ACTRESS Reema Khan speaks during a panel discussion as Nabila, Samina Pirzada and Sania Saeed look on.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
ACTRESS Reema Khan speaks during a panel discussion as Nabila, Samina Pirzada and Sania Saeed look on.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: A discussion preceded by two speeches provided food for thought to film lovers at a seminar on the topic of ‘Celebration of Women in Films’ organised by the Pakistan International Film Festival (PIFF) and Karachi Film Society (KFS) on Wednesday afternoon at a local hotel.

President HUM TV Network Sultana Siddiqui set the tone for the event by saying that some people took the seminar as a curtain raiser to the film festival that’s to start on March 29. She said the film industry was not an easy one because people involved in it (directors, producers etc) worked 24 hours a day. Going back in time in order to remain with the topic of the day, she said in 1951 Noor Jehan made the Punjabi film Chanway. Ever since women in Pakistan (Sangeeta, Samina Pirzada, Sabiha Sumar) were making movies and one of them, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, had even won Oscar awards for her effort.

Dawn’s CEO Hameed Haroon said he had two propositions: “The glass is half full, and the glass is half empty”. He argued history was not unknown to us. “Women’s position in cinema is not different from women’s position in society.” They’d been exploited, victimised and their ability to express [themselves] was limited. There were signs of change in the 1960s and ’70s. But the environment vanished from 1977 onwards not because Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was overthrown, but because Gen Zia had come into power.

Why make films?

The films made during Pakistan’s early years were good because they had strong scripts, says Haseena Moin

After the speeches two panel discussions, moderated by actress Sania Saeed (who sounded a little underprepared) took place. The first group of panellists comprised Samina Pirzada, Haseena Moin, Nabila, Reema Khan and Asif Reza Mir. Ms Saeed kicked off the discussion by asking them “Why make films?” Ms Pirzada said in films one could use stereotypical characters and say what one wanted to say. She added that we didn’t use cinema the way it ought to be used in order to convey our message.

Ms Khan did not directly answer the question and tried to educate the audience on the history of the subcontinent’s women in films. Then she came to her career and argued there was nothing wrong with Punjabi films (which once held sway over Lollywood) because there were different categories of movies.

Ms Moin said the films that were made during Pakistan’s early years were good because they had strong scripts. She talked about Shamim Ara’s movies in that context. These days, she complained, there was no focus on ‘content’.

Mr Mir said we didn’t think about our next generation. We’d had a great history [in films]. But, he said, he had hope. The actors were not professional because there were no institutions. There should be institutions even for technicians. And for that all [associated with the film business] should come together.

Ms Nabila said she was optimistic about the film industry.

The second group of panellists was: Momina Duraid, Fizza Ali Meerza, Zeba Bakhtiar, Hareem Farooq, Sarwat Gillani and Sabiha Sumar.

Ms Sumar said TV and film influenced people. The TV plays in the ‘70s had vision. Today we should also try and understand how to portray our women [in films].

Ms Duraid touched on the issue of image. She said she once went to Mumbai and was surprised to see the slums there. Karachi was better than Mumbai. She asked why our image was so different.

Ms Farooq said our image abroad was that of a backward society. “Cinema has the power to change mindsets … We need to take our films abroad.”

Ms Gillani said she’d like to see stories of women who sacrificed their lives on a regular basis and present them as heroes.

Ms Meerza said her films talked about her mind. She didn’t make films following a certain fashion trend.

Ms Bakhtiar said characters written for women had no dimensions, which was very frustrating. She lauded the kind of roles that Haseena Moin wrote for women in the past.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2018