Reviving Pakistani cinema
If you trust the international media, Pakistan is all about religious fanaticism, terrorism and the Taliban. But of course it is not! Young Pakistani filmmakers draw a different picture. Read More
There are today many young Pakistani filmmakers who want to show the “other side of Pakistan”. By “other side” they mean a Pakistan which is “normal” - a “normal” society with “normal” people and a “normal” culture.
Many of these young people complain that the international media only highlights the negative side of their country. Pakistan, they say, is in the news not for its extraordinary literature, its soul-stirring music and delicious cuisine, but instead for Islamic fanaticism, suicide bombings and the Taliban.
So a number of these young Pakistanis have set out to change that and show the liberal side of the Islamic republic.
Resurgence of Pakistani cinema
Until the late 1970s Pakistan’s was a vibrant film industry. But under the rule of the Islamic military dictator General Ziaul Haq, it saw a huge decline in the 1980s.
The new Pakistani filmmakers are apparently trying to revive the Pakistani cinema with a modern touch. In the past decade, many directors have made meaningful mainstream and offbeat movies.
In 2010, a London-based filmmaker of Pakistani origin Hammad Khan made an independent movie called “Slackistan”, which could not be released in Pakistan because of censorship issues. The movie was set in the Pakistani capital Islamabad and showed a number of young privileged Pakistanis trying to deal with the paradoxes of their westernized lives and the country’s bigger problems.
Sabiha Sumar’s “Khamosh Pani” (Silent Waters) in 2003 and Shoaib Mansoor’s “Khuda Kay Liye” (For God) in 2007, despite being explicitly political, are probably the pioneering movies in terms of initiating the movement of offbeat cinema in Pakistan. “Khuda Kay Liye” critically discusses religious extremism and was both commercially successful and critically acclaimed.
“Ramchand Pakistani”, directed by Mehreen Jabbar and released in 2008, also got critical acclaim worldwide.
Watch the trailers of the new Pakistani filmmakers on the next page!
Mazhar Zaidi, producer of the Pakistani film “Zinda Bhaag” (Escape), says that his movie shows the sub-culture of the youth of Lahore, and that it is a deliberate attempt on his team’s part to implicitly talk about extremism by presenting an entertaining counter-narrative.
“So many aspects of Pakistani society have been completely ignored because of the extremism discourse. Pakistan is certainly not a monolith,” he says. “In our movie, we show the lower middle-class youth of Lahore, their lives, their aspirations and the fun they have.”
“Zinda Bhaag” is a bilingual movie (in Urdu and Punjabi) – a joint venture of young Pakistanis and Indians, directed by Farjad Nabi of Pakistani and Meenu Gaur of Indian origin. It also featured renowned Bollywood actor Naseeruddin Shah.
Zaidi says that the new movies coming out of Pakistan are also entertaining. “Our movie talks about the issue of illegal immigration in Pakistan. It discusses the circumstances which force a lot of young Pakistanis to look for options to go abroad in search of better careers.”
But some film critics say these new directors have a long way to go before they make a substantial impact. Peerzada Salman, a cultural critic with Dawn newspaper in Karachi, says that he is not sure whether these films are powerful enough to bring Pakistani cinema back to life. “It is difficult to call these new movies a ‘resurgence of Pakistani cinema’. It is far from that. It is, however, a good sign that young Pakistani film directors are making films or intend to do so.”
Salman also states that most of these new Pakistani directors belong to affluent classes whose understanding of Pakistani society is limited. That, in his view, is one of the reasons why their movies cannot be called true representatives of Pakistani culture and society.
For instance, he claims that “Khuda Kay Liye” was not representative of Pakistan’s society: “Pakistan is becoming more intolerant with every passing day. These films appeal to a certain group of (liberal) people in Pakistan.”
May he be right, or is the resurgence of Pakistani cinema close?
Shamil did research on this topic for DeutscheWelle.