It’s time for Pakistani cinema to shape up

Published: June 5, 2013
Bollywood’s completion of 100 years should encourage our film-makers. DESIGN : ESSA MALIK

Bollywood’s completion of 100 years should encourage our film-makers. DESIGN : ESSA MALIK


Like many, we are a nation that takes pride in its history. But unlike other nations, we tend to live in our glorious past. Whether it’s being fascinated by the Ottoman Empire, in comparison to present day affairs, or the clichéd golden years of Pakistani cinema, we are only fond of our brilliant memories and lack the will to build new ones.

It’s probably time to learn from our neighbours; Iran for its cutting edge execution of neo-realist cinema and India, for its big-budget films, timely policies, adaptation of technological innovations, creating a successful environment for entertainment, producing the most number of films annually and of course, for Bollywood marking its 100 years in cinema. But instead, we continue to produce re-makes of Pakistani classics such as Aina and Armaan — screening them as tele-films and calling them “hit filmo ka super hit jor.” These do make us nostalgic but this only reiterates that we are stuck in the “golden era of Lollywood,” which barely ever existed; how does a child, who died in his infancy, have golden years?

Let’s be honest, there is nothing to be proud of. The re-make formula might help get sponsors in the short run but it’s not going to help our industry in the long run. If sponsors invest their money in one good quality feature film instead of numerous low-budget re-makes, things could turn around.

Right now it is the best time for the rebirth of Pakistani cinema — rebirth being the key word, not revival. The fact is that, the influx of Indian films brought audiences back to cinemas, and even films like Race 2 grossed Rs10 million in a month. This may sound like a conservative figure, but it is an achievement for us as we only have 90 to 100 working screens in the country. It’s time to target the expats and help the industry. There is hardly any profit margin with the number of screens present (all films don’t release on all screens either) and the industry can’t get back in shape without a profitable business. We have to make films that are at par with international standards so that regions like the Middle East, US and UK can become potential markets for us.

Is it difficult to make films with high production value? Not really. Finally in Pakistan, there are institutions dedicated to film and media. Some new film-makers have already made documentaries or movies which were screened at international film festivals, but failed to bring any profits to the box office. In recent years, institutes like National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) delivered talented actors in a short time and have made theatre a flourishing industry. If such institutes continue to grow, they can strengthen the foundation for a potential film industry.

Our movies should contain a mix of social issues and elements of Bollywood — a refined version of Khuda Kay Liye, Bol or even Chambaili. The rawness of our stories is our strength, but elements of Bollywood will help make a global footprint.

Bollywood’s completion of 100 years in cinema should encourage our humble beginnings and not our fantasies based purely on envy. We need to accept global trends and let fresh minds take over while crushing the idea to beat Bollywood — we are not at war with them. Our future depends heavily on our clear understanding of global markets. We can capitalise on the cultural and linguistic similarities of the Indian film industry, but without copying them. We have to get it right where they got it wrong, a different meal with a similar recipe. It will be a lengthy process to make our own independent identity in the global market, but at present, we should aim to be an extension of Bollywood — our distinct narratives will make us stand out any way.

With the first truly democratic transition and an attempt at formulating a national framework for film, we are at a critical juncture in the history of Pakistani cinema. It is well within our power to make cinema a lucrative business and a tool for social change. The experienced elders should lay a foundation that can be furnished by the coming generation of educated film-makers. Pakistani cinema awaits a new dawn.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • Mansoor
    Jun 5, 2013 - 9:25PM

    I may not be an educated in Film Making but nothing beats passion and dedication, If industry revises I will pack my bags and come back to offer the technical skills I have acquired over the last few years required in Digital Film Making.. from DSLR to Red, 2k-4K.. everything is digital its new Medium.

    Country is Filled with new talent, to begin with we can support the new film makers through Film Festival and Support.

    Pakistan ZIndabad!


  • CounterTerrorist
    Jun 5, 2013 - 9:42PM

    You want to be a baby of Bollywood.


  • Deepwater
    Jun 5, 2013 - 10:04PM

    For good cinema to exist and thrive, you need more than just the technological infrastructure and talent. (Technological infrastructure will come over time and there is no dearth of talent in Pakistan). However, good cinema will constantly challenge the farthest reaches of a society’s beliefs and norms. In other words, an open minded society is essential for any creative industry to thrive. Is that even possible in Pakistan?


  • Mughal Emperor
    Jun 5, 2013 - 10:13PM

    When did the Ottoman empire become part of your ‘glorious’ past? Both the Ottomans and your ancestors will be turning and rolling in their graves.


  • hmm
    Jun 5, 2013 - 10:25PM

    Spot on and timely!


  • Rahul
    Jun 5, 2013 - 10:36PM

    Pakistan is missing the most essential ingredient for any successful art form. That is the freedom of thought or expression. It is not money that makes cinema succeed, it is ideas. The reason for the success of indian cinema is not money, number of cinemas, cinematography, talented actors and actresses or the diaspora. It is the freedom to tell their story, whatever it is, even if some people don’t like it.


