February 8, 2009

Pakistani Cinema

Immediately following the partition, the newly found Pakistan faced a brain drain where all its highly talented and skilled workers migrated to India, including most actors and directors. Shortage of filming equipment further paralysed the nation's film industry. With much hardships faced, the new film industry was able to produce its first feature film, Teri Yaad on August 1948. The following year, Evernew Studios established a studio in the country which would later become the largest film company of the time. Over the next few years, films that were released reached mediocre success until the release of Do Ansoo on 7 April 1950. Do Ansoo became the first film to attain a 25-week viewing making it the first film to reach silver jubilee status. Recovery was evident with Noor Jehan's directorial debut Chanwey releasing on 29 April 1951. The film became the first film to be directed by a female director. As cinema viewership increased, Sassi released on 3 June 1954 reached golden jubilee status staying on screens for 50-weeks. Umar Marvi released on 12 March 1956 became the first ever Pakistani film made in the Sindhi language. To celebrate the success of these endeavours, film journalist Ilyas Rashidi launched an annual awarding event on July 17, 1958. Named Nigar Awards, the event is since then considered Pakistan's premier awarding event celebrating outstanding performance in various categories of film making. The '60s decade is often cited as being the golden age of cinema in Pakistan. Many A-stars were introduced in this period in time and became legends on the silver screen. As black-and-white became obsolete, Pakistan saw the introduction of first color films. In September 1965, following an armed conflict between India and Pakistan, all Indian films were taken off the screen from cinemas in Pakistan and a complete ban was imposed on the Indian films. Pakistani cinemas did not suffer much from the decision to remove the films and instead received better viewership for their films. Realising the potential, Waheed Murad stepped into the industry. His persona led people to call him the chocolate hero and in essence, he became the Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley of Pakistan. Following the civil war, Pakistani film industry lost its Dacca wing and number of cinema decreased rapidly. The period saw the exodus of more influential workers in the industry left for the newly found Bangladesh. This caused another serious brain drain since the partition of India. Veterans like Runa Laila departed for Bangladesh and the Pakistani industry was at the brink of disaster yet again. he mid-1970s saw the introduction of video cassette recorders in Pakistan and instantly films from all over the world were copied onto tape, and attendance at cinemas decreased when people preferred to watch films in the comfort of their homes. This ushered the birth of the film piracy industry films began to be copied on tapes on the day they premiered in cinemas. While the industry was revolutionising, Pakistan's government was in a state of turmoil. Aina, released on 18 March 1977, marked a distinct symbolic break between the so called liberal Zulfikar Ali Bhutto years and the increasingly conservative cum revolutionary Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq regime. The film stayed in cinemas for over 400 weeks at the box office, with its last screening at 'Scala' in Karachi where it ran for more than four years. It is considered the most popular film in the country's history to date. Following Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's military coup, he began to Islamicize the country and one of the very first victims of this socio-political change included the film industry. Imposition of new registration laws for film producers requiring filmmakers to be degree holders, where not many were, led to a steep decline in the workings of the industry. The government forcibly cloed most of the cinemas in Lahore. New tax rates were introduced, further decreasing cinema attendances. At the starts of the 1990s, Pakistan's film industry was gripped with certain doom. Of the several studios only 11 were operational in the '70s and '80s producing around 100 films annually. This number would lower further as studio went towards producing short-plays and television commercials and let the industry astray in the wake of cable television. By the early '90s, the annual output dropped to around 40 films, all produced by a single studio. Other productions would be independent of any studio usually financed by the filmmakers themselves. The local industry succeeded to gain audience attention however in the mid and late-1990s. With Syed Noor's Jeeva and Samina Peerzada's Inteha, it seemed the cinema of Pakistan was headed towards a much needed revival but naught attendance recorded at the box-office for later ventures ushered a complete and utter collapse of the industry.

Controversy raged over the filming of Jinnah in the late 1990s, a film produced by Akbar Salahuddin Ahmed and directed by Jamil Dehlavi. Objections were raised over the choice of actor Christopher Lee as the protagonist depicting Muhammad Ali Jinnah and inclusion of Indian Shashi Kapoor as archangel Gabriel in the cast combined with the experimental nature of the script. Of all the controversies and hearsay, the film proved a point that Indian and Pakistani filmmakers and actors can collaborate together on any such cinematic ventures without the ban being lifted. Later years would see more actors travels traveling in and across the border on further cross-border ventures. The year 1998 saw the release of Noor's Choorian, a Punjabi film that grossed 180 million rupees. Directors realized there was still hope and Javed Sheikh's Yeh Dil Aap Ka Huwa released in 2002 grossing over 200 million rupees (US $3.4 million) across Pakistan. The monetary prospects were then realized fully and for the first time in 12 years, investors starting taking keen interest in Pakistani films. However, the short period of successes in the industry could not keep the cinemas afloat, and the same industry that at one time produced more than a 100 films annually a decade ago was now reduced to merely 32 per year, in the year 2003, with only one partial success called Larki Panjaban] (A Punjabi Girl). In early 2003, young filmmakers took on a stance to demonstrate that high quality content could be produced by the local film industry using he limited resources available. Cinema was declining in all major cities of the nation and a need for revival was echoed in the media. With privatisation of television stations in full swing, a new channel Filmazia was broadcast, primarily to broadcast films and productions made indigenously in the country. It was during this time that Mahesh Bhatt, a celebrated Indian director visited Pakistan looking for talent, particularly singers who could lend their voices to his upcoming films in India. His visit to Pakistan was to attend the third Kara Film Festival, for the screenings of his film Paap in Karachi. Bhatt would later hire Atif Aslam for the soundtrack of his film Zeher and Pakistani actress Meera to play a lead-role in one of his films.

Geo Films, a subsidiary of Geo TV took on itself to invest in upcoming Pakistani directorial ventures and dubbed their efforts “Revival of Pakistani Cinema” and on 20 July 2007 released Shoaib Mansoor's cinematic directorial debut Khuda Ke Liye (In The Name of God). The film would later become the first ever Pakistani film since the imposition of the ban in 1965 to be released simultaneously in India and Pakistan. With its general release in India, the four decade ban was finally lifted. The film was released in more than a 100 cinemas in 20 cities in India. Another directorial début by director Omar Ali Khan, Zibahkhana aka Hell's Ground premièred at festivals throughout the world gaining repute as the ‘first extreme-horror gore flick’ and received accolade wherever it screened. The film ushered a revival in the horror genre for Pakistani films. The film would also be the first Pakistani film shot on HD. Where the horror genre seems to have been reincarnated in the industry, Freedom Sound, a science fiction film would use the computer-generated special effects for the first time since 1989's Shaani. The recent successes of issue-centered Pakistani films such has Khuda Ke Liye prompted director Mehreen Jabbar to come forth with her installment with the release of Ramchand Pakistani which marked the first true efforts of international collaboration towards the revival of cinema in Pakistan. Pakistani cinema is now reviving and fresh talent is being produced as we speak.


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