Friday, 28 September 2012

With Nishat cinema, Pakistan’s film industry lost its golden goose

It seems that only our grandparents will now remember why Karachi was christened the City of Lights. The beautifully adorned billboards on main Bandar Road and Keamari were once decorated with larger than life posters of film stars; the fairy lights around the borders were part of the panorama that earned Karachi its quintessential name.
It has been a long time since the old cinemas of the city were that radiant. After the hustle and bustle at Karachi’s old movie theatres died down gradually over the years, last Friday they were torched to ashes by unruly crowds.
While Nishat Cinema was the first, cinemas Prince, Capri and Bambino soon became household names. Widely popular films including the Urdu rendition of Guns of Navarone as Noorudin ki Bandooq were screened in these theatres. Golden jubilee successes likeAina also kept audiences enchanted. The young and old of the ‘60s and ‘70s have an emotional attachment  to these cinema houses; Bambino may have been an attraction due to its charming dancing lady or the first 70mm screen in Pakistan, but Nishat makes movie goers equally nostalgic.
It may surprise you, but the amount of money that Nishat generated up until last week was more than any other circuit cinema all over Punjab and Sindh. “Nishat still generates the most revenue in Pakistan and is in a league of its own in circuit cinemas,” Nadeem Mandviwalla, the visionary behind Atrium Cinemas who also has a stake in Nishat told The Express Tribune in an earlier interview.
Nishat was the only cinema that survived the chain reaction in which many major cinema houses like Rex Cinema (now Rex Centre) were converted and demolished after the Pakistani film industry rapidly went downhill. In the early ‘00s, Mandwivalla decided to renovate Nishat at a time when there was no hope of any Indian film coming to the country.
“I saw the best Pakistani and Hollywood films at Nishat,” recalls seasoned film and TV actor, Behroze Sabzwari. “It was by far the best cinema in Pakistan until black Friday,” he adds regretfully.
In the recent past, when Cineplex opened at Sea View and began to create a class divide by allowing couples and families only, Nishat remained the only ray of hope for the awaam of Karachi.
“Nishat was one of the oldest cinema in Pakistan, but it was its class and peoples’ emotional attachment to it which helped it survive when other cinemas were demolished,” says Rashid Khawaja, the President of the United Producers Association in Pakistan.
“With Nishat and its neighbouring cinemas being torched to death, no cinema survives to cater to the needs of the common man, no more films will be made and cinema will now become an elitist medium,” adds Khawaja.
From families to groups of young boys, crowds flocked to Nishat for entertainment. Whether it was for Shahrukh Khan starrer Billo Barber, Shoaib Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye or a film such as The Son of Pakistan, there would always be a bustle at the ticket office.
Film-maker Shehzad Rafique wrote about his emotional attachment to Nishat Cinema on Facebook. “This place gave me recognition and respect as my films like Nikkah, Rukhsati, Mohabbatan Sachiyan andSalakhain were released here and turned out to be big hits.”
Javed Sheikh, a well known name in the Pakistani film industry, used to live near Nishat Cinema. He says that last Friday’s destruction was a massive loss. “Even before I had entered the film industry, Nishat was an integral part of my childhood. I was fortunate enough to live in the plaza right opposite to it,” he recalls.
Chief Saab did record business and reigned for 30 consecutive weeks in Pakistan, with the most revenue coming out of Nishat. The government has earned so much from cinemas like Nishat, that now they will have to pay back for its losses,” says Sheikh.
Film-makers and cinema owners may mourn the loss of a piece of Pakistan’s history, but only time will tell whether a vacuum this big can be filled.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The revival (or re-birth) of Pakistani cinema

Will Pakistani cinema see a revival, or does it need to be built from scratch? This question was debated by prominent personalities associated with the craft of film-making at The Second Floor (T2F) cafe on Friday evening.
