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Society Girl (1976)

Society Girl (1976)
Starring: Sangeeta, Kavita, Bahar, Ghulam Mohiudin, Aslam Parvez, Perveen Boby
Director: Sangeeta
Synopsis: Sangeeta’s searing social critique is considered a huge Lollywood classic

This film has by some inexplicable accident come to be regarded as one of the rare classics of Pakistani cinema and is spoken of in glowing superlatives to this day. It was released back in the mid 70’s – a period considered by most analysts of Pakistani cinema as being the crest of a “golden era” when new and sometimes even fairly bold subjects were being tackled on screen if only for purely exploitative motives.

Society Girl was the directorial debut of Sangeeta, who has gone on to become one of the world’s most prolific women directors with over 40 features to her credit – a list which grows longer with every passing month. Sangeeta plays the title role of the Society Girl, Ms. Juliana Wilson, a girl who is forced to sell her body to the highest bidder by night to support her ailing mother and her young sister Moona through an education. During the day Juliana works as a secretary but at night she is transformed into the sultry, seductive club going, chain smoking Society Girl. Julie stuns her captive audience on a nightly basis swinging and jiving to her signature theme

“Life,is a dance.
Lets Enjveye
Don’t Think Veye
Don’t be Silleeee
Come and Dance”

Unfortunately for Julie, whenever she attempts to present herself as anything but a society girl to her club going society friends she meets out right rejection. They are least interested in Julie, the broken woman with a hundred shattered dreams, all they want is their pouting, saucy piece of crumpet and once they have had their money’s worth, off these men go simpering back to their loving wives to play dutiful husband and father.

We learn that Julie’s life was turned upside down one day when she was just barely a teenager. She had gone to the local warehouse to fetch rice for her mother when she was cornered and raped by the owner. (sorta Roti, Kapda aur Makaan inspired).

The incident has devastating repercussions for the family as Julie’s father hangs himself in despair rather than face the shame of being the head of a family who has allowed the honour of their daughter to be compromised. Julie has to provide for her sick mother and her young sister and the only thing she has to offer is herself, and thus her descent into the flesh trade. But Julie also seeks escape and this escape she can only find in endless gulps of whiskey which she just cant get enough of….”get fast” being her normal exhortation to the astounded barman who warns Julie that she will kill herself if she keeps going the way she is, to which Julie responds that that is precisely why she drinks so much, so that she can end all the misery.

Julie finds some solace and understanding in the shape of another broken hearted soul (Gullu) who is hanging out at the club looking terribly glum faced. Ghulam Mohiuddin’s character is one who is trying to recover from the devastating loss of his wife (Nisho) who apparently drowned in a stream after a riding accident. Gullu and Julie strike up a deep understanding and he seems to be the only person who values Julie for what lies within rather than the saucy tart on the exterior. The film builds to a terrific climax as Julie’s church going sister (Kavita) who had been her fiercest opponent now promises to get help for her ailing sister by going to the very club and selling her soul but Julie herself rises from her death bed (rotting liver and all) and returns to the club to beg one of her customers consider her as a bride, not for the usual one night, but for time to come. She is mocked relentlessly by the shallow clubbers…once a Society Girl, always a Society Girl they remind her……….a keep is the best offer she manages to evoke, but no genuine sympathy.

Will Juliana fail to stop her younger sister following in her sordid steps to the club or will poor Kavita end up as yet another victim of the ghastly club society.

The film is a Sangeeta show all the way and she does a great job as Juliana Wilson giving a captivating performance as the doomed Society Girl – the bad girl with a good heart. Kavita was still in her gormless, moronic days and her dialog delivery is painfully sorry. Bahar coughs and splutters rather effectively in her role as the kind hearted, forgiving mother of Julie and Moona (Kavita). Ghulam Mohiudin does well as the dashing but tragedy struck businessman and Nisho’s is just a very brief appearance.

Aslam Parvez is simply superb as the slimy, suave club going businessman who is vileness personified. Perveen Boby excels as the sidekick Society Girl and provides a scintillating dance later in proceedings.

It’s a woman dominated movie all the way with a potent message for a society riddled with double standards. The songs are mostly top notch and include the smash hits Life is a Dance as well as Andaaz Wohi Apnaya Hai and Tere Qadmon main all major hits of their time as was the film itself which celebrated a golden jubilee all over the country. Sangeeta shows considerable promise as a director and manages to keep the movie from getting too bogged down with a strong sense of narrative. Unfortunately she doesn’t appear to have improved in 25 years of film making and this film suggests that she has deteriorated considerably over time.

However in its favour is the fact that this film is somewhat of a convention breaker in that there is really no attempt in providing the obligatory romantic formula at all which is somewhat refreshing. Nevertheless to call the film a classic would be surely pushing the bounds or generosity just a tad. The film is efficiently put together and carries a potent message (?), but worthy of classic status means that the rest of Lollywood fare must really be the dregs.

Incidentally, Society Girl was scripted by a youthful Syed Noor while the fabulous outfits were designed by a designer by the name of Mrs. Habib Fitwell!

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