Early in February 2017 there was a news item in a section of the press which stated that the government had decided to continue the existing policy to screen all international films, including those from India, in Pakistani cinemas. Apparently the communique had been issued by the Ministry of Information. Following the approval of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the federal government announced certain conditions for the import of Indian films which included the title and cast of the film.
Nevertheless every once in a while a news item pops up in the newspapers which suggests that it won’t be long before Indian feature films will once again be screened in the country’s cinemas. A frisson of excitement would then course through the veins of hordes of moviegoers who feel there is something special about the feature films that come out of India.
But the appearance of the movies was as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel. This was followed by a rumour that cable TV will be donating space to accommodate a few Indian channels. This has also turned out to be a lot of hogwash. If you, however, happen to be a member of the tribe who won’t be able to sleep unless you find out how Rani Mukherjee nailed the trigger-happy hoodlum who killed Jessica, all you have to do is send somebody to the Rainbow Centre in Saddar and you will be amazed at the many Indian DVDs you will find there. It is a veritable treasure trove.
But what our cable channels do is to pick up those Pakistani soap operas which appear throughout the day on the GEO channel to which my physiotherapist is addicted. When he arrives at my place the first thing he does is… switch off the CNN or BBC channel which I was watching and switch on one of the serials which is playing at the time. When he discovered his favourite soap opera Sangdil starts at seven in the evening he adjusted the timing of his visit. The saga features a bearded bloke who in the stills is dressed like a waiter, with white jacket, white waistcoat and black bow tie. He is seen posing with two women. One who had jilted him, soon after marriage, and had gotten remarried to a pretty lousy hombre; and one who he marries on the rebound who happens to be his first wife’s sister who is cold shouldered throughout the serial. The series is full of clichés. Marriages, divorces, wicked mothers-in-law, mental cruelty, a gigolo who is after the bridal jewelry — all trying to hog the limelight. Since my TV is directly opposite the place I lie down the physiotherapist has developed the technique of keeping his eyes perpetually on the screen while tackling the knots in my joints.
Coming back to the subject of foreign films, it would have been nice if the government had acted as a culture vulture instead of a political drudge and directors, irrespective of where they came from, were told to send in their best work. This would also include India. Mind you both India and Pakistan produce some darn awful films. But both countries have come up with exceptional work. India has during the last 15 years come up with some real gems. Mr and Mrs Iyer, Dor, Nobody killed Jessica, the Deepa Mehta trilogy, Jolly LLB, The Ankur Aurora Murder case, Queen, English Winglish, Airlift and The Lunchbox to name a few. Pakistan has to her credit Khuda ke Liye and Bol. And no catalogue can be complete without Jamil Dehlvi’s The Towers of Silence, created in the prehistoric days which are buried forever.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2017.