At the interactive discussion titled ‘The Revival of Pakistani Cinema’, the big names were Nadeem Mandviwalla, the visionary behind Atrium Cinemas; Asim Raza, a music video director and film-maker and actor-cum-film-maker Zeba Bakhtiar, the first female Pakistani actor to cross the border and appear in the  Bollywood film Henna. The questions tossed around by Meher Jaffri — producer of the filmSeedlings, which recently bagged two awards at the New York City International Film Festival — focused on three things: content, money and professionalism.
In a time when the local audience is eager to watch every Bollywood movie that is screened in Pakistani movie theatres, Zeba Bakhtiar suggested that the focus should remain at home.“We should readily and eagerly collaborate with people in our own country,” she said. “It’s high time that we stop looking at India and focus on ourselves. We have good actors, good poetry and good music on hand, we can make as many films as we like.” She also noted that unlike India, Pakistan’s rich history of the Sufi tradition is a gold mine of inspiring ideas.
Bakhtiar also hinted at her upcoming directorial ventures, describing it as a “film that is going to be all about Pakistan.”
“We are always looking at the negatives surrounding us — the positives also need to be highlighted,” Bakhtiar asserted.
In the same spirit of patriotism, Asim Raza agreed that negativity does not work in the long run. “There should be a balance in the story line. I am certainly not talking in terms of escapism, that won’t work! But I am looking at positive stories and those will certainly make all the difference.”
Raza then delved into the issue that film-makers do not take their work as seriously as they should. He pointed out that more people need to make films as professionals, instead of merely pursuing a hobby or passion. “When I tell people that I am a film-maker, the follow-up question is usually ‘lekin aap aur kya karte hain (what else do you do)?” joked Raza, explaining that people do not consider movie making a serious profession.
What works
“Before 2007, we were catering to another audience,” said Nadeem Mandviwalla. “Earlier, the gandasa culture was popular; it was because there were people in the audience that enjoyed viewing it. Now we have moved away from those times.”
He explained how the cinema-going culture in Pakistan has developed over the years. Now movie-watchers go more for the atmosphere rather than the film itself. “Atrium Cinemas cater to a crowd with more evolved tastes and idea of entertainment and fun.” He feels that instead of reviving it, Pakistan is in the process of rebuilding cinema.
Mandviwalla explained that the process cannot take place overnight and that Pakistani film-makers need to be realistic and make films within their budgets. “Many dream of making heavy budget films to garner big business, which rather than benefiting them, will add to their growing financial concerns,” he said.
Mandviwalla also asserted that the most popular genre amongst the audience remains to be romance. To this, Bakhtiar added, “Everybody wants to hear a love story, with the story line based on emotions and conflict about people breaking up — something which people can connect to globally.”
Giving advice to young film-makers in the field, Raza said, “To take film-making as a profession, not just a hobby and passion, you must have a business plan in mind. What we should now cater to is what I call ‘substantial cinema’ — a thought provoking, reason-to-believe and intelligent film, which will keep people glued to their seats throughout.”
At the end, Mandviwalla surprised the crowd with the announcement that Seedlings will be screened at Atrium Cinemas soon — a move that serves as a good boost to film-makers in the country who are aiming to revive and rebuild Pakistani cinema.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Comedy king Lehri’s final journey

After discussing the 83-year-old actor’s deteriorating health with his doctor, Lehri’s family decided to take him off the ventilator at 9:42am. The legendary film actor, who is best known for his humorous roles, had been put on the ventilator since several weeks and was hospitalised due to acute chest congestion and low blood pressure.
“His condition wasn’t improving but I had my hopes high, which is why I never removed the ventilator till now,” Dr Abdul Manan toldThe Express Tribune at the hospital. “His age, coupled with too many internal infections, just quickened the process. There were three infections out of which two were treated but I believe the time had arrived. And even though we tried our level best, God had His final say. What could we do?”
