, he calls her Noor Jehan​​ because he is obsessed​​ with​​ Noor Jehan’s beauty.​​ Also, it is the utmost desire​​ of Taku to marry Noor Jehan when he comes of age.​​ Manto demonstrated​​ that Noor Jehan always loved and cared for her admirers when he wrote about her reaction​​ when she learned about his infatuation with her and how she replied that she would love to marry Taku​​ when the grandfather of Shahid Jalal, Mian Jalaluddin, visited Shaukat Hasan Rizvi, spouse of Noor Jehan.​​ Saadat Hasan Manto sums up the article by saying that “And​​ then there's me." This can be interpreted as of all the fanatics of Noor Jehan; he is the last one because​​ he did not do anything​​ to demonstrate his love of Noor Jehan​​ like​​ the cook,​​ the barber, or Taku. Perhaps the author is ashamed of this, which is why he did not explicitly​​ write​​ this.

Manto has compared Noor Jehan with many​​ high-profile​​ contemporary and old performers​​ to​​ show how good Noor Jehan​​ was predominantly​​ in​​ acting and singing. Manto has compared Noor Jehan with Sehgal, Kundan Lal Sehgal, an Indian singer, and actor and is also categorized as​​ the​​ Hindi film industry's first superstar.​​ He reached Noor Jehan with​​ Lata Mangeshkar, an Indian playback singer who has​​ several​​ awards in​​ the​​ film​​ industry by her name, and Nomi, whose real name was Klaus Sperber, a wide vocal range. Saadat Hasan Manto has compared Noor Jehan with Nargis, Fatima Rashid, an actress with​​ many​​ awards, and Kamini​​ Koshal, another actress. She had earned several​​ awards during her glorious career. The author wants to express that out of all these, Noor Jehan is the best​​ because of her beautiful beauty and voice. At the start of the article, the author​​ used the movie Khandan,​​ an​​ Urdu​​ movie made in 1942, to elaborate how​​ stunning​​ and​​ beautiful Noor Jehan was​​ like everyone​​ after watching the movie​​ called her Baby because of her​​ youthful looks in the film.​​ The author also gives a narrative from his personal life​​ to clarify​​ how much mesmerizing Noor Jehan's voice. During the author's stay in Bombay, his wife, Safiyah Manto, asked Manto to invite Noor Jehan to his place because she wanted​​ to meet her and listen to her voice. For this, Manto asked Shaukat Rizvi to send Noor Jehan to his home.​​ When Noor Jehan came to his house, he asked her to sing in​​ front of his wife and his​​ wife’s​​ girlfriends. Noor Jehan made excuses because she was not willing to​​ sing. Still, after much​​ resistance,​​ she finally piped Faiz​​ Ahmed Faiz’s, an Urdu writer and a revolutionary poet, ghazal​​ Aaj ki​​ Raat Saaz-e-dard​​ a​​ cheer" [Don't pluck the strings of pain tonight].​​ The author says that he can still remember the “honey-filled voice."

 Concluding all the above discussion, whether a person reads​​ the article​​ with the grain or against the grain, one will always enthusiastically agree with Manto and his​​ thoughts about​​ Noor Jehan. Despite Mato being sometimes off-topic like when he talks about the​​ sons​​ of Noor Jehan or when he talks about his​​ nature and being biased towards Noor​​ Jehan, Manto​​ still manages to​​ deliver his message to his audience,​​ which constitutes​​ everyone interested in movies or songs,​​ successfully​​ that Noor Jehan is the outshining star among the contemporary and old stars of the entertainment industry by using simple and easy words. The author has managed to meet the text's intended purpose by using a fair deal of pathos when he talks about Noor Jehan's admirers​​ and​​ by​​ providing narratives from his life.​​ Thence, one can say that the author has done justice with the topic and with his​​ audience.

Works Cited:

  • Camp, Jeffrey Van. "180 Million Americans Watch Movies and TV Online Each​​ Month.”​​ Digital​​ Trends.​​ 20 Jan. 2011. Web. 18​​ Apr. 2017.​​ <http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/180-million-watch-movies-and​​ tv-online-each-month-in-the-u-s/>.

  • Manto, Saadat Hasan,​​ "Manto-Nama," Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1999. print

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