The night club songs of Nahid Akhtar, the Asha Bhosle of Pakistan

By Nate Rabe

Introducing the woman who gave the world ‘Hello Madam Disco’ and ‘Some Say I Am Sweety’.

Nahid Akhtar came onto the music scene in Pakistan in the mid-1970s, first on the small screen but finding her true space on the much grander sets of the Lahore film industry. After the 1971 war, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh and a horrible period of national crisis in Pakistan, the best Bengali artists left Pakistan to support their fledgling new nation.  Among those was Runa Laila, a popular singer who had carved a niche for herself in the performance of upbeat, jolly film songs. Nahid, still a teenager, stepped boldly into her shoes.

Her first performances on state TV were well received but nothing compared to the sensation she created with the early film songs.  With Runa no longer around, music directors like M Ashraf were in need of someone to provide the vocals for the night club-loose woman-love struck “item” numbers that made the films of both Pakistan and India so distinctive between the 1960 and 1980s.

Kisi Mehrban Ne
From Shama

Shama was Nahid’s second film and this song the one that really shot her into the hearts and onto the lips of Pakistanis.

Hello Madam Disco
From Mohabbat Ho To Asii Ho

Not a huge hit as a film, this song nevertheless is a gem. It deserves to be included in an ultimate collection of South Asian “night club songs”. Some fancy guitar runs keep the beat moving while Nahid delivers on what has to be one of the quaintest disco scenes in South Asian cinema.

Disco Hangama
From Quli

Another raucous disco number with multiple women in not-very-revealing shalwar qameez outfits. The outrageous false facial hair of the villains adds a bit of unintentional hilarity to what is supposed to be quite a sexy episode. Through it all, Nahid’s strong Punjabi vocals keep the song from completely derailing.

Badami Naino Wale
From Zanjeer

Karachi was once upon a time a gambling and whiskey haven for Gulf sheikhs until Zulfikar Ali Bhutto clamped down on the scene to appease the local mullahs. This scene from the 1975 film Zanjeer captures that now-lost Pakistani era perfectly. Nahid Akhtar was still in her teens when she sang this song. Songs like this eventually saw Nahid push aside the queen of Pakistani film music, the mighty Noor Jehan, to claim the top spot in film-goers hearts.

Some Say I Am Sweety
From Kora Kaghaz

Pakistani films (such as Kora Kaghaz) often bore the same names as some of the big hits made across the border in India. The local cinema was never as popular as Bollywood and by the early 1960s Indian product was banned from local cinema halls. This allowed Lollywood to develop a bit of its own identity and stars like Mohammad Ali and Zeba to build big followings. It also allowed Nahid Akhtar’s voice to emerge as strongly as that of Asha Bhosle, her most obvious alter ego in India. Here, Nahid demonstrates her capacity to handle an English number with a lilting pop (rather than Punjabi) sensibility.

This article was first posted in Scroll.

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