Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Pakistani cinema will revive in 10 years: Sajjad Gul

Evernew Studios in Lahore — the first studio to open in Pakistan following independence — is a place with immense historical and cultural value as it forms the foundation of Lollywood.
Apart from overseeing and managing the studio, producer, director and entrepreneur Sajjad Gul has closely been linked to the development and growth of Pakistani cinema and has kept a vigilant eye on it. As a film-maker, he may have been in hibernation but as far as the underlying transformation in the film industry over the years is concerned, he has played a major role.
“There are a series of events that can point to the state of affairs we are in today,” said Gul, whose father opened Evernew Studios and Firdous Cinema, Pakistan’s first cinema. He feels that although the studio withstood many years, it also unfortunately, depicts the inability of the film industry to innovate and evolve in terms of technology and infrastructure. In this regard, Evernew still remains one of the biggest and oldest studios of Pakistan.
He recalls that there were misconceptions regarding the circumstances and state the film industry was in, back in the day. “The studio is a commercial unit, like a factory or an outlet,” he said, adding that being an entrepreneur and a media professional at the same time meant that there was no return on investment. “Losses had started in the early ‘80s in Ziaul Haq’s era. This clearly dispels the popular notion that Punjabi cinema was commercially viable.” He said it was “easier said than done” to provide technology such as cameras, laboratories or even lighting equipment to the industry.
“Everything had to make sense. If we had invested Rs300 to Rs400 million about 20 years ago, we would have definitely gone bust much earlier,” he added. “We realised that in Zia’s era, cinemas were going down and the global film industry was also in decline due to all the technology that was coming out — televisions and satellites.”
While Gul has managed to keep a balance between his two roles, a studio owner and a producer, he feels that managing a studio is more like managing a factory and being a producer is more about “creative entrepreneurship.” As a producer, he also feels that he gained the title of notoriety in the early ‘90s following his Salman Rushdie inspired film,International Gorillay.
“This film was a clear signal to me and the film industry that people were no longer coming to cinemas anymore,” said the film-maker, who is revisiting the idea of making a new film despite his latest film No Paisa No Problem being a box office flop. “I am being honest that we wrote and produced fiction with International Gorillay. I was in London back then and the whole Rushdie issue suddenly erupted, so I thought why not express how we feel?” He added, “Back then people didn’t behave the way they did regarding blasphemy like they did recently [on anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims] — the sensitivities have changed and how people react has changed as well.”
Commenting on the cinema-going culture in Pakistan, he believes that within the next 10 years, the trend will pick up again and Lollywood would take control as a prevalent film industry. “New screens [theatres] are being constructed in Pakistan, so people who didn’t get the chance of watching films on big screens will now have the opportunity to,” he said. “Cinema-going was a habit we had, which we lost, specifically those people who were on average incomes.”
“In the next 10 years we can expect more than 300 new screens and once this happens, box office will revive — number of films produced and released will also increase,” he added. He also believes that one thing that has triggered the cinema culture in Pakistan is the availability of films from Bollywood, which is also thriving.

Fewer films, fewer choices on Eid - who is to blame?

It seems Pakistan’s entertainment-starved public and the flagging movie industry in general received no respite — even on Eid.
Despite attempts, two new Hollywood flicks – slated to be released on Eidul Azha to offer cinemagoers with ample choice of entertainment – were unable to make it to the big screen due to an apparent rift between stakeholders and the censor board.
On the eve of the second day of Eid, Atrium cinemas on their official fan page registered a protest against the Central Board for Film Censorship (CBFC) stating that: “Due to the non-cooperation of the new chairman [of the] CBFC Islamabad, films Cloud Atlas and Stolen were not certified. Thus both films are not running on Eidul Azha. We regret the inconvenience caused to all our cine goers and feel sorry for the immense loss born by the distributor HKC Entertainment.”
However, the censor board rendered these allegations “a fabrication of facts”.
“This is a blatant fabrication,” Iftikhar Durrani, adviser to the minister for national regulation and services who is also a member of the censor board, told The Express Tribune. “We received the films at 1700 hours on Thursday, the last working day before the Eid holidays. One film didn’t have a ‘letter of origination’ (which states which country owns the rights of the film) and the other had a photocopy which is why the films were delayed,” he added.
The two Hollywood movies – Cloud Atlas and Stolen – which were specially arranged to hit nine screens, including all the multiplexes across the country on Eid, were not certified for release — ultimately causing a huge loss to the Pakistani film industry box office.
On the other hand, two Pushto films were screened for and approved by the censor board that very day which, according to the board, were submitted in time with all the paperwork in place.
Hammad Chaudhary, the marketing director of HKC Entertainment, said that such practices were lethal for Pakistan’s image as a potential release territory worldwide.
“It took us years to convince producers in Hollywood to take Pakistan seriously as a territory for releasing their films but when their films are not screened it shows really badly on us,” Chaudhary complained.
“Although Cloud Atlas is slated for a February 2013 release in the UK, I had convinced Focus Features (the company he acquired the rights from) to give us the film because we had four straight public holidays in Pakistan. And they did but unfortunately the film never made it to the screens.”
A member of the censor board rebutted: “Since it takes time to gather the civil serving members of the board, it takes around 72 working hours for any film to be censored and the SOP’s are generally more for foreign films than Pakistani hence local films don’t take that long for approval.”
However, Atrium cinemas Managing Director Nadeem Mandviwala considered the arguments given by the board as baseless. “The censor board always understands the importance of time in the film releasing business but in this case they are deliberately creating obstacles in our way,” he told The Express Tribune.
Referring to the standard practice, he said local distributors are supposed to provide a certificate of origination to the censor board but since the paperwork takes time, the distributor submits an affidavit or a photocopy of the original certificate guaranteeing the arrival of the new one via courier. Even in the case of these two films, the original certificate was on its way and the affidavit had been submitted by HKC Entertainment, one of the oldest distributors in Pakistan.
“By delaying the film they have not only damaged the distributors and exhibitors but have ultimately hurt the Pakistani cinema at large, which is really sad and senseless,” said Mandviwalla.
If the rift between industry stakeholders and the censor board persists, the formation of a consolidated and holistic national film policy, the general public, the box office and the rebirth of Pakistani cinema in general will remain at stake.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Bambino reopened this Eid: THE SHOW MUST GO ON!

