BOLLYWOOD WINS WAR
Lack of professionalism, finance and finesse is killing Pakistan’s film industry. Bollywood’s takeover of popular culture is inevitable.
Iwas introduced to Indian cinema long before it came to be known as Bollywood. Nothing visual though, just the lyrics. It was the late 1960s, and sentiments were murderous for all things Indian, after the 1965 war between the neighbours. My parents were mild- mannered and favoured political Sufism, but my late mother would reminisce about how her childhood was brutalised by the Partition, when she had to leave her home and friends in Jalandhar to move to Lahore, lest she was slain like her many relatives.
Strangely though, her anger would not extend to songs from Indian films like Mughal- eAzam or Parvarish. I remember her humming songs sung by Saigal, Lata, Rafi and Mukesh.
Then we learnt of Doordarshan’s plan to telecast Mughal- e- Azam in Pakistan in 1976. I remember travelling 240 miles to Lahore, where my uncle had to house and feed dozens of relatives who landed up for a week, just to watch the film. People gathered around TV sets in droves as Dilip Kumar, Madhubala and Prithviraj Kapoor enacted the Mughal love story in black and white.
The film lasted a mere 190 minutes, but triggered many stories among my uncles and aunts— of joy and jealousy, pranks and playfulness; stories of India, Sikh and Hindu neighbours, businesses and jobs in Lucknow, Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi, of times that were lost but memories that lingered. The hatred for India diluted a wee bit that night.
What began with Mughal- e- Azam peaked with the advent of VCRS in the next decade. Hindi films were banned in General Zia’s Pakistan, but millions of videos would nonetheless be rented daily. Parents would advise their kids on how Bollywood “vulgarity” was a Hindu conspiracy to weaken their faith and morality, but the young would find pretexts to bunk school or college, rent a VCR, and watch Amitabh Bachchan, the Kapoors and their leading ladies for as long as they could. Zeenat Aman was a bomb for obvious reasons. Sholay may be the best Indian movie ever, but Satyam Shivam Sundaram burnt many a male heart in Pakistan. Men would compete to quote dialogue, and women would wish to dress like their favourite heroines.
Pakistan remained shut for Bollywood until 2005, but the Khans retained the hold established by their predecessors. Bollywood may not have been very original, but in the absence of homegrown competition, it got a walkover. Studios once run by professionals were taken over by those who treated them as a money spinner. Stories were similar, but the treatment, tone and tenor of Pakistani films were so loud, cinegoers abandoned films as a recreation altogether. How could we compete, asked Naeem Hanif, a leading film critic: “As standards fell, investors moved away. Lack of finance crippled creative and technical initiative. A complete disconnect with international trends and taste led to a neardemise of the local film industry.”
Hanif’s opinion may come across as overdramatisation, but he is not entirely off the mark. The number of cinema halls in Lahore has dwindled from 70 in the 1970s to less than 20. Almost 80 per cent of those are rancid and dilapidated.
Pakistani actors are bitter about their vanishing prospects. They blame producers, directors, investors— everyone but themselves. “We’re but artists. It is up to those who employ our skills as to what they produce,” says Shaan, Pakistan’s premier leading man. Those within the industry can say whatever they want. The truth is, they failed to understand what the people want— an escape. Bollywood is effective at providing that escape. From the vales of Kashmir, Bollywood has gone global in finding locales for its films.
While General Zia would be remembered for banning Bollywood, General Musharraf could be credited for reversing that decision. In a country where Hollywood’s blockbusters have limited appeal because of the language barrier, Bollywood is now offering a vernacular version of escapist but populist cinema. Bollywood is set to bulldoze the leftover Pakistani film industry that has worked hard to commit suicide.
POSTERS OF PAKISTANI REMAKES OF BOLLYWOOD FILMS, IN ISLAMABAD
The author is an anchor with ARY News, a leading news channel in Pakistan