Karachi Literature Festival: Curtains not yet down on Pakistani cinema
Though the session ‘The Rise and Fall of Pakistani Cinema’ was short of one of its participants — actor Javed Sheikh — it still managed a vibrant debate as the other two participants — Atrium Cinemas’ managing director Nadeem Mandviwalla and film-maker Meher Jaffri of Seedlings/Lamha fame — weighed in on where the Pakistani film industry was headed.
Well moderated by film-maker Adnan Malik, between the usual questions and lamentations and the obligatory references to Khuda Kay Liyay and Bol, the session was able to look at how films can be made completely indigenously — from funding to post-production.
Like a true businessperson, Mandviwalla said that the only way to make locally produced films competitive was to make sure that they are of good quality. “The only path to the revival of cinema is to start making films. We have to consciously make films for the international market, in order to make enough money to produce enough local films,” he said.
Malik wondered if it would be possible to sustain a film industry only on the basis of the local audience. For Mandviwalla, the answer was no. “Race 2 has done very well in Pakistan. It is touching a million dollars in revenue, but those are the figures for its entire run [Race 2 released on January 25, 2013]. We will need to make that kind of money in the first week in order to become a competitive film industry.
“And there is no reason we can’t,” he said. “There are two questions to ask. Firstly, do we have the required talent and support to make a good film? Secondly, can we make films that can run in the international circuit? Shoaib Mansoor has proved that the answer to all of those is yes.”
Jaffri and Malik were not as forthcoming in their praise of Mansoor’s films, and both argued that Khuda Kay Liyay and Bol had funding from ‘outside’ sources — Inter-Services Public Relations, to be exact. They both cited the example of television actor and producer Humayun Saeed’s upcoming film on cricket as a better example of public interest in supporting film production, with Malik saying that this film was completely funded by organisations from the corporate sector.
Malik then asked if there should be a separate space for such films, something Jaffri supported. “In New York and other such cities, you see Tribeca-type cinemas that give space to smaller films. Perhaps films like Slackistan and Seedlings can pave the way to that end,” she said.
Mandviwalla, however, wasn’t so easy on these films. “You do need a platform that tells people that if you make something it will see the light of day. But makers cannot say ‘I’ve made a home movie, please play it in the cinema’,” he said, when Malik asked him why he had refused to let Zibahkhana play at his cinemas. “I did not agree with the way they were trying to release the film, which was DVDs. As a film-maker, you need to change your mindset.”
Then what about the fact that Pakistani films sometimes aren’t released because of strict censorship policies, asked Malik, giving the example of indigenously produced Slackistan.
Mandviwalla was of the opinion that while “television can be controlled there is no way to control film. Cinema is only controlled by the public, because unless you make a good film people will not come to watch it,” he said.
As the session drew to a close, a member of the audience asked about the future of the industry. “What do you see as the eventual identity of Pakistani cinema when we have two giants from different schools of cinema on both sides — Iran on one side and India on the other?”
“I think we will settle at some form of social drama with a little bit of masala. In the next three years, you will see at least 10 to 15 good Pakistani films,” Malik replied. Jaffri was of the view that the identity would depend on good marketing, which can allow all kinds of films to work. “It also depends on how many screens pan out over the next few years. With so many screens, the future is bright.”
Mandviwalla was just as optimistic and gave the example of American and British cinema. “We may never be able to make a Dabangg-style film but you will see Shakespeare In Love-type films coming out.”