Pakistani Film Cinema in Revival or in Downturn

by The House

Pakistani film cinema, popularly known as Lollywood, has undergone numerous ups and downs throughout its history. Lollywood’s fortune has been closely tied to the socio-political scenario of the country, which has been volatile for the most part. The boom Pakistani movie industry saw during Ayub Khan’s governance saw a sharp downturn during Zia’s autocratic regime. The brief history of Lollywood includes some big and small names that help it remain propped up even during the toughest of times.

Making a whopping sixty feature films per year, Pakistan ranks high among the top twenty film-producing countries in the world. Pakistan had three major film-producing stations in Lahore, Dhaka, and Karachi until 1971. The movie station in Lahore is the largest among the three. Dhaka’s movie station separated from Pakistan after the independence of Bangladesh. It went on to produce movies independently under the banner of Dhallywood.

A majority of films produced in Pakistan are made in the national language, Urdu. However, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Pashto films are also watched with equal zeal and zest in the country, if not more.

Pakistani Film Cinema: Hardships and Struggles

Despite ranking in the top 20 countries for movie production, Pakistani films are predominantly made for Pakistani audiences. This is why there had been little to no efforts in getting them into international film festivals until 2008, when Mehreen Jabbar’s  Ramchand Pakistani won multiple accolades. Afterwards, the first-ever Pakistan international film festival was held in Karachi in 2018, which put Lollywood on the international roadmap.

Since independence, Pakistani cinema has gone through multiple stages of development. Adi Abdur Rab of Dawn writes that, “By 1947 there were around 80 cinemas in East Pakistan. In March 1948, when the Governor-General of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah came to visit East Pakistan, the radio broadcaster and filmmaker Nazir Ahmed was commissioned to create the informational film “In Our Midst” with the help of Calcutta-based film technicians. It was the first informational film of East Pakistan. Upon independence, there was a shortage of funds, filming equipment which initially paralysed the film industry. With hardships faced, the first Pakistani feature film, Teri Yaad released on 7 August 1948, premiering at the Prabhat Theater in Lahore. Over the next few years, films that were released reached mediocre success until the release of Do Ansoo on 7 April 1950. Do Ansoo became the  first film to reach silver jubilee status.

Let us take a look at the beginnings of Lollywood.

The Legendary Nazir Ahmed Khan

Nazir Ahmed Khan, Cinema. Film making

Making and distributing films was a norm in Lahore even before the partition of 1947. Nazir Ahmed Khan was a prolific actor, director, and producer who originated from the Lahore movie station and went on to work in nearly two hundred films in his career spanning fifty-five years. He was the pioneer successful star in the pre-partition subcontinent, and later, in Pakistan. Nazir Ahmed Khan divided his time between Lahore, Calcutta, and Bombay. He would travel to India often because of the request of his close friend A. R. Kardar, who gave him some breakthrough roles in his productions.

When Nazir Ahmed Khan’s studios burnt down during the partition riots in Bombay, he decided to immigrate to Pakistan. After some time, Kardar relocated to Lahore, his birthplace. He sold all his belongings to set up a production house in Pakistan. Both of them became great names in the Pakistani film industry, and helped prop a nascent industry on its two feet.

First Success of Pakistani Film Cinema

After the partition of 1947, making a film in a new country like Pakistan was a humongous task. This is because the country lacked any infrastructure, equipment, and even talent that was willing to work in a newborn industry. Most prominent actors and directors of that time had decided to move to India.

Pakistani film cinema made its first-ever movie in Teri Yaad, which was filmed in 1948. However, the first major success was the movie Do Ansoo. This movie was inspired by Hakim Shuja’s anecdotes about the self-indulgence of the upper class or the elite in society. The film had a successful run of 25 weeks in cinemas.

The Golden Age

During the 1960s, the first ever colored movies appeared in Pakistan. This marked the onset of the golden era of Pakistani cinema. About five years later in 1965, a complete ban was imposed on all entertainment from India, which included movies. This increased the audience for Pakistani movies and more people began to watch the work produced by Pakistani directors.

Culture Trip writes that, “The 1970s brought a wealth of new talent to Pakistan. Sangeeta is the stage name of a popular actor and director in Pakistan whose debut came in Kankganin (1969). After moving to Lahore in 1971, Sangeeta made her directorial debut in 1979 with Society Girl. The film was a huge success and Sangeeta won the Nigar Award for both Best Director and Best Actress. This film also marked the debut of screenwriter Syed Noor, who later also became a director.”

Related: How to Analyze a Film: A Step by Step Guide for Beginners

Remarkable Directors of Lollywood

Here’s a list of remarkable directors of Pakistani film cinema:

Syed Noor

Syed Noor, Directors, Lollywood

Syed Norr is undoubtedly one of the most determined and hardworking directors of Lollywood. He directed and produced over 40 films in his career. His first movie, Qasam, came out in 1992. This was a period of struggle for Pakistan because the nation had only recently come out of the dictatorial regime of Zia Ul Haq. Film industry suffered humongously during the reign of Zia, and Syed Noor was among the first few who took it upon themselves to revive the industry. Qasam was a huge success because it was different from the Punjabi movies people were used to.

His next movie was Jeeva, which was released in 1995. This was another success because of its strong story line and meticulous attention to detail. The movie revolved around the lives of poor people in Pakistan, with emotional scenes of families trying to escape to Greece to find a better future for their children. The film is centered around the story of a young boy who is kidnapped by human traffickers who sell children as jockeys for camel riding. This movie was a breath of fresh air and opposite to rom-coms audiences were used to.

