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Back on the rails?

TREND As Pakistani cinema seeks its lost glory, Anuj Kumar speaks to a few craftsmen whose works are on show at the ongoing Osian’s Cinefan film festival



Gaining lost ground Stills from Pakistani films “Ramchand Pakistani”

After Khuda Kay Liye, Pakistan’s film industry is back in focus. At the ongoing Osian’s Cinefan film festival, three Pakistani films were on show and all of them managed to evoke interest. Mehreen Jabbar’s Ramchand Pakistani has already been in news because of Nandita Das and the India-centric script, but what really came as a whiff of fresh air are the works of Omar Ali Khan and Muhammed Saife Hassan.

Debutant Omar has managed Pakistan’s first modern horror film Zibahkhana (Hell’s Ground). “We don’t have a tradition of horror films. The Ramsays seemed inspired by Dracula. I grew up on the slasher flicks, films of the ’60s and ’70s and wanted to make one.” The brief of his film suggests that he is inspired by the dehumanisation of a burqa-clad woman. “I don’t want to hurt anybody’s sentiments but to me the burqa represents a mask. While speaking to somebody, some of the things we understand through lip movements, and a burqa negates it. That’s why I say it dehumanises the person. But again I want to make it clear that it is a matter of perception.”

Omar faced severe problems from Pakistan’s Censor Board. “They said it is made for a few rich people in Karachi.” Ruing the “corrupt” system, he says he was even asked for money by some to get the film passed. Saife, on the other hand, has adapted Rohinton Mistry’s short story “The Victoria’s Stamp” as Victoria Ka Ticket. The film reflects the fears and fantasies of a child. “It is difficult to adapt short stories. The plot made me cry. The film is true to the spirit but after that it takes its own twists and turns.”

Interesting times

Javed Jabbar who has produced Ramchand Pakistani insists these are interesting times for the Pakistani film industry. “Our theatres were closing down, but the release of Hindi films has given them a fresh life.” He says Ramchand… will be released simultaneously in India and Pakistan. “The exchange of actors and the permission to shoot in India has also helped in creating a buzz. When we asked for permission to shoot in Bhuj jail, Mani Shankar Aiyar remarked every Pakistani wants to move out of Indian jail and you want to move in,” he quips.



Zibahkhana

In that case, won’t Bollywood take over the small industry, whose size can be gauged from the fact that Omar’s film with a budget of around 30 lakhs is being considered ‘big’! “There is nothing to worry about, Bollywood has already taken over. Hindi films are everywhere, courtesy piracy which seems to have government support. You can find pirated CDs selling in markets and malls openly. It is only television that is thriving. But let me tell you, whatever you see on Indian entertainment channels is a copy of Pakistani soaps. Even the jerky shots are inspired,” claims Saife.

The release of Hindi films has filled the directors with new energy. Says Nandita, “I found the technicians so excited as most of them were used to working on television. And others were working after a long time. It was their first brush with films. Here we take certain things for granted, but when you are deprived of something for a long time, you do even usual things in a special way.” Saife says now the Government is also forthcoming. He suggests that Khuda Kay Liye was partly financed by the government to change Pakistan’s perception in the world.

Meanwhile, Omar’s heart goes out to artists who used to paint cinema posters. “Many may consider it lowbrow, but it is an art and something should be done as it’s fast dying in both the countries.”

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