Revival of Pakistani film industry
By: Usama Humayun
ISLAMABAD: ‘Industry’ is an exaggerated word when spoken in reference to the current state of Pakistani films. With lack of technical crew and an absence of infrastructural support, output of Pakistani film industry stands frail – a stark contrast to the golden days of cinema that reigned supreme a few decades ago.
Dictatorial rules and lack of studious efforts to strengthen the film culture sent the industry down a spiral of gradual destruction as a result of which “Lollywood,” as it is popularly referred, stands in shambles. Gone are the days of romantic movies starring likes of Waheed Murad, Zeba and Muhammad Ali with chartbuster songs composed by Ahmad Rushdie.
That brand of cinema has reached its creative death and stands almost but over. But that’s not the end of it. While old cinema may have reached its threshold, the new age cinema has started spreading its wings thanks to young upcoming film-makers, whose love for the art of storytelling hasn’t diminished their passion despite the obstacles that come with pursuing a profession in film-making in Pakistan under current circumstances.
The list of problems start with funding issues and goes on to unavailability of technical crew, lack of equipment and absence of distributors or reliable distribution sources. While the idea of working for the big screen and being a part of the ‘film business’ sounds fancy in words, the truth is ‘film-making’ is an unprofitable business right now and one that requires tedious juggling. It is sheer passion, determination and perseverance that drive the film-makers of today.
Waar by Bilal Lashari, Lamhaa by Meher Jaffri, Josh by Iram Parveen Bilal, Gol Chakker by Aisha Lineaa and Shahbaz Shigri; the list of films due to be released in the coming year is a surprisingly long one and these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are several more in pre-production, scripting and production stages.
One commonality that these films share is the departure from typical Bollywood inspired films based on weak scripts, lackluster performances and complete absence of any substantial content. These films are giving rise to a newer, modern mode of cinema that is high on critical content which is more realistic and tackles current issues. One could argue that four or five films a year, don’t make a film industry but the truth is, we are at a juncture where we have to develop an industry from scratch. With minute individual efforts, a film here and there and unflinching support from press and film buffs, we have to kick start the momentum, cultivate the film culture and channel ideas. It will be a slow and tedious process but one that will take a massive movement with inputs by makers and audience alike.
“Ours is not a proper industry right now, but it is the beginning of an industry,” says Usman Mukhtar, an Islamabad based film-maker and actor, who also stars in Gol Chakkar.
But one could argue that all these films, under production right now, are composed of content very non-commercial in essence. Can we revive an industry when most of the work is unappealing to common lay men? Shouldn’t the focus be on making commercial films that appeal to the masses? Usman dismisses the notion by saying, “Every country has an audience of all intellect levels. Your audience will mature with time. If you start off at a low level then your standard will never improve. I am very pleased by the fact that our young film-makers are not being overly commercial. We don’t have an industry yet so we can mould it any way we want.”
Releasing films at foreign film festivals may rake in critical appreciation but the activity is pointless if the local audience doesn’t get to experience and appreciate cinematic endeavors of these film-makers. Most potent problems that these film-makers face are the funding and distribution issues — in a cash-stricken economy it is an uphill task to pull in an investor and the few distributors that do exist, are least interested in developing a film industry and more in making money. This is where multinational corporations and sponsors could come in. Instead of spending millions on mindless, trivial TV advertisements, they could help the film industry and these film-makers by sponsoring them. Take for instance the example of how alliance of “Coke Studio” and Coca Cola benefited both the brand and the music industry. It is the best thing that happened to Pakistan’s music industry in ages and Coca Cola, as a brand is more successful than it ever was and holds a sizeable market share in the cola industry.
Films are cultural archives of a nation. They document, project and channel cultural, social and political ideologies of a country and are resonates of an alive and active nation. Cohort endorsement is what our wrecked film industry needs right now along with sustenance, faith and backing on a national level. This is what it will take to pull it out of this state.