  • Vasay
    Jun 5, 2013 - 11:15PM

    Totally disagree with the first paragraph as those films were not released in cinema’s commercially and hence they cant be compared or put in the same category as Bollywood or commercial cinema. Also, it would be interesting to see if express network had aired this campaign and tribune would have made fun of the tag line :) and oh yes when express is involved in a films release e-g the reluctant fundamentalist then they even change their other wise logical research-oppinion questions to one like ” would you watch the reluctant fundamentalist” (page 2 of tribune sometime last week) .Now for the golden era part , Yes the pakistani film industry had a golden era not just once but thrice….the 50s ( santosh,sabiha,darpan,noor jehan,nayar sultana era ) the 60s till late 70s ( nadeem, waheed murad,shamim ara,mohammad ali,zeba Era) and thirdly 94 till 2000 ( babar ali,syed noor,shaan, mommar rana,saima Era) and all these were commercially and artistically prominent eras i-e chooriyan 16 crore buisness in 1999 and films like armaan,baji,devar bhabi, naila,dupatta etc etc . Sothe golden period was there :) .your angle with the pakistanis adopting a bollywood approach for global markets is what i completely agree with :)


  • Syed A. Mateen
    Jun 5, 2013 - 11:15PM

    People want to go for outing, more particularly to watch the new movies, but what stop the people from growing to cinemas is the growing Talibinization and bomb blasts.

    If peace will prevail in the country, cinema industry will not only survive, but it will also revive.


  • sid
    Jun 5, 2013 - 11:52PM

    its not boolywood its indian flim industry…………


  • Saira Minhas
    Jun 6, 2013 - 1:14AM

    This article is the biggest crap about nothing! The author mentioned nothing about the new young film makers from Pakistan & abroad who have ventured to make films. With restricted budgets and no help from local people they have struggled to get their films on the radar.
    A great example is the film Josh is a 2012 Urdu-language social drama Pakistani, written, directed and produced by Iram Parveen Bilal, she has had to wear many hats & drag the film to venues all over America & the world. There was NO help from our embassy that is stacked by cronies to assist Iram. People in Pakistan would rather illegally download films then support it by seeing it in the cinema, there are other talented films in the pipeline that the author ignored. Also original Lollywood was infected by shady characters and girls from respectable families did not venture but television slowly changed that and more great actresses are stepping into feature films bringing with them respectable creative talent. Rome was not built in a day neither is the new genre of independent Pakistani film makers


  • gp65
    Jun 6, 2013 - 2:09AM

    “Like many, we are a nation that takes pride in its history. But unlike other nations, we tend to live in our glorious past. Whether it’s being fascinated by the Ottoman Empire,”

    Ottoman empire? It is part of YOUR history now? First you were Persians, then you became Arabs and now Turks? Really?


  • Ek Tha Kashmiri
    Jun 6, 2013 - 2:15AM

    Being a actor and film producer ,what i feel is Pakistan have enough talent to beat bollywood to Hollywood but what we lack is Money which we dont have unfortunately!!!!


  • Nishant
    Jun 6, 2013 - 6:42AM

    I remeber pakistani comdey skits
    the comedy timings were ultimate
    like every other industry in pakistan
    the film industry is also plagued with nepotism and feudalism
    i got two words “syed noor”
    kick him out and there shall be better films rolling out immediately


  • hasan
    Jun 6, 2013 - 6:52AM

    “Like many, we are a nation that takes pride in its history.” Can author explain which part exactly? Fact that we lost 4 wars, fact that majority broke off to form a different country? Fact that from 20% minority in 1947 is less than 1%? Fact that 80% of our citizens go hungry to bed? Fact that 70% of time we are ruled by dictators? Fact that we are recognized as the global epicenter of problems? Fact that from needle to junk fire toys, we import by paying hefty money to the chinese? What are you proud about.. please explain?


  • lala
    Jun 6, 2013 - 10:09AM

    I think there was a pun intended at the ottomon part but nontheless the writer should have clarified and kind a agree on the golden years part cuz more or less all the stories like Aina etc were very amature plots at the end of the day and Iran-India comparisan is interesting!!Recommend

  • Gulam Rasool "Kuldeep sharma"
    Jun 6, 2013 - 10:30AM

    @Ek Tha Kashmiri
    Your name tells us that “YOU HAVE GONE”


  • nishant patwari
    Jun 6, 2013 - 1:30PM

    et abv comnt by name of nishant is mine,
    but as a indian i liked bol,ramchand pakistani,khuda ke liye,
    story were good,but u need better technology and camera for widr appeal,


  • Alami Musafir
    Jun 6, 2013 - 3:43PM

    Our actors and actresses are IMHO much better looking than Bollywood. Turkey is a role model which is close to Pakistani hearts, in so many areas. Why not in film & drama too ? And, if film and drama serve to educate while also entertain, then using the secular yet Muslim Turkish role model, would serve to reduce the religious bigotry and intolerance which blights our land.


  • Azeez
    Jun 6, 2013 - 4:33PM

    @Ek Tha Kashmiri: Ask TTP leaders and Jamat-udhawa leader Hafees saeed for money they have enough jehadi fund.


