The Pakistani Film Industry: A troubled tale

aarmaan

Majestic, troubled, extinct, Revival and more trouble. These words are perhaps the most truthful way to describe the timeline of the once glorious Film Industry of Pakistan. An Industry producing more than a hundred and fifty films per year in the 60s and 70s, came at a stage where it even struggled to churn out a meager two films for the year. So what happened? What went wrong? The Cinema which produced classical masterpieces such as Armaan, Aina, Sangam, Anjuman and many more stood or so still stands at the point where the citizens refuse to watch domestic films, being unsure about the quality of the films, not trusting the local industry to produce quality products.

The Pakistani film industry was at its peak during the 60s and 70s, described as its golden age. Films of all genres were being produced at that point, Indian movies were not allowed in the country but with the mass amount of movies being made, cinema houses faced no problems, they regularly catered to full houses and generated profits. Individual from all social classes went to cinemas as they were inexpensive, safe, clean and decent.

Pakistan faced a major shift in its political scene in 1977. The military regime of Zia-ul-Haq brought wide scale shifts in the film industry. The first wave of censorship was launched into the Pakistani cinema, a wave of censorship which may perhaps forever cloud the industry. Filmmakers were required to have educational qualifications(which included Islamic education, made compulsory by the new regime), rules were set on female clothing to be worn in movies, Men and women showing affection on screen was also restricted, movies made on sensitive political topics were not allowed. The industry already suffering from a loss of veterans due to the Partition of East-Pakistan faced a storm that it did not survive. From more than a hundred films, the number of movies slowly lessened and lessened as time passed. Creativity and freedom of expression, the very essentials of theatre and cinema were blocked thus films were slowly phased out. With a block on issue based films, showing affection on screen, cinema took course towards showing violence. Violent action movies disassociated the general population who wanted to watch quality cinema as opposed to rowdy fighting sequences, going to the theatre was now seen as a social ill, women working in the industry were looked down upon and labelled sleazy, no longer did respectable families appreciate working in the film industry. Personal Religious beliefs were forced into cinema to make it ‘morally acceptable’, this eventually killed the cinema. With the Industry not producing any films, the general public preferred to stay at home instead of going to the theatre, foriegn films were watched at homes using VCRS, local classics were also enjoyed. The films currently being made, if any were not good enough. Cinema houses found it difficult to operate and generate profits and hence slowly shut down. From 750 cinema houses in the country, by 2002 only 170 remained. Those that remained were barely making profits and had extremely poor conditions and no new releases. These troubled times eventually led the Pakistani cinema to extinction.

The now dead Pakistani film industry needed a miracle for revival, that miracle did come in 2007. This game changer did not realistically revive the industry but it led to events that are today pushing the industry’s revival. This breakthrough was Shaoib Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye(In the name of God). This film was a not just any step towards revival, it was a very bold one indeed, this movie was made on sensitive religious issues concerning Pakistan. Shoaib Mansoor was given life threats due to the contents of his film but the veteran was not to be shaken, this was a step breaking the boundaries set by the era of strict censorship, being out there defying the conservative norms set by the past government and later society, showcasing  a true form of creativity and free expression. The film was released not only in Pakistan but was allowed release in neighboring India, it was played across 100 cinemas in India. This release led to the Pakistani government lifting the ban on the release of Indian movies in Pakistan. With Indian movies up for release, operating cinemas was no longer a loss making venture, state of the art multiplexes started popping up around the country, existing deteriorating cinema houses  were renovated and were up and kicking. With and increase in operational cinema houses in Pakistan, Film-makers in the country now saw an incentive to produce for the silver screen, no longer were they financially boxed up. Foreign films boosted the cinemas in the country, because of which the Pakistani film industry is now slowly being injected with life.

