“Amar Akbar Anthony” is a classic Urdu-Hindi film with a star-studded cast including Amitabh Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, and Rishi Kapoor.
Rishi Kapoor in particular is absolutely hilarious as the flirtatious qawwaal Akbar Allahabadi whose name not so coincidentally is the same as a famous Urdu poet who worked as a judge in Allahabad, particularly well-known for his bold and fearless expression which earned him the popular title Lisan-ul-Asr or “Voice of the Period.”
The movie details the lives of three brothers who were separated during childhood and each was brought up in a different religion. Amar, as a Hindu, Anthony, as a Christian, and Akbar, as a Muslim. Although all three brothers have their stereotyped “filmii” religious characteristics, Akbar is particulary stereotyped, and because being Muslim is popularly associated with Urdu in India, Akbar teems with Urdu stereotypes.
Akbar is a total romantic, he speaks the language of love constantly, and this is what Urdu is known for. He wears green in almost every scene, an Islamic color. He also wears a tehmat (looks like a lungi) as well as an assortment of hats including a Turkish fez, embroidered caps, and a furry qaraqul. His profession as a qawwal is totally stereotypical, as if all Muslims go around singing in Urdu all the time. In fact, he sings the most songs in the film, with three of his own solo qawwalis.
I couldn’t help but laugh when Akbar writes in Urdu to secretly communicate with his adopted father, in which he declares he is writing in Urdu because “no one here can read it.”
The capstone is the “Pardah Hai Pardah” song, directly linked to the fact most Muslim women in India wear a veil and typically are not allowed in public without a veil. The stage floor is decked out with the typical white sheet used for performances and mushairahs. Akbar’s got his qawwali band. He wears a bright green suit, tawiiz or amulet, and hat. Behind him is a giant green heart with his name in Urdu. Akbar energetically acts out each and every word of the song with stereotypical qawwal-style clapping and dance moves.
Akbar has all of his necessary Urdu accoutrement. First out comes a bottle of alcohol, then what looks like a paan box, but actually has a rose in it. All the time he is singing to his beloved who is veiled in her burqa. Meanwhile Akbar throws around colorful veils on stage, then rips them apart. He sings to his beloved while looking at her in a mirror which is associated with Indian Muslim marriage. He shows the strength of his love by setting the stage on fire and then putting it out with his bare hand.
The qawwali’s lyrics are chock full of Urdu poetry’s stock vocabulary and symbols. We’ve got پردہ pardah “veil,” گلاب gulaab “rose,” پردہ نشیں parda nashiin “veiled one,” محفل mehfil “gathering,” رسوا ruswaa “disgraced,” عاشق aashiq “lover,” شاعر shayar “poet,” دامن daaman “skirt of the garment,” ظالم zaalim “cruel one,” دلبر dilbar “lover,” حسن والے husnwale “beautiful one,” خدا khuda “God,” and ستم sitam “cruel one.”