chapter  8
22 Pages

Devotion or pleasure? Music and meaning in the celluloid performances of qawwali in South Asia and the diaspora


The incorporation of qawwali in Indian film requires critical attention and analysis. This chapter analyzes the affective transmission of Muslim musical genres, most particularly qawwali, focusing on the identification of difference in cinematic adaptations between traditional qawwali and filmi qawwali in terms of musical aesthetics, picturizations, thematic sentiments, general narrative contexts and overall representations. Other areas addressed include the transformation of the Muslim social from the 1950s in terms of its musical content and picturization; and the reconciliation of sacred and secular issues and their representations. While the Indian film industry may represent, sublimate or co-opt Sufi tenets embodied in the on screen qawwali performance, the diaspora consumes these images. The chapter, therefore, also looks at the affective transmission of these musical representations and how qawwali is altered by a cinematic experience geared for Muslim and non-Muslim diasporic audiences. In some sense, the imprint of Muslim and Sufi identity onto the Indian film

industry is so pervasive as to be indistinguishable from the film genre itself. Lyricists such as Gulzar, Nida Fasli, Mehboob and Jaan Nisaar Akhtar explored Sanskrit and Arabic poetic expressions of shringar and ishq syncretically, creating film’s signature melodramas set to poignant melodies of music directors such as Naushad and Khayyam. Contemporary music directors such as A. R. Rahman altered melodies and rhythms to incorporate Sufi elements into songs such as ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ from Dil Se, in which the incessant repetition of ‘Chaiyya’ in the refrain serves as a simulacrum of the zikr chanting breath required for trance and spiritual union with the divine.1