By Adnan Murad
So far, this year has been quite tasteful for Pakistani cinema. We have had releases that were rollicking fun (Parchi), portrayed animated characters intelligently (Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor), honestly brought the absurdist theory of life to silver screens (Azad), highlighted dynamics of a dysfunctional family using elements of drama and black comedy simultaneously (Cake), empowered youth by sharing inspiring real-life stories (Motorcycle Girl) and experimented with magical realism (7 Din Mohabbat In).
I must add that this kind of mix for a film industry that is still in its first stage of revival is not ordinary; however, there are many points that, as an industry, we can work on to produce more content-driven films.
There is a lot that filmgoers can forgive in a production—from a weak plot to continuity errors—but one of the hardest to ignore is when a film-maker chooses the wrong people for playing significant roles in a certain film.
Genuinely refreshing casting decisions can create magic on the screen (Sabreen Hisbani in Azad, Beo Zafar in Cake and Daniyaal Raheel in Motorcycle Girl); they can save a fairly mediocre film or carry a considerably good one, and shine even when the film around them has a paper-thin plot. Fine actors can, at least, make a film watchable.
What, then, are Pakistani film-makers doing?
Generally, the casting decisions for major films have been better this year. But there is something that has to be taken into consideration: casting seasoned actors in supporting roles and then not giving them enough scope to show their range (Samina Peerzada and Shamim Hilali in Motorcycle Girl) is something that must be avoided by creating solid character arcs for such roles.
Giving attention to a role’s driving force and underlying motivations can help in development of real people on screens (Aamina Sheikh’s Zarene in Cake). They, eventually, become a part of our lives; we care for them, think for them and get upset when they are hurt.
Representation of cities
Let me make one point very clear: representation of cities is not equal to fancy vacation photography—courtesy of drones. It is much more than that.
In our films, we are not telling the stories of the cities we live in. These are the cities that shape our personalities. They live within us no matter what part of the world we are in. Unfortunately, the spirit of our cities is not adequately brought to life in our films and they are merely reduced to stereotypical backdrops, divided by differing accents and infrastructures.
The best example that can be reviewed as a case study by film-makers is Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi’s Zinda Bhaag (2013) that transported us to a milieu of red-bricked houses in the narrow alleys of Lahore. In one of my pieces, I wrote:
“… Lahore accomplishes something very, very close to its real personal identity in Zinda Bhaag, which is in itself an achievement.”
In this year’s releases, Asim Abbasi’s Cake stood out in truly depicting the mood and spirit of Karachi.
Let’s get to the main point now and ask ourselves: can we portray our cities in the light that they really deserve?
Having said that, it is the need of the hour to look at our cities in a deeply philosophical way to tap their elusive allure. We must realise that the Pakistani film industry’s strategic planning has to be more rational in the depiction of physical spaces if it is to play an important role in shaping the future of our country.
Experimenting with new genres
Pakistani film industry is undergoing a change as the new breed of film-makers is now experimenting with fresh genres.
Some film-makers are still focusing on mainstream content that led to Lollywood’s (the Lahore-based entertainment industry) decay in 1990s; on the other hand, there are film-makers who are trying to turn over a new leaf by venturing into unexplored avenues in Pakistani film industry. Of course, there are people who are working on films that unfold as per a set template. For instance, there was no novelty in the plot of Nadeem Baig’s Jawani Phir Nahi Ani (2015) but it went on to set new benchmarks of success for the burgeoning industry. It only happened because of its earnest desire to entertain audiences without falling a prey to sordid humour or conventional tropes.
Recent Pakistani release 7 Din Mohabbat In expertly experimented with magical realism’s subgenre, fabulism. Using Karachi as its backdrop, the film unspooled at a brisk pace, bringing Mahira Khan and Sheheryar Munawar Siddiqui on board to enthral people with elements of comedy and fantasy simultaneously.
Abbasi’s Cake poignantly worked on delineating a dysfunctional family in a contemplative dramedy that “accomplished a whimsical, poetic beauty that is so rare in Pakistani cinema.”
This year’s first half—even though crammed with some films that were potentially detrimental for cinema’s revival (Azaadi, Na Band Na Baraati, Maan Jao Na, Pari, Tick Tock, Wajood)—has been considerably better than 2017’s first half. But still there is room for improvement. It is just the right time to experiment with new genres, cast fresh talent and nurture it delicately, and respect the spaces that we live in—for it is the time to change. Let’s all work for change!