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Spotlight: Fade out, hope to fade in

Updated December 25, 2016


One has high hopes pinned on Haisam Hussain’s Balu Mahi as Osman Khalid Butt and Ainy Jaffri sizzle in the stills
One has high hopes pinned on Haisam Hussain’s Balu Mahi as Osman Khalid Butt and Ainy Jaffri sizzle in the stills

The outgoing year has not been kind to Pakistani cinema.

In the latter half of this year, cinema owners’ refusal to screen Bollywood films because of the rising tensions between Pakistan and India, resulted in a massive loss of revenue. By the cinema owners’ own estimates, they lost about 600 million rupees over the three months of the informal ban. The uncertain situation and the drastic fall in footfalls at cinema houses meant that some 1,700 people employed by cinemas lost their livelihoods and investments that were supposed to help the industry grow were withdrawn. Had the ban on Bollywood films not been belatedly lifted things might have gotten even worse.

The last Bollywood film that was shown in Pakistan before the ban was Riteish Deshmukh’s Banjo. That didn’t do well when compared to local Eid-ul-Azha releases such as Actor In Law, Janaan and Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai. Janaan and AIL managed to join Ho Mann Jahaan as the biggest hits of the year, doing well both at home and abroad.

Sadly, most of the flicks that were released during the Bollywood-ban phase didn’t do well at the box office. These included Lahore Se Aagey and Dobara Phir Se. Others such as Abdullah, Jeewan Haathi and Rahm didn’t last long in cinemas. Some of the shows for Azeem Sajjad’s 8969 were actually cancelled in one of the multiplexes because no tickets were sold. The fate of ‘patriotic’ films such as Saya-e-Khuda-e-Zuljalal and Salute was not much different. People just stopped going to the cinemas. Only the for-kids feature 3 Bahadur: Revenge of Baba Balaam helped end the year on a somewhat positive note as the animated film brought families back into cinemas after a three-month hiatus.

Pakistan’s cinema industry would want 2016 to be over as soon as possible

One hopes that the unbanning of Bollywood films will help improve the situation for the industry in the coming year, though the effects of the downturn might be felt for some time into the coming year.

There are many local films set for release in 2017. One of the first few big Pakistani releases is Haisam Hussain’s Balu Mahi (February 10) on which many hopes are riding. The lead pair of Osman Khalid Butt and Ainy Jaffri sizzle in the song from the movie and, if all goes well, this might just be the much-needed boost the industry needs. It will certainly need it, because following soon after will be Sahir Lodhi’s Raasta (February 24). The poor man’s Shah Rukh Khan does not just play the lead but is also the co-writer, director, producer and even the lyricist of the film. Considering that he hasn’t acted in films before, this may come as a bit of a surprise, though not if one knows of Sahir Lodhi’s vanity.

Project Ghazi starring Humayun Saeed hopes to be the first superhero flick of modern Pakistani cinema
Project Ghazi starring Humayun Saeed hopes to be the first superhero flick of modern Pakistani cinema

The problem with the Pakistani film industry is there are no confirmed release dates for most of the films announced, only tentative ones. Mohsin Ali’s Chupan Chupai featuring Ahsan Khan and Neelam Munir was supposed to be a 2016 release but it has been pushed to 2017 due to ‘unavoidable circumstances.’ The same goes for director Hassan Waqas Rana’s much-delayed Yalghaar, Shahid Shafaat’s Jhol (formerly Two Plus Two), Shaan Shahid’s Arth 2, Moammer Rana’s directorial venture Sikandar and Syed Noor’s Bhai Wanted. Since Arth 2 is currently being dubbed, it might release early next year. As for the rest, we can only wait and see.

One of the more promising films to look forward to some time in 2017 is Nadeem Baig’s Punjab Nahi Jaoongi. It has more or less the same team that delivered the 2015 blockbuster Jawani Phir Nahi Aani but minus Hamza Ali Abbasi and Vasay Chaudhry. Will it be able to deliver the shot-in-the-arm that the team’s previous film provided to the industry? The industry can only wait with bated breath.

Veteran director Shoaib Mansoor’s Verna featuring Mahira Khan also is in the works while Haseeb Hasan’s version of Top Gun, titled Parwaaz Hai Junoon, will pit Osman Khalid Butt and Hamza Ali Abbasi against each other, hopefully like Maverick and Iceman! But we don’t when it will actually land.

Of the other noteworthy expected films, Yasir Nawaz has roped in legendary Bollywood lyricist Gulzar for his upcoming Mehrunnisa V Lub U. It stars Danish Taimoor opposite television actress Sana Javed, who will be making her film debut. Then there is Sheheryar Munawar and Humayun Saeed in Nadir Shah’s Project Ghazi which hopes to be the first superhero flick of modern Pakistani cinema. Will it be the one to help Pakistan’s battered and bruised industry take flight? One can only hope.

One thing, however, is certain. Pakistan’s fledgling film industry cannot weather more shocks to the system. What it needs aside from vision is consistent policies. And definitely less of knee-jerk and ill-thought-through decisions.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 25th, 2016