By Muhammad Naeem Khan Niazi/Javaid Syed
LAHORE, April 23 (APP): During its heydays, Pakistani film industry rubbed shoulders with the Hollywood and the Bollywood while Lahore, alongside Karachi remained the hub of film industry in Pakistan.
This is a historical fact that Pakistani film industry was the fourth largest feature film producing industry of the world by the 1970s. Despite lack of resources and equipment after the Partition in 1947, Pakistani film industry grew into eminence and the period between 1959-1977 is regarded as the golden-era of Pakistan film industry.
It was during this period that the industry produced iconic silver screen figures like Syed Kamal, Waheed Murad, Sabiha, Santosh Kumar, Muhammad Ali, Zeba, Suhail Rana, Ahmed Rushdi and Nadeem.
If telling a compelling or entertaining story is the essence of film making, it does depict the conscience, feelings and cultural values of a particular era in a truthful manner and this was very truly done by the films of the golden age of Pakistani films.
The two-ever Oscar nominated films from Pakistan in the foreign language category “Jago Hua Swera” (The Day shall Dawn, 1959) and “Ghoonghat” (The Veil,1963) – were produced during this period. That is why the audiences were attracted to the silver screen and the industry took new strides towards success but in the latter half of the 70s, the fabric started to wither and the social, cultural and values were stifled.
It was during the 1970 that seeds of decline of the Pakistani film industry were sown, although it was in the later decades that the film industry was vanquished by some seen and the unforeseen forces.
The film exhibition circuit was also squeezed which affected the film producers financially. The new censor laws under the dictatorial regimes of Zia ul Haq, through its closure of cinemas, strict regulations and heavy unjustified entertainment taxes, proved to be the last nail in the coffin, and film industry was left to exhume surely in the years to come.
Under this environment, the masses moved away from entertainment industry. During this period, rise of Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) and taped piracy dealt another death blow as the films from across the world were made available within the four walls of a room to the audiences. The cable television, though a later phenomenon, served as another blow to already diminishing film industry in Pakistan.
A journalist of the Los Angeles Times chronicled the decay of the Pakistani film industry: “In their heyday, theaters such as the Odeon had queues of Pakistanis snaking far beyond the box-office window and down Lahore’s bustling sidewalks. Moviegoers dressed in their snazziest shalwar kameezes and arrived hours before a showing to secure tickets. Today, Pakistani cinemas have all but vanished, a victim of the VCR, cable television, and DVD piracy”.
According to Robert Frost, a cinephile and movie blogger, “Film is art. Film is commerce. Film is spectacle. Film is documentarian. Film is protest. Film is stimulus. Film is conversation. Film is amusement”, but during the 70s and 80s all the above attributes of the film were absent due to state laws under a dictatorial regime. But it was the regional films which kept the industry breathing in the country and the contribution of the Punjabi film is significant in Punjab and Pushto films in KPK.
It was the persona of Sultan Rahi, though associated with the
depiction of violence, who kept the interest of the Punjabi cinemagoers intact. In the latter half of the 90s and the post-Sultan Rahi era,
the film industry underwent the worst period in its history when very few films were produced but the situation started to improve after 2006.
The film industry has witnessed renewed interest in the revival of the film industry as new producers, actors, directors have come forward to work for the renaissance of the Pakistan film industry. Today, Pakistani film industry has witnessed renewed energy with the advent of literate actors, directors and film producers and all these factors have contributed to the meaningful films.
The new cinema houses are being built in the country which fulfilled all international standards and the audiences have been lured back to the cinema houses. The competitive spirit to compete with the Bollywood and Hollywood movies has contributed to the production of good entertainment film but there are many challenges to the renaissance of the Pakistani film industry.
Referring to the various causes of decline, Chairman, Pakistan Film Distributors Association Chaudhry Ijaz Kamran, said “unfair delay in the payments by the cinema houses to the film producers also led to the decline of the film industry as the cinema owners paid the money six month after the release of the film and this delayed making of a new film by the producers”.
It is a heartening fact that new faces have joined the film industry with more investments and this will augur well for the film industry.
On the decline of film industry, Chairman, Pakistan Film Producers Association, Syed Noor believes absence of modern technology in film making and poor standards of cinema houses also pushed the public away. He said “since the films were not being made and the number of films had fallen from 200 films per year to a mere 20 or so, the cinema houses were turned into commercial plazas by the owners”.
“The abundance of foreign films made the viewer more critical and the fact also contributed to the decline of film industry as the cinemagoers were disgusted with the poor quality of films at home”, Syed Noor observed. Seeing a silver lining, the veteran film producer is full of hope for the resurgence of the film industry as 70 multiplex cinemas have been built in the country over the past 3 years while films of international standards were being produced today.
Despite all said, it is the quality of Pakistani films alone, in content and technique, which could ensure the revival of the industry and rescue it from the pitfall of oblivion it has plunged into over the past years.