  • Bharat
    Jun 6, 2013 - 5:31PM

    I personally feel,the environment has to be conducive to films. In India, there has been a big
    growth of middle class since the mid 90s. The rise in the middle class gave a huge boost to our
    films. The economic growth will keep on happening and Bollywood will keep on becoming bigger
    in money terms.

    Its all the overall environment in the country. I would like to point out an interesting thing, in the
    90s and early 2000s ,the small and independent films (the wise movies) were a very small
    part of Hindi movies but now in 2013, many producers are willing to invest 5-10 crores to make
    sensible films that now have a big market due to middle class in India.

    Case in point is Kahaani which is a small budget movie but a big emphasis on script, 10 years back it would have been a flop but in 2012,the film became a huge hit

    Now, about 20 % films are sub 10 crore category and most of them will end up earning a healthy profit and i project that in 10 years time ,50 % films will be good story based with a reasonable budget and no stars.

    These films are very important to us


  • Jun 6, 2013 - 6:23PM

    There is no doubt that Pakistan has the population and more importantly the talent to succeed in the world of cinema.

    Ali Khan


  • Pakistani
    Jun 7, 2013 - 8:23PM

    we were not a part of ottoman empire but were very close to it that it influenced us, the fact that dynasties from the west of the subcontinent actually conquered the “Pakistani-side” of the subcontinent. Here are all the Dynasties.. can’t see Ottoman though!!

    Soanian People ~500,000
    Mehrgarh Culture 7000–2500
    Indus Valley Civilization 3300–1700
    Vedic Civilization 2000–500
    Achaemenid Empire 550–330
    Maurya Empire 322–252
    Seleucid Empire 312–63
    Greco-Bactrian Kingdom 252–125
    Indo-Scythian Kingdom 200 BC–400 AD
    Gandhara Civilization 200 BC–1021 AD
    Indo-Greek Kingdom 180 BC–10 AD

    Indo-Parthian Kingdom 21–130
    Kushan Empire 30–375
    Sassanid Empire 224–641
    Indo-Sassanids 240–410
    Gupta Empire 320–600
    Hephthalite Empire 420–567
    Rai Dynasty 489–632
    Kabul Shahi Dynasty 500–1100
    Umayyad Caliphate 661–750
    Pala Empire 770–850
    Ghaznavid Empire 963–1187
    Mamluk dynasty 1206–1290
    Khilji dynasty 1290–1320
    Tughlaq dynasty 1320–1413
    Sayyid dynasty 1414–1451
    Lodhi dynasty 1451–1526
    Mughal Empire 1526–1858
    Durrani Empire 1747–1823
    Sikh Confederacy 1733–1805
    Maratha Empire 1758–1760
    Sikh Empire 1799–1849
    British Indian Empire 1849–1947


  • Gaurav Vats
    Jun 9, 2013 - 10:13AM

    I agree with the above view depicted. Pakistani movies need to develop their own identity. However i think they need to focus more on local front rather than competing on global front, You first need to build its cinema name and then capitalize on it. if you go directly on global front it will be total disaster. I don’t want to be too critical but Lollywood cinema need to mature allot even “Khuda Ke Liye” have so many technical flogs. So after hearing so many positive review as an audience i am not satisfied and didn’t watch “BOL” movie after seeing such good reviews again. So, Don’t be bias when you are review something. I agree even in Bollywood we have so many bad movies which become blockbuster but Bollywood already made their name but Lollywood hasn’t.


  • saad
    Jun 19, 2013 - 2:11PM

    shift the film mundee from lahore to karachi like it used to be when till the 70s eastern film – a highly popular magazine in english was published here!
    just stop being arty farty and produce films not with the motive to win int’l awards and accolades in india, but based on originality which are aesthetic and entertaining for everyone (locally).
    but aesthetics have to be either from within, or the background of the director.
    notice most directors just don’t know what aesthetics are!! evident in local serials.
    for tips on air watch turkish serials.


  • abdullah
    Jun 29, 2013 - 3:09AM

    Bollywood is 100 years old, Partition occurred 66 years ago. What are trying to say?
    Pakistani cinema unfortunately does not perform as well as Bollywood does, but Pakistani singers such as Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are hugely succesful in Bollywood. I can say whole heartedly we have much more in common with India then any other country in the world, We were never part of the Ottoman Empire and never will be, Islam is a religion not a nationality or ethnicity. Please get that clearly through your head :)


  • Vivek
    Jun 29, 2013 - 9:52AM


    I can say whole heartedly we have much more in common with India then any other country in the world..

    Commonality by definition means SIMILAR MINDSET, which is not the case here. Today, we have nothing in common with you, and would be happy to be that way. An average Indian would not like to be associated with anything remotely pakistani.


  • @Vivek
    Jul 2, 2013 - 12:44AM

    An average Indian would not like to be associated with anything remotely pakistani

    Says Vivek, who just commented on an article by a Pakistani newspaper about the Pakistani film industry.

    Can’t we all just get along rather than try to score points by sounding the most petty online. I have Indian friends who would love to visit Moenjodaro. I myself would like to see my ancestral village. Please Vivek. Let go of this hate.

    A Pakistani.


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