The posters are up and the word is out. Hopeful publicity campaigns have been kicked off in Peshawar to draw in large crowds for four new movies screening this Eid.
“It is during these holidays that most people will come to watch films,” said one of the producers, Muzafar Khan. “Our work has been severely affected during the past year due to terrorism and militancy, but it is going to be business as usual now.”
Although there has been a steady decline in releases during the past decade — with six in 2012 and five in 2013 — this year has seen seven releases already, causing filmmakers like Muzafar to sound hopeful enough for the future of their industry. Besides cinema, a dozen Pashto dramas are also scheduled for release this Eid.
Huge hoardings are seen erected on cinema houses once again in the city, particularly in Nishtarabad, which is home to most of the local film industry. A quintessential Pashto film hero glares down at passers-by from hand-painted posters, as his love interest dramatically steals her gaze. Many speculated the death of this industry when the socio-political situation took a turn for the worse over a decade ago. A walk down any Nishtarabad street will show ‘Pollywood’ still holding on by the skin of its teeth.
“No Urdu or Punjabi films are put up because of a lack of viewership,” said Muzafar. “This is what the people want to see, and this is what we show them.”
Among the films set to be released on Eid are Ilzam, produced by Muzafar Khan and directed by Nadir Khan. In the lead roles are Arbaz Khan and Warda Khan, an artiste from Punjab, said Muzafar, proudly adding that his latest venture has been filmed in high-definition.
Another familiar face on the Pashto silver screen, Shahid Khan, will be putting up two of his films this Eid. Azari and Jawargar will both star the ‘warrior-hero’ Shahid Khan and are directed by his brother, Arshad Khan. Music for his films is composed by a senior K-P musician, Shakir Zeb, and regular screenings will be held at the twin cinemas of Arshad and Sabrina in Khyber Bazaar.
“Jawargar has been produced following the latest techniques of film production that are used around the world,” said Shahid Khan. “Like all my movies, I hope for these to be successful and for a large audience to come forth.”
Next to Ilzam, the second movie that will be put up at Naz and Ayeena cinemas has perhaps the most formidable title. Da Badmashano Badmash – A thug among thugs – promises to be an action-packed flick that will keep audiences enthralled and at the edge of their seats.
As the name might have given away, though, Da Badmashano Badmash is not free from the routine violence of Pashto films. Like previous years, the provincial government had promised to establish a censor board, a claim that never materialised. This year too, Pashto filmmakers had to take their certification from the federal censor board.
“Only through good work can we attract our people back to the cinema houses,” said Waheedullah, who is associated with film production in Nishtarabad. “Otherwise, they will be converted to commercials plazas, like many already have.”
“There is no enthusiasm in the general public towards cinemas,” he added. “It is not only security fears, but the low quality of films that is badly affecting the industry in K-P.”
Grenade attacks on Picture House Cinema and Shama Cinema in February killed almost 20 people and left about 50 injured. Stringent security measures were taken throughout Peshawar and cinema houses shut down until proper safety arrangements could be made by their owners.
The attacks seemed to have instilled a permanent fear among the public and attendance at cinemas naturally plummeted. Whether the release of these four films is going to change that dynamic in Peshawar or not will be seen when the curtains are raised on Eidul Fitr.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2014.
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