Films of the new Pakistani Era, Left to Right: Waar, Main hoon Shahid Afridi and Chambailee
Films of the new Pakistani Era, Left to Right: Waar, Main hoon Shahid Afridi and Chambaili

But its way too mainstream to stare at a revival without sniffing trouble at bay, the new wave of Pakistani movies were not only based on issues, quality, cinematography but also commercialized films have been and are being produced. These commercial films have content which is deemed as ‘vulgar’ by moral critics within and outside the industry. While individuals have no problem viewing foreign films with similar content if not more ‘morally unacceptable’, but suddenly fingers are raised if the local industry follows suit. This very behavior can be attributed to the cloud left by the fateful policies after 1977, the cloud still roams around. There is no problem for people not appreciating content which is not morally acceptable to them, they can ‘choose’ to not watch it, the same way film-makers ‘choose’ to make it, but however crying for bans and demanding for them to be made illegal threatens to bring the industry back to square one as such a act will once again become the same wall to creativity and free expression. It is argued that quality films can be produced without vulgarity, but it must be realized, that was the logic used in 1977 and we saw the consequences of that. By restricting creativity, you may never see those quality films that you so dearly demand as it is often after failures and exploring other avenues, masterpieces are produced. Had Da vinci been told that he could only paint Mona Lisa, he would never have been able to paint it, because that is not how masterpieces are made, hundred of lesser pieces are made, which are made by solely creative and personal choices not by the rules set by society to eventually stumble upon that masterpiece. It is sad that there are people even within the industry that should promote freedom of speech, expression and choice negate this purpose and instead choose to target others on making content that is not ‘acceptable’ that is not ‘pure’ cinema is art and art is a medium of free expression. I am not defending or supporting vulgarity, I am stating the importance of being ‘allowed’ or having the ‘choice’ to produce it, it is the principle that is important and not what it protects, restrictions in art will lead nowhere but the eventual extinction of art.

Pakistani Film 'Wrong Number' to be released in 2015, has turned out to be controversial due to its allegedly vulgar content.
Pakistani Film ‘Wrong Number’ to be released in 2015, has turned out to be controversial due to its allegedly vulgar content.

There are those who stand for banning Bollywood content once again, stating patriotism as the reason but are also blinded by it. Even at this stage the Pakistani film industry produces no more than 10 films a year, of which 3 or 4 turn out to be hits. Cinemas can not stand to be profitable with just 3-4 films a year and the addition of Hollywood movies which are not in the common tongue, not highly popular amongst the masses. Such a ban will once again lead to shutting down of cinema houses and repeat the very process that begun in 1977.

There are brighter days ahead, we must not bring with us that cloud of darkness, we must leave it behind. We should not judge Pakistani content as being poor just for the fact that its Pakistani. I myself try to make it a point by trying to watch all Pakistani movies which release, in the theatre. This is my part in supporting the industry, but my part in supporting the industry is also to not call for restrictions, by not acting as a moral police to the film-makers. Supporting foreign competition within the industry, understanding that it is essential for a long term revival and to churn out high quality products.

Front line aggressor or the Middleman?

So today the world faces with yet another conflict, yet again in the middle east. As Saudi Arabia allied with the United States dives into Yemen to take total control and ‘save’ the people of Yemen, one cant help but think of so many other points in history where the United States was committed to saving states from collapsing into total chaos, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan being prime examples, Afghanistan to a lesser extent. Iraq today is in ruins, as the people were ‘saved from the tyrants’, they were left in chaos  and no sense of control, only to be conquered by a great tyrant. The primary reason for the rise of the ISIS is because Iraq was left an unstable and weak state when the US left after oil exploring endeavors, the new Libyan state still awaits to face that new tyrant while it goes through total chaos and no stability in the entire state.

The United States has been carrying out drone strikes in Yemen for quite some time in order to counter the presence of the Al-Qaida in Yemen, one of Al-Qaida’s strongest presence. Continuous terror activities and not efficient counter terrorism has left Yemen as a weak and unstable state. As Yemen lost stability by the progression of time, it came with the rise of the Houthi Rebels. The Houthis have been rebelling against the Yemeni government on grounds of being unable to handle the current situation in the country and failure to protect the rights of the Shia minority. It shook the world when the Houthi rebels took control of the Yemenite Capital Sa’naa after a few month long advance, later a peace treaty was brokered by the UN to establish a balance of power in the country. This deal not only removed the tag of Houthi rebels being non state actors, it made them a stakeholder in the government and showed to the world that the UN was willing to consider the Houthi demands as they may have seen some sense in it.

