It was around three years ago when Munir Mani last went to Royal Park. It’s neither the chaotic traffic of Lakshmi Chowk nor the half-hour journey that bars Mani from roaming around his favourite place. It’s just the pain of his memories and the noise of printing presses that he wants to avoid, despite a strong urge to visit the area every day.
Mani is a former billboard painter who worked in Royal Park when it used to be the largest market of film-related businesses in Pakistan. Almost everything that he could relate to has vanished from the area. Workshops of billboard artists have been replaced by godowns, cinemas have been razed to make way for shopping plazas and parking lots and offices of film exhibitors and producers have turned into make-shift food stalls and eateries.
Mani is not the only one to be nostalgic about Royal Park. Almost everyone in Lollywood is. But the painter is unusually happy these days, planning to visit his favourite place pretty soon.
Like Mani, there is a hope for all those whose memories are replete with glittering images of Royal Park. After demolishing two food streets in Lahore, the Punjab government has finally agreed to do something concrete for the country’s declining film industry. In a recent meeting with the bigwigs of Lollywood, Member National Assembly and the son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza Shahbaz said he wants to turn Royal Park into a film street.
Details of the projects are still not revealed but in the first phase, Royal Park is being named as Film Street. More decisions about the features of the street will be taken later, a source told The Express Tribune. A notification in this regard is likely to be issued in a few days.
Those who contacted Hamza Shahbaz included film star Reema, Shan, Moamar Rana, Bahar Begum, Ghulam Mohyuddin, Irfan Khosat, Shazia Manzoor, filmmaker Syed Noor, Shahzad Rafique, writer Pervaiz Kalim, studio owners Shehzad Gul and Rahil Bari. The artists gave suggestions to improve the state of film industry.
The suggestion of making Royal Park a film street came from Syed Noor. Talking to The Express Tribune, Noor claimed: “I gave this suggestion to him in a meeting. All of us have very good memories associated with Royal Park and this will be a very good step to convert the place into a film street.” When asked how serious the provincial government was about the project, he replied: “They sounded very interested in the idea and Hamza Sahib assured us that a notification in this regard will be issued soon. We also discussed other issues like the need of equipment and upgradation of film studios with him and we are hopeful things will turn good soon”.
Lollywood history is replete with unfulfilled promises and impractical claims. A digital laboratory has not been established despite several assurances by the government and a grant of Rs50 million, which was to be released for the film industry, is still nowhere to be seen.
Many artists have the same concern. Talking to The Express Tribune, actor Moammar Rana said: “A lot of projects, for the revival of Lollywood have already been announced but not many of them have been completed. We hope that this project is executed and doesn’t just remain on paper.”
“Hamza seemed pretty interested in doing something for Lollywood. However, if we look at history, a lot of projects never got executed. If Hamza follows the tradition of breaking promises, I don’t think anybody from the film industry would ever go to such a meeting again,” said filmmaker Shahzad Rafique.
Mani, on the other hand, is willing to forget all bitter facts for the time being and enjoy the very thought of seeing Royal Park being turned into a film street. “This idea pleases me. I am not sure if this plan will ever be executed but it’s good to dream about good days. And that’s what I am doing... dreaming about Royal Park — a would-be film street,” a wishful Mani maintained.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2011.