Samina Peerzada

Samina Peerzada, Producers, Pakistani directors, Shararat

Samina Peerzada is a prolific producer who began her career with acting. She started her career in 1976 with Nazdikiyan and rose to popularity because of her immense good looks and incredible acting skills. Samina Peerzada has worked in multiple movies, dramas, telefilms, and advertisements. She had her directorial debut in 1999 with Inteha. This feature tacked the issue of marital rape, which caused it to be taken out of the cinemas. However, Samina Peerzada was able to get a stay order from the court. It was then re-released and became immensely popular because of her unique way of handling the sensitive topic. She also directed Shararat in 2003, which was another box office hit.

Mehreen Jabbar

Mehreen Jabbar, Dil Mera Dharkan Teri,  Dobara Phir Se,  Lala Begum, Hum Chale Aaye

She is a New York based Pakistani film director and producer. She was born in Karachi, and she grew up around the film and movie culture of Pakistan. Since her father was a filmmaker and a politician. She completed her 2-year degree in filmmaking from University of California Los Angeles. She initially produced dramas and serials under the banner of Tasveer Productions. Her debut film was RamChand Pakistani in 2008, for which she won the Global Film Initiative Grant. The movie went on to receive the ‘Fipresci Prize’ by the ‘International Federation of Film Critics’, the ‘Audience Award’ at the ‘Fribourg Film Festival’, Switzerland and an ‘Honorable Mention’ by the 13th Annual Satyajit Ray Award at the London Film Festival. Her work includes

  • Dil Mera Dharkan Teri
  • Dobara Phir Se
  • Lala Begum
  • Hum Chale Aaye

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Directors, Cinema, 3 Bahadur

She is a Pakistani Canadian journalist who has won two Oscars for Pakistan. She is also a social activist who highlights inequality with women in her work. In addition to two Academy Awards, she is the recipient of seven Emmy Awards, Knight International Journalism Award, and a Hilal e Imtiaz. Time Magazine has named her one of the top 100 influential individuals in the world. She is the first female director to have won 2 Oscars at the age of 37. She has an extensive body of work, some of which includes:

  • Saving Face
  • Transgender: Pakistan’s Open Secret
  • Climate Change Animated Series
  • Sitara: Let Girls Dream
  • 3 Bahadur

The Collapse of the Film Industry

Film Industry, Cinema, Pakistani movies

General Zia Ul Haq did immense damage to Pakistan’s art and artists. When he came to power, he pushed the agenda of the west cloaked as Islamization. He imposed heavy taxes on cinemas, which eventually led them to their closure. He also made a degree mandatory for filmmakers. Now this may seem as a great step, but there were no institutions to teach filmmaking. Zia made this a rule only to sabotage film production in Pakistan. The late 70s and the entire 80s saw a completely bulldozed movie industry of Pakistan with next to nothing to offer in terms of entertainment. By the 1990s, the film production had fallen to 30-40 movies a year. These movies were produced by a single studio.

Pakistani Cinema in Revival

Cinema, Movies, films, Maula Jatt

Movies such as Bol and Main hun Shahid Afridi began gracing the screen. From 2011 onwards, directors like Mehreen Jabbar, Sarmad Khoosat, and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy produced artistic gems such as Manto and 3 Bahadur. Films depicting events pertaining to war on terror and Pakistan’s internal wars were also created, for example War. Big names such as Mahira Khan, Fahad Mustafa, and Urwa Hocane made their silver screen debuts during the New Wave.

Related: Top Muslim Historical Series to Watch in 2022

Pakistani Movies That Graced the International Film Festival

Pakistani movies, Lollywood, Films

Pakistan has had the honor of showcasing its filmmaking talent at many international film festivals.Jamil Dehlavi’s short film Blood Money screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. This was screened in the short film corner.This was a thriller short film which was based on the real life incident of the arrest of the American CIA agent Raymond Davis in Karachi. The movie revolves around Davis, who killed three people, and the American government had to pay blood money of 2 million dollars.

Sarmad Khoosat’s Zindagi Tamasha premiered at the 24th International Busan Film Festival in 2019. This is a pertinent movie which revolves around an old man and how the idea of life as he knows it collapses when he dances at a family wedding and his video goes viral. Nobody understands why he did what he did, not even his close relatives, except his wife.

Pakistan has also been host to its very own film festival, known as the Pakistan International Film Festival or PIFF. Their website says that, “Under the banner of KFS, PIFF aims to emphasize the local talent in Pakistan by promoting budding artists, enthusiasts and filmmakers, who are able to use the sensational platform to share their work and achievements nationwide and globally.” The KFS is the Karachi Film Society which was founded in 2017 as the non profit organization by the prolific Sultana Siddiqui. It uses its powerful platform to promote Pakistani cinema and culture on an international level.

Pakistani cinema has seen many ups and downs in its 74 year old history. One thing is certain: bans or not, movie goers are going to watch films and Pakistan will continue producing quality movies for its fans. Lollywood is certainly traveling toward a complete revival where only quality movies will be produced. However, this depends on the socio-political situation of the country as well. Would the current and the future governments mimic Zia’s autocratic rule to assert their power? Only time will tell.

Let’s talk about your favorite moments of Pakistani film cinema in the comments section below.

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