With its charred neon signboard still hanging on to the building as a reminder of that chaotic day, Bambino Cinema will open its doors for the public on Eidul Azha, a month after it was set on fire by a mob during riots against the anti-Islam movie, its owners said on Thursday. 
The decision was made to cater to the needs of people who flood the cinemas in the thousands during the holidays as they cannot afford other expensive entertainment venues, said Adeel Imtiaz, the CEO. “We are trying to stand on our feet again. The public will come. I know they will,” he said, during a press conference to mark the re-launch, which had appeared uncertain a few weeks back. “The government, the authorities and the officials have done nothing for us. We have tried to put back the pieces ourselves.”
The cracking sting of wood varnish hung in the lobby as workers painted the wall and fixed the interior. “Up till now we have spent Rs5 million on the internal fixtures, the sound system and the projector,” Imtiaz said.
The badly damaged exterior requires millions of rupees in investment, something that the owners say they cannot afford.
On September 21, a mob went on a rampage damaging public and private property. At least six cinema theatres were gutted, including Bambino, Nishat, Capri and Prince – all popular with people who don’t frequent the new multiplexes where tickets are Rs350 and above.
Bambino’s place in history is unique. Founded by Hakim Ali Zardari, the father of President Asif Ali Zardari, in 1963, it was inaugurated by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Adeel smiled when the fact was raised during the press conference. “Yes, it is part of his (Zardari’s) history as well. But he did not call us or sent any representative to see how the place was doing.”
The Indian movie ‘Rush’ will be showing during Eid. Lollywood’s Sher Dil is also lined up along with James Bond’s ‘Skyfall’. “There is nothing more I want than to show a Pakistani movie first. However, we have to do what the public wants.”
One would have thought that after such a disaster, Bambino would have reopened with fanfare. But that won’t be the case. Sewerage still clogs the road outside that is choked by traffic almost all the time.
“This place is for the masses. The 900 seats here are filled by people who pay Rs60 at the most to buy a ticket,” Adeel said as he took reporters on a tour of the building. “I wish I could do something about the cleanliness around the building. That is the job of the municipal authority.”
Seats in the hall were burned and over 200 of them are being replaced.
Adeel said the new cinemas, which were offering 3D movies were for a different customer. “All such cinemas are coming up in shopping malls. Our theatre is on the roadside.”
Even before the fire devastated the cinema, Bambino was struggling to woo customers with just a handful of good movies to offer. “That is not exactly correct. We were making a comeback. I showed Raaz 3 and it was success,” said Imtiaz.
On Sir Agha Khan Road, many people stop for a while to take a look at the damaged facade, pointing to the billboard featuring Rush in front of the naked windows.
There is little excitement among the staff. “To be honest, I can only hope for a good response. The law and order situation in this city and so many other problems have changed everything over the year,” said Adeel. “Well, we have taken the risk. Now let’s wait and see!”

