PESHAWAR: Eidul Fitr is a holiday which is a popular time for movies.and movie goers It is a time when audiences throng cinema houses for a few hours of entertainment together with their families while filmmakers target it for the windfall the extended holiday brings in a bid to recuperate costs as quickly as possible.
With as many as five new Pashto films released on Eid this year, they attracted a large crowd to the cinema houses.
The five films include some peculiar names such as Zadi aw Badmash, Kashar Khan Loafer De, Nemgary Arman, Zandaan and Paidageer.
Most of the films had the same actors with similar plots, but for the youth hailing from villages around the city, the cinema was the only source of entertainment and they took whatever was on offer.
Besides Peshawar, the Pashto language films were also screened at a cinema in Swat.
Pashto films were also exhibited at two cinemas in Karachi — Nasheman and Musarat.
However, it was in Peshawar where the films resonated the most with the audiences with the box office swamped.
In fact, cinema-owners in Peshawar all but abandoned plans to screen movies in other languages — whether it was of the locally produced ‘Lollywood’ variety or from Bollywood.
“For cinemas, Eid is the only occasion when they can really earn some money,” said Rehan, the manager of the Capital Cinema in Peshawar.
“Despite all the negative connotations associated with Pashto cinema, a lot of youngsters come out to watch films at every cinema [on Eid],” he says.
Rehan’s cinema is screening Nimgary Arman which is propagated as a film with a different story and does not adhere to the theme of violence common in Pashto films.
The film features veteran Pashto actor Arbaaz Khan in the lead role while Jahangir Khan plays the antagonist. The film also features senior film artist Asif Khan.
Critics have long slammed Pashto films for their obscenity, lack of story depth, clichéd dialogues, and a visual monotony that has done more to drive audiences away from cinemas.
Curiously, filmmakers believe that it is the cinema-owners who want vulgar and violent films so that they can attract audiences.
“I’ve spent millions on making a good film. But on Eid, no one was ready to screen it until some songs or violent scenes were added,” said a filmmaker who did not wish to be named for fear of offending cinema-owners.
Moreover, the environment at cinema houses, where the air hangs heavy with hashish smoke has also discouraged families from heading to cinemas. The dwindling profits have thus impacted the industry’s ability to improve quality, both at the film level and at the cinema level.
Another critique of Pashto films is its heavy dose of male chauvinism where both, the protagonist and the antagonists are mostly men.
Moreover, there are no real Pashto female actors since producers prefer to engage female stage actors from Lahore for their movies.
The role of women in Pashto film is little more than that of ‘a dancing girl’.
“The condition is certainly very poor, we accept it,” said Shahid Khan, a leading film actor who also produces Pashto films under the banner of Shahid Films. He also owns Arshad Cinema, which was set up by his father and one of the first people to start producing Pashto movies.
“We have produced films in very difficult times which the province has experienced over the past two decades,” Shahid said.
He believes that despite the difficult conditions and absence of support from the government, they have tried to keep the Pashto film industry afloat, fully aware that it provides an important source of entertainment to the people — even if few watch it.
Shahid said that they desperately require a provincial cultural policy — since the subject had been devolved to the province after the eighteenth amendment.
Moreover, he stressed on their oft-repeated demand to form a robust censor board.
Shahid’s cinema screens Kashar Khan Loafer de, which features him alongside Babark Shah and two senior artists Tariq Jamal and Asif Khan. The movie has been directed by his brother Arshad.
While Shahid used to feature in several films come Eid time, this year it is Arbaaz Khan who has starred in leading roles in three films, including Zadi aw Badmash, Zandaan and Paidageer along with famous actor Jahangir.
The actor, though, laments that the industry is bleeding talent and that his is one of the few families who are still hedging their bets on it, for the moment at least.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2018.