Yet regardless of the progress that has been made, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against Yemen, supported wholeheartedly by the US. One must understand that this aggression took its course as the Yemenite population needed to be ‘Saved’, as claimed by the aggressors. Saved from whom? The houthi rebels? Maybe. But what about the Al-Qaida? In a bid to save the crumbling Sunni government of President Hadi, the Shia aggressor must be stopped as they pose a threat to the people of Yemen, this has effectively diverted the world’s war against terrorism, the Al-Qaida is not the main party that is being attacked, it is indeed the Houthis, so today the US-Saudi alliance has set its priorities straight, crushing rebellions rather than crushing terrorism, this conflict of the Houthis and Saudi Arabia is only going to help and strengthen Al Qaida as they will no longer be the main target of aggression, it is likely that they will be asked for help in the fight against the houthis as we saw in the training of the mujahideen army during the Afghan war or supporting of the rebels in Syria, who were also aided by terrorist organizations. This conflict has no longer been allowed to remain a rebellion by the people against the government, it has unfortunately turned into a sectarian clash between the Shias and the Sunnis, a battle front for a proxy war between Iran(supportive of the houthi rebels) and US-Saudi Alliance. It is extremely important for the Shias and Sunnis to keep aside their differences and unite in order to ensure peace, although this seems like a distant dream when so many nations are committed to keeping the two sects apart. We have seen major shifts in the policies of the United States when they chose to support rebel groups in Syria, they claimed that a tyrannical ruler must fall, here they fight against the rebels where they claim that rebels are the true tyrants, however one element remains consistent, fighting a proxy war between Iran and its allies, regardless of consequences.

As the Saudi kingship prepares for a ground offensive against Yemen, they have asked The Pakistan government for military help in order to fight this ‘menace’. Pakistan today stands on cross roads, which way will Pakistan choose to progress? Will it take the route it took with the Afghan conflict? actively engage in the battle front and fight until victory is achieved or will Pakistan stand on the sidelines? Pakistan has made very clear that the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia will be protected and upheld by them if the time came, but what about the territorial integrity of Yemen? Will Pakistan go down the same road as it did with the Afghan war and see itself become the victim of vicious tyrants when the world allies are done and leave impending doom? Pakistan today has the chance of either going towards Saudi Arabia, this will effectively put to ruins its relations with neighboring Iran or Pakistan can chose to mediate peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which it is in a position to do so due to strong ties with both nations. Right now Pakistan fights a war against terror in its own country, terrorist groups are being targeted and crushed in the tribal areas, major cities being cleaned up by targetted operation, a rebellion in its western Province of Balochistan and regular border skirmishes with arch rival India also a continuous fight in the North, at Siachen.  Pakistan already has too much on its plate, will Pakistan still progress towards filling up her plate even more by taking the front line in this battle to ‘Save’ Yemen or choose to learn from the mistakes of its past. The world needs a stable middle east, regions such as Iraq and Syria only add to the impending doom of the continent and bring the third great war closer and closer. Launching ground offensives against various groups in countries just because they do not agree with the West will not contribute to stability, the only ones who gain from it are enemies of peace and perpetrators of violence, the terrorists. In Yemen’s case, indeed Al-Qaida will be the chief benefactor.What step Pakistan decides to take will be extremely important in deciding where this conflict leads to. Which path will Pakistan take? Front line aggressor or the Middleman?

Pakistan. The Ideology.

This picture is not owned by thezaidahmed.wordpress.com
This picture is not owned by thezaidahmed.wordpress.com

Just 75 years ago, at Minto Park, Lahore (it is now called Iqbal park) where the Minaret-e-Pakistan stands, the Lahore Resolution was passed. That day decided the future course of action for the All-India Muslim League, it was that day officially when the battle for Pakistan had begun. However one must realize that the battle for ‘freedom’ had begun  much before that time. It had started when Sir Syed Ahmed pushed the Muslims of India towards education, when Iqbal made that Allahabad address and when the ‘Now  or Never’ pamphlet was published by Chaudri Rehmat Ali. It was in fact freedom that was the struggle, Pakistan, a separate homeland happened to become that freedom eventually for the Muslims of India. But did we really achieve that freedom which was to be the struggle? Did some view the Lahore resolution document differently than some? The original document mentioned the term, ‘Independent State(s)’, was that something that the Muslims of Bengal held dearly but ignored by those on the other Muslim majority front?

