{Cinema in Pakistan seems to be undergoing a turn around after nearly three decades of slide, hit by a prolonged Islamization. The essay below reflects on some of those trends which we too can applaud.}

When commercial films take over our personal lives, then it is time we took a hard look at the lay utterances of literary critics, that cinema only entertains, and does not influence our conduct or thinking.

The incident at Nahalgarh outside Jaipur when a man was found dead and hanging from the ramparts of the old fort, has added a new twist to the current agitation to stop film Padmawati from being released and screened to its patrons. Committing suicide(?) for a commercial film was never part of entertainment of any national cinema, but in India we have now done the unthinkable.

Yes,  film fans have burnt city buses, committed arson to theatres, gone on hunger strikes, stopped trains, and done many other stupid acts,  but suicide?

We Do take our cinema seriously.

And lately across the Border similar happenings are being reported if not to the extreme acts which we seem to specialize. It simply points to the fact that on the Subcontinent, all hearts beat together.

Our cousins in Pakistan for a change are doing things which we can applaud distantly in agreement; in this case it is cinema which is the chosen vehicle to set the masses to think of their society and  not the utterances of leaders, or in print. The winds of change in cinema of Pakistan are markedly different but equally impressive. Sad to say, the very mode of film trade between the two countries is cast in such a mould, as to prevent a free flow of ideas. We are more aware of the kind  and quantity of  armaments in the holding of Pakistani defense forces, than how the people eek out a living in an area which is threatened with economic disaster and deprivations of all sorts. And we have certainly not given a thought of what is the cinema entertainment created for the people.

Thankfully our cinema is not denied to them as nearly all our films made in  Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi are  being freely imported through official channels and screened in the 400 odd movie screens in that country. Only four films, Khuda Ke Liye, Bin Roye, Ramchand Pakistani and Bol have found any patrons on our side. Their latest good film fielded for the category of foreign film Saawan was invited and then not screened at the  IFFI in Goa, for being a Pakistani product. In our own way we have stated that the world is one family, except the guy who lives as our neighbor!

Even when about 40 films in five languages are being made in Pakistan annually, they still do not provide enough software to keep the local film exhibition trade running successfully. The theatres require more films to be offered to them to run the establishments for four shows a day seven days a week. Old Indian and local films, those imported from Iran, Egypt, Turkey and USA in the past kept the theatres running but did not draw the kind of frenzied crowds to make repeat visits. Only the films made in Mumbai created the dreams which film exhibitors dreamt. Local films occasionally also brought crowds to the theatres like film Aina (1979) which ran for five years in one theatre in  Lahore, but that was not enough to sustain a trade.

We normally associate Pakistani films as really third class entertainment fare, This view is buttressed by criticism of the local urban Pak viewers who visit us occasionally. But this is not the whole story. Pakistani film industry also makes its small percent of good films and there is also a rising New Wave Cinema which refuses to be ignored worldwide. It is this kind of cinema which will finally fill the image of the kind of cinema and enter the pages to the local film history books.

On our side, recent films such as Pink, Udta Punjab, Punjab 84,Neerja, Dangal, Chauthi Koot, Aligarh, Talwar, Happy Bhaag Jayegi, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Masaan, Sairat, Tithi, Bhajrangi Bhaijaan, Baahubali 1&2 et al have created niche for themselves. Across the Border, films like Ramchand Pakistani, Zinda Bhaag, Dukhtar, Bol, Bin Roye have created equal effect.

There was also been a competition to have a tit for tat activity in cinema. When  Mumbai produced Special 16 and later Baby, there was an instant reply with film Waar, a local real block buster, which was a good example of movie jingoism. This film suggested that RAW had a hand in the terrorist raid on the local Police Academy. When M. S. Dhoni: The Untold Story  was made, it was responded with I Want To be Shahid Afridi, an equally well made film.

But lately we can offer our shoulder to the Pak film industry for some worthwhile efforts which indicate that some young film makers are not afraid  to pick on subjects which should make  the audiences think twice of their political environment. Two films require special mention, which have seized the theme of local terrorism head on. They are Na Maloom Afraad and Jawani Phir Nahi Aani. The former mentioned film has its story in the tumultuous days of urban terrorism in Karachi, while the latter named film has tackled the problem of the futility of terrorism in North Pakistan.

Like we are facing the rather unique scenario of a mass preoccupation with Padmawati , our colleagues in Pakistan are equally in discussion with the latest film Varna, directed by the Shoaib Mansoor who also made Bol.

Verna is perhaps the most recent important cinematic document to emerge in Pakistan as it examines closely the various aspect of female rape. Never a subject to be talked openly, the film has issues of public concern which have raised the heckle of the fundamentalists and extreme conservative social order. Naturally, there are on- going demonstrations against the film release and the more extreme persons are seeking the head of the film director. Such stirring against films were till now reserved for films  under consideration for import from India, but now  as the winds of change are also blowing in our neighborhood, the outcry against film Verna is welcome from our end. After all did we not discuss the aftermath of screening of film Pink.

*The writer is a veteran film historian and author.

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