October - December 2008



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Rebirth of Cinema in Pakistan

By Sahar Ali in Karachi

Still from Ramchand Pakistani

Itís a Saturday night during the holy month of Ramadhan, a period of piety, solemnity and worship in Pakistan where Islam is much more than just the flavour of the month. Special taravih prayers offered during Ramadhan are underway in mosques across the city. But within the confines of the Cineplex at Karachiís Seaview beach and at Nishat Cinema on the cityís cinema strip, M A Jinnah Road, a secular form of worship is being practiced, before a lesser if not less popular God.

The Bollywood blockbuster Singh is Kinng has been running to packed houses for five weeks across Pakistan. By the time it completes its run at the box office in September, it is expected to do business to the tune of Rs. 30 million.

Of late, there has been pressure to lift the ban on screening Bollywood films (suspended during the 1965 war) in Pakistani cinemas. Pushed for initially by cinema-owners hopeful for a revival of their business, film-makers, initially apprehensive that Pakistanís own industry would not survive the competition, eventually joined their ranks after realizing that in the long run it would boost the Pakistani film industry rather than undermine it.

But more importantly, in the midst of this cross-border cultural CBM (confidence-building measure), the fears and apprehensions of a few Pakistani film-makers have abated. In the last two years, several Pakistani films have also rubbed shoulders at the box office with their far more popular Indian counterparts.

TV actor Jawed Sheikh who switched to the big screen in the 1990s and added direction-production to his portfolio with Yeh Dil Aap Ka Hua in 2002 was the first to benefit from the revival of a cinema-going culture in Pakistan. More recently, in 2007, Shoaib Mansoorís Khuda ke Liye (KKL) was a resounding success, playing to packed cinemas in Pakistanís urban capitals and is now doing the rounds internationally among the Pakistani diaspora. Its biggest accolade was perhaps the enthusiastic reception in India where it was critically acclaimed by discerning cine-goers.

In 2008, the focus has been on Mehreen Jabbarís Ramchand Pakistani. The young TV directorís debut film turned an everyday Indo-Pak occurrence of a stray border crossing Ė in this case that of a peasantís son stumbling into India across an unfenced border Ė into a piece of subtle cinema.


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