The struggle has paid off – the Pakistani film industry is finally awake

Improving upon mistakes all the while encouraging young talent can be the foundation on which the industry can prosper

Anus Miftah July 27, 2016
There is certain redemption in resurgence. A feeling of hope and of renewal, of things starting anew, of setting the old wrongs right. Pakistani cinema has come up by leaps and bounds in the last few years.

From a struggling franchise engulfed in out-dated ideas desperately clinging on in order to survive and become a booming industry reminiscent of the golden days and a slight peek into the wondrous possibilities that lie ahead. Pakistani cinema has finally arrived and as a keen devotee of this resurrection it is apparent that the film industry is here to stay.

Although the current situation resembles a bed of roses, not long ago it was a reflection of a barren lifeless orchard that had been left to dwindle and wither away. During 2003 and 2013, only a handful of cinematic productions took place. Low quality in terms of production, acting and direction reduced the industry to ruins. The diminishing number of production houses led to low receipts that significantly contributed to this downturn, eventually perpetuating a vicious cycle that threatened to deluge the industry into oblivion.

However, in 2014 and the years that have followed, the industry reinvented itself. Crowd pleasers like Jawani Phir Nahi Ani (2015) and Na Maloom Afrad (2014) appealed to the masses accumulating record collections in cinema houses all over the country.

For many detractors though, this upturn in fortune had been achieved at an astounding cost. The industry had sold its soul to the devil and had become a sell-out, but then came Manto (2015) and Moor (2015). The duo introduced new standards of acting and direction that had never been seen before in the industry, so brilliant in their execution that everyone was taken back. The controversially nuance poet was brought to life with his plays, a tearful yet eye opening journey was revealed for all to see – something that had not been divulged before but had been done so beautifully that no one could argue that it was not worth the wait.

However, success thrives on continuity rather than on resting on one’s laurels. It was imperative for the industry to further extend this run that had people flocking to cinema houses once again; a welcome sight for sore eyes and a vision that for most part of the last decade seemed implausible. What followed were stories of friendship and of romance, of estranged love and of war that had people clambering for tickets. More so the success of the industry is a reflection of all those that are a part of it.

With Pakistani films doing exceedingly well on local and international platforms, technicians and actors have been in high demand ever since. Numerous singers and actors have made the inauspicious journey across the border. Fawad Khan, with his heart throbbing looks and renowned acting skills has entranced Indian audience, while actresses such as the gorgeous Mahira Khan has left everyone drooling at her natural charisma and beauty – a reflection of the abundance of talent that resides behind these troubled borders.

However, as any keen critic would postulate, it is paramount that we look through this veil and analyse as to what is happening at the grass roots.

While talking to a keen cinema enthusiast, who has been associated with the industry for most of his life, he said the real emergence lies in schools and universities that are the true building blocks of this revolution. He cited how universities used to be breeding grounds for cinematic brilliance. How writers, directors and actors grew and evolved in an environment that was hospitable to their creative desires.

However, ever since the 80s and even today, state restrictions and narrative coupled with increasing religious fanaticism in educational institutions has emasculated this approach and the consequences of which still haunt us as a nation.

What resulted was a severe dearth of quality writers, artists and film makers that gave rise to the capitulation of the industry itself. More so among the numerous problems that the industry faced and still does is the lack of funding available to adventure into new avenues. What ensued was the use of obsolete technologies and indigent payoffs to writers, technicians and artists, thus consequentially leading to a crippling of the whole network upon which the film industry functions.

Perhaps the most profound effect is the fact that despite the upturn in recent years, our film industry is still light years behind Bollywood or Hollywood. New and evolving methodologies, ingenious scripts (more so in the case of Hollywood) and most importantly professionalism have sent quality and revenues through the roof. Access to worldwide audiences and considerable star appeal significantly contributes to their upturn and is an aspect that our local industry severely lacks.

