Evernew Studios in Lahore — the first studio to open in Pakistan following independence — is a place with immense historical and cultural value as it forms the foundation of Lollywood.
Apart from overseeing and managing the studio, producer, director and entrepreneur Sajjad Gul has closely been linked to the development and growth of Pakistani cinema and has kept a vigilant eye on it. As a film-maker, he may have been in hibernation but as far as the underlying transformation in the film industry over the years is concerned, he has played a major role.
“There are a series of events that can point to the state of affairs we are in today,” said Gul, whose father opened Evernew Studios and Firdous Cinema, Pakistan’s first cinema. He feels that although the studio withstood many years, it also unfortunately, depicts the inability of the film industry to innovate and evolve in terms of technology and infrastructure. In this regard, Evernew still remains one of the biggest and oldest studios of Pakistan.
He recalls that there were misconceptions regarding the circumstances and state the film industry was in, back in the day. “The studio is a commercial unit, like a factory or an outlet,” he said, adding that being an entrepreneur and a media professional at the same time meant that there was no return on investment. “Losses had started in the early ‘80s in Ziaul Haq’s era. This clearly dispels the popular notion that Punjabi cinema was commercially viable.” He said it was “easier said than done” to provide technology such as cameras, laboratories or even lighting equipment to the industry.
“Everything had to make sense. If we had invested Rs300 to Rs400 million about 20 years ago, we would have definitely gone bust much earlier,” he added. “We realised that in Zia’s era, cinemas were going down and the global film industry was also in decline due to all the technology that was coming out — televisions and satellites.”
While Gul has managed to keep a balance between his two roles, a studio owner and a producer, he feels that managing a studio is more like managing a factory and being a producer is more about “creative entrepreneurship.” As a producer, he also feels that he gained the title of notoriety in the early ‘90s following his Salman Rushdie inspired film, International Gorillay.
“This film was a clear signal to me and the film industry that people were no longer coming to cinemas anymore,” said the film-maker, who is revisiting the idea of making a new film despite his latest film No Paisa No Problem being a box office flop. “I am being honest that we wrote and produced fiction with International Gorillay. I was in London back then and the whole Rushdie issue suddenly erupted, so I thought why not express how we feel?” He added, “Back then people didn’t behave the way they did regarding blasphemy like they did recently [on anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims] — the sensitivities have changed and how people react has changed as well.”
Commenting on the cinema-going culture in Pakistan, he believes that within the next 10 years, the trend will pick up again and Lollywood would take control as a prevalent film industry. “New screens [theatres] are being constructed in Pakistan, so people who didn’t get the chance of watching films on big screens will now have the opportunity to,” he said. “Cinema-going was a habit we had, which we lost, specifically those people who were on average incomes.”
“In the next 10 years we can expect more than 300 new screens and once this happens, box office will revive — number of films produced and released will also increase,” he added. He also believes that one thing that has triggered the cinema culture in Pakistan is the availability of films from Bollywood, which is also thriving.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2012.