Lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, fi­nance and fi­nesse is killing Pak­istan’s film in­dus­try. Bol­ly­wood’s takeover of pop­u­lar cul­ture is in­evitable.

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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.



Aamir The au­thor is an an­chor with ARY News, a lead­ing news chan­nel in Pak­istan

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