After 2003, the Pakistani film industry started witnessing a slow death. The country’s Punjabi cinema tried to keep up by producing 30 to 40 films a year, but by 2010, this figure had fallen to only about a dozen productions a year. During the period between 2003 and 2013, Pakistani cinema only saw three notable films emerge — Majajan, Khuda Kay Liye and Bol. However, all these films failed to pull the industry out of its state of oblivion. This was mainly because the number of cinema screens had fallen so dismally that getting adequate returns on the production investment out of a film just seemed impossible. In addition, it is important to note that these films were released three to four years apart from each other, and so failed to create the momentum that was required to revive the film industry.
The revival of the industry needed the release of quality productions in quick succession. The year 2013 saw the coma-stricken body of the country’s film industry flicker open its eyes with films like Chambeli, Mein Hoon Shahid Afridi and most importantly, Waar. In similar vein, 2014 saw the same body show some more signs of life with Na Maloom Afraad. And now 2015 has been the year in which this almost dead body literally jumped out of bed with a roar. Jalaibee, 3 Bahadur, Maya, Wrong Number, Bin Roye, Karachi Say Lahore, Shah, Dekh Magar Pyar Say, Moor, Manto, Jawani Phir Nahi Aani (JPNA) and Halla Gulla hit the cinema screens during the year and collectively ended up making 2015 one of the most significant years in the history of the Pakistani film industry.
This year saw the release of as many as 12 Urdu feature films. This in itself is a remarkable achievement. Pakistani filmdom needs the release of at least this number of films to make cinema a viable option of regular entertainment for our countrymen. Our avenues of entertainment, over the years, have only been limited to activities like eating out, shopping, hanging out with friends and family, and lately, watching Indian flicks.
Out of the abovementioned films, 3 Bahadur, Karachi Say Lahore, Wrong Number,Manto, Bin Roye and JPNA performed brilliantly at the box office and hence for the first time it is now making business sense to invest in this new age paradox of Pakistani films. It wasn’t just the critics or a selected audience praising the filmdom. The box office reacted brilliantly as well.
It should also be noted that Bin Roye and JPNA performed wonderfully well in the international circuit, something that has never happened in the past for Pakistani cinema. The box office collections of Bin Roye (Rs18 crore) and JPNA (Rs10 crore) gave us a glimpse of the huge audience for Pakistani cinema abroad.
On the other hand, Moor and Manto did the rounds in international film festivals and held audiences in awe. Pakistani cinema showed to the world that aesthetically our films can be as sound as productions of any other film-making nation (despite an almost non-existent cinema industry in the last 10 years).
All in all, Pakistani cinema in 2015 had almost everything for everyone. If for the art house cinema lovers there was a Manto or a Moor, then for the mass audience, there was JPNA, Bin Roye and Wrong Number. If for the kids we had a 3 Bahadur, then for reality cinema fans we had Shah. This kind of versatility shown in just 12 films is something to be extremely proud of.
Regarding the future of Pakistani cinema, local exhibitors need to increase the number of screens locally and offer an adequate percentage of profit-sharing on Pakistani films. They are exempt from a lot of taxes. They need to take advantage of this and add more cinema screens in the country. They should show some willingness to help this new wave of Pakistani films.
Reaching out to the markets outside Pakistan should be the next goal for distributors and producers. This can be a very hard nut to crack, but we need to realise that a highly lucrative opportunity awaits us. As for my filmmaker community, it does not matter if we make a movie for the masses or for film festivals as long as we are making films produced and made by Pakistanis. Some of us will rise and some will fall, but let us all give it our best shot. We all have a role to play in the re-emergence of Pakistani cinema.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2015.