Present in the ICU ward was a teary-eyed Asad Mehboob, the eldest son-in-law of the comedian, as well as Lehri’s sons, daughters and daughters-in-law. As they stood by his side, the women recited Quranic verses and wept as the ailing actor’s breathing slowed and blood pressure fell.
As the actor breathed his last, a chorus of cries broke out as emotional family members consoled each other. “When my biological father passed away years ago, I told him I felt like an orphan,” cried his daughter-in-law Naheed Rehan. “At that time, he calmed me down and said, ‘Abhi mein zinda hoon (I am still alive)’. Now, I’m an orphan in the true sense of the word!”
Lehri’s nephew Shoaib Siddiqui was also present at the hospital. “[Lehri] made the world laugh and us too,” he said. “But with the passage of time he had become very religious. I will miss him because whenever I had a social issue or a problem that I couldn’t deal with, I would rush to him and he would gladly solve all my issues.”
Outside the corridor on the first floor of the hospital, women wailed inconsolably and men made plans for the actor’s funeral and last rites. Asad Mehboob was on the telephone informing friends and relative, “Papa chalay gayey (Papa is gone)!”
As the media poured in from various quarters and tried to reach the first floor, the hospital’s strict security measures kept journalists out of the ICU ward.
Lehri’s funeral prayers took place on the same evening at Masjid-e-Baitul-Mukkaram in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, and he was buried at the Yasinabad Graveyard.
Remembering the man who made millions smile
One of Pakistani’s most celebrated comedians has made his final transition. But despite having left this world, the man who made millions laugh with his witty dialogues and clever delivery lives on in the hearts of fans and the film fraternity.
“In the late ‘60s, his house was close to mine but I never realised what a big actor resided nearby,” producer Kazim Pasha recalls. “Later, I found out what a somber and great actor he was; the way he uttered sentences was beautiful – his phrases forced one to smile.”
Born in British India in 1929, Safeerullah Siddiqui moved to Karachi after partition and began working as a stenotypist during his teenage years. Side by side, after completing his hours at the office, he would make ends meet by selling hosiery items in Saddar. His big break came in the 1950s, when director Sheikh Lateef decided to makeAnokhi. Lateef’s niece Sheila Ramani came from India to play the lead female role in the film, while actor Shad was chosen to play the hero, as his previous film, Naukar was a box office sensation. After bagging the role of a comedian in the film, Siddiqui was christened Lehri, the name that became his identity during his 38 years in the film industry.
Out of the 225 films that Lehri made in his career, his comic roles inMera Ghar Meri Jannat, Tasvir, Tum Salamat Raho, Ishara, Nai Laila Naya Majnon, Tum Milay Pyaar Mila, Bahadur, Saiqa, Naukarand Zameer won him outstanding appreciation and fame.
Reflecting on the comedian’s career and work, veteran film actor Nadeem Baig says, “Lehri sahib was a big actor. I was a fan even before I joined the industry. I was lucky to have worked with him as such actors and comedians are not born every day,” adding that his film Dillagi was a “big contribution to his credibility and creativity”.
While the vast majority of Lehri’s roles were in Urdu films, the actor also worked on some Punjabi productions. Commenting on his acting skill and talent, Urdu and Punjabi film actor Ghulam Mohiuddin says, “His comedy performances have been great — he would be serious the whole time and then suddenly utter a hilarious dialogue and make us laugh.”
Despite not having played the lead role as a film’s hero — since the comedian’s role is usually a smaller one — Lehri found his place in the hearts of his million admirers. While his last film Dhanak was released in 1986, his contributions to Pakistani cinema earned him an award from the film industry in 1993.
Summing up Lehri’s memorable gift to cinema, veteran comedian and actor Rauf Lala says: “For so many years, he worked in the film industry and remained the king of Urdu comedy in Pakistan. From the utterance of dialogues to his gestures, we [comedians] have learnt a lot from him. His films and shows will always be remembered. The country has lost a treasure [with his death].”