What was penned down that day in that document, does it really stand true today? Does one really have the freedom that was decided to be pursued on that day? Did The Lahore Resolution, the spiritual birth of Pakistan really define the ideology of Pakistan? or was that course taken at a later point in history? Perhaps these questions will  never be truly answered, all we can do is assess history and reach an appropriate answer. Today Pakistan is going towards the depth of extremism day by day, a member of a religious minority does not have  the right to be elected head of state, questions are raised and petitions are filed when a member of the minority community rises to the Chief Justice of Pakistan(Acting). Democracy has been inconsistent in Pakistan, the Constitution has been amended countless times to favor timely rulers. Even when there is democracy, it is plagued with very high censorship(Censorship often takes place due to fear, as those speaking out against fundamentalist extremism are often banned. As of now WordPress is also banned, the reason for which I cant point a finger at), the electoral process is far from free and fair, violence and intolerance fuels in society. This is certainly not what was aimed on that day in 1940, but was it was also something not foreseen when the objective Resolution was passed in 1949 by then Prime Minister of the newly free country. This document(Objectives Resolution) made several previsions for religious clerics to have a say in the government. Perhaps it is on that day when the aim towards freedom, tolerance, co-existence and equality was shifted, since that day it has been tilting and tilting going towards directions which are not those of tolerance.

The separate homeland was campaigned to be a ‘Muslim majority’ nation/nations, the idea behind this was that in a greater India, Muslims were oppressed by the Hindu majority, in a Muslim majority homeland, they will not be oppressed(But certainly, the principle extended on to the idea that since Muslims were persecuted in a greater India, in this new nation, no minority shall be persecuted on their beliefs). The Quaid-e-Azam stressed upon religious tolerance in society and stood strong on his principles that no one shall be prosecuted due to their beliefs in the free country, views that are commendable, views that were lost somewhere after he passed way after his life long struggle for freedom. Religion was made to justify military regimes after it took over several times from the alleged democracy. Religion has been used at many points in the history of Pakistan to discredit opponents and strengthen oneself, it has been used to fuel hatred within communities and allowed individuals to act as saviors and protectors from ‘enemy beliefs’ while in fact they are the real enemies.

So what is the Ideology of Pakistan? Is it freedom that the Muslims did not get in India or is the dominance that the Muslims did not get in India? I choose to believe the former although history and the current situation guides me to the latter. 23rd March is the spiritual Birth of Pakistan, what has happened, is gone, we can not change it. But what we can do is look back and learn from our mistakes and come out as better, stronger and united citizen of Pakistan. We owe it to our future generations and those who sacrificed themselves for this Land and its people. It is the people in essence that define the ideology of a country, ours should be that of tolerance and being strong. State propaganda throughout time to create an environment to support and justify themselves by infusing hatred against other groups in society can not be accepted and can not decide a country’s ideology. We must take it upon ourselves to make Pakistan a better place, we must fight the enemies of our state, we must not let anyone rob us of our democratic, civil and human rights using the banner of religion or democracy itself. Pakistan must rise, it is our job to ensure that the rise happens. Prosecution of minorities, killing of innocents, killing for political gains, fueling ethnic hatred to be crowned saviors, oppression based on gender and hiding due to the fear of extremist outcries must not be continued, we must stand against injustice. No longer is it okay for the state to drop the curtains rather than confront the radical and extremist voices in society, that only aim to oppress the vulnerable. 

