As we delve into a discussion on the revival of Pakistan’s film industry, he seems disappointed. Mustafa Qureshi – an iconic film villain of the late 1970s up until the 2000s – has been pressing the government to resuscitate the film industry and has put forth several suggestions. None have been looked into and no apparent steps have been taken. Still, he hasn’t given up hope.
A diehard supporter of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) from days of their late founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Qureshi believes that unless the government comes forward and helps raise a parallel cinema, revival of the film industry will remain an arduous task.
“I am not saying that the government is not serious but I have not seen any of the plans being implemented, despite their agreement. There has to be some progress”, he tells Dawn.com.
Last weekend, Qureshi was in his hometown of Hyderabad, along with his wife Rubeena Qureshi – a renowned folk singer – to attend a tribute event organised for the couple.
“It pains me when I see ruined film studios. A revival of the industry will not only restore the lost glory of studios, it will also give a source of livelihood to thousands rendered jobless by the economic downturn” he says. According to him, the film business and cinema houses provided for countless households.
“Imagine a thousand people going to the cinema for a three-hour show and then multiply it with three shows a day, 21 shows a week and 84 shows a month. Not only was it great entertainment but also accounted for the economic well-being of people,” Qureshi says.
“Parallel cinema is a solution but certain sensitivities should be respected. We mustn’t bring religion, race and sect into it and avoid obscenity. Selling nudity or getting nude is not an art,” says Qureshi, who has been associated with the film industry for 45 years.
The rising popularity of television morning shows worries Qureshi. “Surprisingly they have become a source of entertainment. Such shows are often devoid of ethics and morality.”
Qureshi seems equally disturbed to see that the government holds back its funds where the film industry is concerned but spends billions otherwise. For example, the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) uses government funds to organise several events.
He recalls that late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formed the National Film Development Corporation (Nafdec) only to be abandoned after his death. Qureshi urges the government to invest up to 200 million rupees, which is not a big amount for them but could encourage investors. “I can guarantee it will lead to revival of the film industry.”
“These events incur huge expenditures and these gatherings only cater to the rich. If the same amount is spent on filmmaking, the government will earn money too.”
Young Pakistanis, who are studying filmmaking in the country and abroad, give hope to Qureshi. “I hope they respond to our needs for quality film production.”
Despite his imposing personality, Qureshi is unable to do much for his industry without the government, to whom he urges to re-launch Nafdec. The Ministry of Culture, he says, should be given to artists, producers, directors, signers, playback singers and technicians.
“Our art and literature must be preserved, as they a form of our national identities.”
It is no surprise that Qureshi speaks so pensively about the film industry. He has been voicing concerns over the crumbling entertainment, especially, film scene in the country for years. Last year, when a ban on Indian films was suggested in Pakistan, Qureshi spoke out against the ban.
Indian films, he said were the meagre business of cinema houses that made him realise that “the show must go on.”
For Qureshi, film is an institution that concerns people. “I think the government wants to take initiatives but gets embroiled other issues….we have held so many meetings but it is all about of implementation of what you decide. If you don’t implement things it will be useless,” says the celebrated artist.
Pakistani films, over the years, have been revolving around the same themes and Qureshi urges writers to find new subjects and ideas for script as there is no dearth of them.
There was time that the county held over 900 cinema houses, but today there are only 175 and Qureshi fears that even these will be replaced by plazas and shopping malls. On an average, 175 films used to be produced in a year, which led to economic activities and generation of revenue for the treasury.
Local investors, according to him, are not investing in the industry as they do not see it as a profitable sector. Despite such gloom, some people are still producing films and Qureshi is full of praise for them.
Filmmaking should be used to fight propaganda against Pakistan, Qureshi insists. “We can use films to show that we are educated and civilized people. The message could easily be spread in the world and ‘Khuda key Liye’ and ‘Bol’ are examples.”