Stars remember Lehri
Talat Hussain - TV actor: He was a very humane [and caring] person with a great sense of humour and satirical skills. His style was very different and he stuck to it. There is no doubt that he was a big actor who kept the tradition of real comedy alive in the sub-continent.
Bushra Ansari - TV actor and comedian: A big actor has left us — no other stars have sprung [in the entertainment industry] like him. We had very little interaction, but when we did on the sets of TV drama “Aangan Tehra” and some other skits in Karachi, he showed me what a pleasant human being he was, who sported a flair for dressing up suitably. However, when I saw him bed-ridden, he looked tiresome and depressed.
Qavi Khan - Film and TV actor: In performing arts, there are different styles and ways of performing. As far as other comedians are concerned, no one was able to match the impact Lehri made [on the audience]. In terms of performance, mental and physical delivery [execution], each scene Lehri did had a direct effect on the audience; something which separated him from other comedians.
Shabnam – Stage and film actor: We are all getting old now and I don’t know what life has in store for us. I hope he gets a good place in heaven. Since this morning, I’ve been very disturbed after hearing this unfortunate news.
Did you know?
Lehri won the prestigious Nigar award for 12 movies from 1963 to 1986 and set a record. Up until 1999, no other Pakistani comedian was able to break his record.
Lehri worked on 225 memorable movies over a film career spanning over 38 years.
Late prime minister Benazir Bhutto reportedly provided him a monthly stipend of Rs2,500 during her first tenure, which he continued to receive without any increase.
Life and filmography
Lehri was no doubt an unparalleled comedian and actor of Pakistan. He won great acclaim for his roles and many lauded him on his unique style of delivering a dialogue. Along with humorous roles, Lehri also played a few villainous and serious roles in films over the years.
 1929: Safeerullah Siddiqui was born in British India.
1956: He began his career by acting in the hit film Anokhi and                       adopted the name Lehri.
1963: Lehri won the prestigious Nigar Award for the first time for                  Best Comedian in the film Daman. He went on to win 11 more            such awards during his career.
1986: Lehri acted in his last film Dhanak
1993: A special award was given to Lehri by the Pakistani film                        industry for his splendid 38 years of acting.
2012: In August, Lehri was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit                     (ICU) at Liaquat National Hospital
2012:        September 13, Lehri passes away
1959        Faisla, Apna Paraya
1960        Insaaf, Noukri, Yeh Duniya
1961        Insaan Badalta Hay, Zamana Kya Kahe Ga
1962        Dosheeza, Anchal
1963        Teen Aur Teen, Qatl ke Baad, Ishq Par Zor Nahin
1964        Touba, Choti Ammi, Ashyana
1965        Shabnam, Kaneez
1966        Jokar, Ruswai, Koun Kisi Ka, Taqdeer
1967        Bahadur, Main Wo Nahin, Sajda, Devar bhabi, Wohti, Aag                   Ka Darya, Hamraz, Aag
1968        Doosri Maa, Balam, Aik Musafir Aik Haseena, Shehnai,                       Yaar Dost
1969        Tum Miley Pyar Mila, Nai Laila Naya Majnoon, Pia Milan                    Ki Aas, Jaisey Jantey Nahin, Mahmaan, Dil Daikey Dekho,                  Baharain Phir Bhi Aaingee
1970        Anjan, Shama Aur Parwana, Lori, Jaley Na Kyoun                                Parwana, Mohabbat Rang Layegee, Anjuman, Gharasti
1971        Rim Jhim, Do Baghi, Dunya Na Maney, Afshan, Rootha Na                 Karo, Yeh Aman,  Tahzeeb
1972        Dhamaka, Main Bhi To Insaan Hoon
1973        Sehrey Key Phool, Dulhan Raani, Society, Anhoni, Nadya                   Key Paar
1974        Dil Lagi, Subha ka Tara, Chahat, Babul Mor Muharaan,                       Sharafat, Neelam,  Nanha farishta, Phool Mairey Gulshan                   Ka
1975        Paisa, Piar Ka Mousam, Mohabbat Zindagi Hay, Gumrah,                    Shareef badmash, Dilnasheen, Anari, Isar, Soorat Aur                         Seerat, Roshni, Badal Gaya Insaan, Zanjeer, Masoom.