Freedom poet Habib Jalib,  

Khuda tumhara nahi hai khuda hamara hai
Use zamin pe yeh zulm kab gawara hai

Lahoo piyoge kahan tak hamara dhanwano
Badhao apni dukan seem-o zar ke deewano
Nishan kahin na rahega tumhara shaitano
Hamein yaqeen hai ke insaan usko pyara hai
Khuda tumhara nahin hai khuda hamara hai
Use zameen pe yeh zulm kab gaawara hai

Translation:

God is not yours, to Him we have access
He does not look kindly on those who oppress

How long, you men of pelf, will you bleed us white
Get off our backs, you who in filthy lucre take delight
You satans it is dust that you will soon bite
We believe that He treats mankind with loving tenderness
He does not look kindly on those who oppress

The Hero Pakistan Loves to Hate

Image not property of zaidahmed
Image not property of zaidahmed

As the world cup comes near, Pakistan prepares for their favorite sport. Although, like always the odds are against the national team, the nation can’t help but hope for a repeat of the 1992 glory. The nation is all geared and waiting for Shahid Afridi to walk to the crease or for Mohammad Irfan to run towards the wicket, they count their favorites and bet that they will take the team to success. One man never seems to make it to that list of favorites, perhaps he shall always be defined by that night in Mohali, 2011. The nation shall always look down at him, hate him and blame him for the debacle at Mohali. Perhaps this is what we do as a nation, we choose to judge and define an individual by one event and not appreciate him for what he has done regardless of so many contributions. The man that the nation does not expect from this world cup, the man that the nation hates for being captain and taking away that honor from their beloved Boom Boom is none other than our very own Misbah ul Haq, the hero we love to hate.

We choose to ignore that Misbah was Pakistan’s highest scorer in the inaugural T20 world cup, 3rd highest of the tournament and that he raised the fight in the final when the entire team had fallen, we fail to see his fight in the 2013 Champion’s trophy when he was the lone survivor in all the matches when once again the entire line up crumbled, we dismiss his fastest ton as a fluke and not skill, we forget that he has always played under pressure of a batting collapse but instead we choose to call him out on his calm, defensive nature, we call him out on not having made an ODI hundred, we call him out for not having a 100+ strike rate but mostly we hate him because of that night in Mohali. We choose to ignore Misbah’s undeniable success as a test captain and batsman, we want to call him out for driving the Pakistani cricket team towards doom in ODIs, perhaps we have been going towards that since what happened in Lord’s 2010, Misbah has managed to slow the pace towards that (ironic eh?), one can’t help but consider, will the current Pakistan team even make 200 runs in an ODI if Misbah ul Haq was not part of the line up? remove misbah’s contributions in the 2013 champion’s trophy and countless other ODIs and you will have your answer.

Hearts of millions of Pakistanis wish to see Pakistan achieve glory once again at the MCG, but so many of them can not fathom to see Misbah being the one lifting the world cup as they will no longer be able to despise him which they want to do so badly.

We as a nation have a set image for our heroes, they need to be aggressive, attacking players, our image of heroes is set as Miandad and Shahid Afridi. An individual who does not play aggressive cricket like them will most likely not be a hero to us even though he may deserve it. We fail to see the collective failure of our team and we point towards one man, one man only, Misbah ul Haq. We fail to see that he is always on the wrong side of a batting collapse and on most occasions he has been the one to stabilize it, he has always risen to the occasion and got the team somewhere rather then nowhere.

He is not a Miandad, he is not an Afridi, he never will be, he is a player of his own class, just like we may not ever see another Miandad or an Inzamam, we wont see another Misbah. He is that player in our team on whom we can rely on and who has the capability to turn the game around, Pakistan may be the minnows in this world cup but if we have any chance whatsoever of getting anywhere, it will be Misbah who will take us there, if not him then no one will. This world cup is his last campaign to solidify himself in the halls of fame of Pakistan cricket and perhaps the hearts of the Pakistani people, Pakistan’s chances in the world cup may not be bright, but whatever glow one sees, it is this man who forms a large part of it. In Misbah we trust.

Vision.