As an inquisitive observer of what has been cooked up by the industry, I sincerely believe that despite the recent upturns, the industry and its constituents have a long way to go. It is vital for the industry to not trade stimulating and challenging scripts and projects for idiotic and vulgar sell-outs that, at best, leave a bitter taste in the viewer’s mouth.

Maintaining a sense of uniqueness while being open to outside influence is in my opinion, the cardinal factor that will determine the future for our industry. However, more so it is perhaps how the industry handles this upsurge in fortune that will eventually decide if it will bear fruit. As a nation, we have often been accused of taking a back-step when what was required was to take control and move to the next level.

Continuous improvements are essential in terms of quality, writing and acting. The small screen has already mirrored the success that our entertainment industry can accumulate. Learning from their blueprint and improving upon their mistakes, all the while encouraging young talent, can be the foundation upon which the industry can prosper.

A welcome change in this regard is the approach adopted by the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). LUMS as the only established liberal arts institute in Pakistan has been a heretic and a safe haven for creative enthusiasts since its inception. Leading this thought process is the LUMS Media and Arts society or LMA. Evolving and getting bigger every year, the society spearheads numerous projects throughout the year. Ranging from dramatics to film making, the society takes a keen interest in what it assumes to be its responsibility in aiding the development of future artists by providing avenues to showcase their work.

Perhaps their most riveting projects include the Filums (LUMS International Film Festival) and the documentary on the majestic hills of northern Pakistan that is to be released soon. Filums – hosted annually by the LUMS Media Arts Society (LMA), is one of the largest student-organised film festivals in South Asia.

It serves as an important platform for the youth, upcoming filmmakers and enthusiasts to showcase their talent and come together to celebrate their passion. Filum brings together both amateur and aspiring filmmakers and experts of the field resulting in a nourishing and fulfilling experience for those involved. Although small in comparison to what the society envisions, for it to grow over the coming years, programs such as this, amongst others, mean LUMS has taken the first step towards a long, albeit rewarding journey ahead.
Anus Miftah The author is a student at LUMS. He is a keen writer and cinematic onlooker.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Satsang | 4 years ago | Reply When I was in India, I was mostly ignorant about Pakistani entertainment industry except movies like 'Khuda kay Liye' and Pakistani actors who were getting roles in Bollywood. So far so good. I've been living abroad for last 2 years. So, I'm kinda pro-Pakistani :) I have been watching a lot of Pakistani movies lately. In doing so, I have come across a lot of vulgar Mujra songs from Lollywood, mostly Punjabi, but also a few Sindhi songs. Even though the girls are fully-clothed (unlike Bollywood), the dance moves have shocked my sensibilities. I thought Pakistan was an Islamic country but those dances I cannot bear to watch even alone (maybe because I am a little prudis) let alone with family members or in the presence of girls. I cannot erase the thought of those mujra moves. It seems they are fairly common. Maybe I'm ignorant and those vulgar dance moves are from a bygone era in the 80s and 90s. Most middle-class Indians will be shocked by Lollywood's vulgarity. I hope they have improved their standards now, and movies like Khuda Kay Liye are the new production benchmark. (p.s - One small question? Do Pakistani Punjab men attend Mujras like that frequently? In India, only very low class men attend Mujras. Thank you.)
Umair Chaudhry | 6 years ago | Reply The Question remain unanswered. I am quoting it again for your convenience. "How many controversial topics does Bollywood tackle each year with the 1600 films they make?" you can ignore the counting.
Nikhil Panikkar | 6 years ago How many do you want? - just one of many.
ak | 6 years ago Perhaps you like to write but dont spend time reading. Read Gp65's reply just above this comment. Movies to Gujarat riot, Kashmir as well as Bhagalpur riot , gays, movies even mocking hindu gods in last couple of years just in Hindi. Go to regional , you will find movies analyzing both sides of Naxal movement (Specially in Bengali), lesbianism, caste issues etc. Perhaps time to start understanding Indian society that it is not monolithic and much more open and progressive due to its varied constituents?
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