1976        Zubaida, Moam Ki Gurya, Koshish, Daagh, Aaj Aur Kal,                       Wada, Daikha jaayga, Insanyat, Jeo Aur Jeenay Do
1977        Uf Yeh Beevian, Sangam, Jawani Deevani, Jeeney Ki Raah
1978        Amber, Abshar, Kabhi kabhi, Prince, Mousam Hay                               Ashqana
1979        Mr.Ranjha, Ab Ghar Janey Do, Chaltey Chaltey
1980        Zameer, Bandhan, Saima, Badnam
1981        Dil Aik Khilona, Kiran Aur Kali
1983        Mang Mairi Bhardo
1985        Halchal
1986        Dhanak

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Ishq Khuda all set for Eid release, says director

Several rumours have been making the rounds regarding the release of the upcoming film Ishq Khuda.  This week however, director Shehzad Rafique has disclosed to the media that the film is set to release around the same time as Eidul Azha in Pakistan and other countries.
Rafique, who has directed several other films which have made it to film festivals overseas such as Rukhsati and Mohabbatan Sachiyaan, says that it is important for the improvement of the sluggish Pakistani film industry to ensure that local films are released internationally as well.
“There were no issues with actors not showing up in time or anything of that sort, production takes time but now we are all set for an Eid release,” says Rafique, who is involved in the post-production process of the film in India. “I have always tried to make sure that Pakistani films should have a market outside the country. My films have been released abroad in the past as well — so hopefully we are looking to release Ishq Khuda in Canada, Dubai and other markets.”
Rafique elaborates that the market in Canada is very promising, as there are many Punjabi-speaking people who have settled there. Ishq Khuda is described as a spiritual love-story that stars Ahsan Khan, Meera, and Wiam Dhamani along with appearances by Shaan and Saima.
“Compared to my other films, I think what stands out [in Ishq Khuda] is the fact that there has never been a film done on Sufism here,” says Rafique, adding that Islam was spread by way of the Sufi tradition in Pakistan. When asked about the spiritual outlook of the film and whether he believes that it could connect with the religiously divided Pakistani society, Rafique says he is quite hopeful.
“If you study Sufi tradition, you will see that it talks about peace, tolerance and harmony,” explains Rafique. Apart from the spiritual outlook of the film, other things to look out for include the impressive cast and the myriad of beautiful locations where the film was shot, including Mianwali and Khoora village of the breathtaking Soon Valley in Punjab.
“Personally, I see Pakistan as a very beautiful place. So whenever I make a film, I try to show the country for the beauty it embodies,” says Rafique.
Reflections on the film industry
Speaking about the condition of the Pakistani film industry, Rafique explains that the initial delay in releasing the film was deliberate, to avoid a clash with any other major film in the industry. He adds that when such few films are being made, it is unnecessary to have them compete with one another.
“You have to have a positive outlook … space should be given to each other. Right now, the circumstances are such that we cannot have such competition between films because there are so few,” says Rafique.
Talking about the local market, Rafique says that in smaller cities and towns, cinemas seem to be closing down, while in big cities several multiplexes are opening. He adds that the benefit of these multiplexes can only be maximised if films of a ‘certain standard’ are produced.
“Local films are being made on a certain level but for film-makers who want to touch an international standard, they have to do post-production abroad, so naturally the budget increases,” says Rafique.
However, recognising that budgetary constraints cannot always be solved effortlessly, he further adds, “The bigger the market for films becomes, the easier these issues of budget and so on will be solved.”