Vision In a place where not even half of the population has access to good quality, up to the standard education, let alone access to the internet. We still see stars shine from these ashes. A country who’s IT sector is almost non-existent, yet we see hope when extremely young and talented individuals work towards achieving the extra ordinary, one of these individuals is the owner of this blog http://visionveb.blogspot.com/ who promises to light a torch in this darkness of the IT sector, be sure to visit and to support. A more connected and advanced Pakistan is what we need to strive for.

A Hero within our ranks

It has been for so long that Pakistan faces this menace of extremism, slowly and slowly, this poison eats away our country bit by bit and we continue to watch it from afar because either we have managed to avoid it in our lives or we are in fact the champions of our own extremist ideology. So many innocent lives have been taken by this poison, whats worse then that blood is the fact that there are still people out there who actually wear that crown of spiritual satisfaction and support those who have killed our people because of their alleged beliefs. Its not uncommon that people belonging to minority religious beliefs are persecuted, it is not uncommon that places of religious worship are burnt to ashes and the slaughtering of entire families is also not uncommon. Despite all that, there are very few who speak out against it, there are very few stand to protect the minorities because of the fact that they are human and Pakistani. Heroes like Salman  Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are labelled as blasphemers and killers, murderers like Mumtaz are crowned as saviors of Islam. The Religious clerics make it their duty to label people as infidels (kaafirs) as they feel that it is they who are to decide the correctness of someone’s beliefs and not the Almighty, they have used their influence to instigate violence against minorities, they teach their students in their Madarssahs to be intolerant, they teach them to go out there and kill, the use religion as a tool for their evil motives, instead of spreading the word of Allah in mosques they indulge in hate speech, they encourage their pupils to go ahead and join terrorist factions and work against the integrity of Pakistan and its people. Yet very few have the courage to speak out against them because, one accusation can change the entire dynamics of ones life or even an entire community. We’ve seen entire colonies burnt down, men, women and children killed, 1 unborn baby, 2 girls, 1 woman were burned alive in Gujranwala because of the fact that they were labelled as ‘Kaafirs’, most recently a Christian couple was also thrown into a brick kiln. There are thousands of such other incidents similar to these equally barbaric and inhumane. We as Muslims and Pakistan as a state has taken a pledge to protect the minorities of this country, it is our responsibility, what are we if we cant even uphold a pledge that we have taken? Where is cleric’s religion when he violates that pledge that he has taken? Why does a person’s faith matter when it comes to him being a good or bad person?

“Beware!  Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)

Although there are so many who are silent, we occasionally see a hero rise within our ranks, a hero who is fearless and wants to eradicate this poison. One such hero is Mohammad Jibran Nasir, it is difficult to do his work justice with just words but I will try my best. He has since the very start spoken out against all those using religion as a tool to further their agenda of hate, he has been of the most vocal supporters of minority rights in Pakistan. He recently launched a protest outside the Lal Masjid to demand the arrest of Abdul Aziz, a man who has openly supported the Taliban, a man who has at every point in his life worked against the interests of Pakistan and is responsible for too much of innocent blood through his hate instigating teachings, he was the man who taught his pupils at the Lal Masjid to sympathize with the Taliban, the killers or our people and to fight for them and he left even them to die when he escaped in a burka from the masjid because to him nothing is more important than his life. Mohammad Jibran’s campaign has not only been to have him arrested but it is to make people realize that there are hundreds of others doing exactly what Abdul Aziz has done and is doing, we must speak out against them we must protect our people, we must not let them be judge of others faiths and beliefs. Jibran in this campaign has received death threats from various terrorist factions, those militant outfits that have killed hundreds of thousands of men, women and children of Pakistan that are now trying to protect Abdul Aziz. Mohammad Jibran has openly spoken out against them despite the threats, he has pointed each and every one of them out, at a point where even the state of Pakistan seems a bit back handed, Jibran has looked directly in the eyes of the enemies of Pakistan and stood his ground, he was called an infidel(Kaafir) yet he was not shaken, his faith was questioned but that did not bring him down. He is right now fighting a battle for the future of this country, he right now is rooting out this poison that spreads in Pakistan, I salute him for his bravery, he is the hero Pakistan needs but we have not done much to deserve him.