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Humaima Malik wins award for best actor female

Whether it’s the Best Actress award at the 11th Lux Style Awards 2012 or Best Actor Female award at London Asian Film Festival, Pakistani actor Humaima Malik has received a lot of fame and acclaim for her moving performance in the unconventional movie Bol.
However, this time she has been crowned the Best Lead Actress for her role in Bol at the first-ever South Asian Rising Star Film Awards.
“I had no idea this role would earn so much recognition. It is an amazing honour to receive another award in a foreign land for a movie that is very close to my heart,” says Humaima, who was nominated in the Best Lead Actress category among four other actors.
Humaima says she owes the entire team of Bol, Shoaib Mansoor — the director — and her family for this achievement. Her role in the movie was of a strong woman who fought against the society’s hypocrisy, and her father’s patriarchal and double standards.
Four other nominees for the category included Indian actors Tannishtha Chatterjee, Parineeti Chopra, Rasika Dugal and Preeti Desai.
The award function, which was organised in collaboration with HBO, was part of the 9th annual South Asian International Film Festival — the largest entertainment gala related to South Asian entertainment industry to be held in the United States.
The Indian debutant and porn star Sunny Leonne hosted the event along with US film-maker Jay Chandrasekhar. On the other hand, the star studded jury included American actor and musician Janina Gavankar, Indian film critic Rajeev Masand, front man of Goldspot and singer-songwriter Siddhartha Khosla, and American actor Maulik Pancholy.
Humaima’s achievements do not make a stop just here. She has also been nominated for the Best Actress category at the Asia Pacific Screen Award, for which she would be competing with Indian actor Vidya Balan of The Dirty Picture fame

Friday, 19 October 2012

Lollywood’s online magazine PIE Issue ten is out now.

Lollywood’s  sole online magazine Pakistan Insight Entertainment (PIE) just released its 10th edition. Here is the link.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Film Josh selected to screen at Mumbai film festival

Pakistani independent films are making waves around the globe. In August this year, Lamha (Seedlings) directed by Mansoor Mujahid rocked the New York City International Film Festival (NYCFF), and now Iram Parveen Bilal’s Josh (Against the Grain) is all set for screening at the 14th Mumbai Film Festival which is organised by Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI).
Bilal is known for her award-winning short films Marwa and Poshak, but Josh is her first debut feature. It’s also the only Pakistani fiction film to be screened in the world cinema category through MAMI in the last five years.
The story
Josh is about Fatima, a dedicated school teacher, who is living a high cosmopolitan life in Karachi until one day her life shatters when she finds out her nanny Nusrat inexplicably disappears. Fatima then takes on the challenge to seek the dangerous truth in Nusrat’s feudal village. The themes being tackled are class separation, feudalism, poverty, individual empowerment, and women’s rights.
“I tell everyone that the take on the film is that independence comes through unity,” Bilal says to The Express Tribune. “When the people of a nation, a group of friends, a town, or a village stand united, nothing can come in their way. Underlying themes that are also highlighted are to never give up and one person can make a change,” she says.
Bilal tells us that although Josh has an original script, the story is inspired by true accounts like Parveen Saeed’s concept of “Khana Ghar”. Saeed had established eateries around Karachi’s slums to erase hunger, which also brought down the crime rate. Another reality that the film portrays is feudalism and the acts of revenge cases in feudal villages.
Josh has a promising Pakistani cast, including Aaminah Sheikh, Nyla Jafri, Khalid Malik, Mohib Mirza, Kaiser Khan Nizamanim, Adnan Shah Tipu, Parveen Akbar and Naveen Waqar.“My cast is my jewel!” says the proud director. “We had such an extended ensemble cast and we got lucky because as a whole, it was a delight and they took the project very seriously and respectfully,” Bilal says.
She also stated that she didn’t rely on any foreign technicians for the film. Bilal wanted a complete Pakistani film crew for the production process. “I have seen way too many films that bring foreign cast and crew members and Pakistanis are just the assistants or sideliners,” Bilal explains, “They shoot and they leave, then we end up with people who don’t have any legitimate experience in a major project.”
Expressing her excitement on being chosen to screen at MAMI, Bilal says: “I was grateful. We have a good film, and we hope it gets into many more festivals. But festivals are as random as college admissions, so I suppose it can be surprising.”
Aside from Josh, Bilal is also very surprised that Kareena Kapoor actually played a character by the name of Iram Parveen Bilal in the controversial film Agent Vinod. “I have to be honest —  it was a bit flattering,” she laughs and continues, “because it’s Bollywood’s leading lady and a major film. I knew it wasn’t random but very much intended. Sriram Raghavan, the director of Agent Vinod, is a friend and a mentor and he loves my name, but the entire name was a bit of a shock  at first and then, just pure fun. I am told Kareena knows about me in detail so I hope she will watch Josh, when it is released in India!”
Aamina: I hope Josh is a journey for the audience, that awakens their spirits, grips their emotions and makes them re-evaluate values that the film explores
Khalid: Fans will enjoy the story and it’s a perpendicular to my otherwise goofy and jovial side on the breakfast show. I get to show my deep insides, I mean my deep side
Naveen: Iram is passionate about her work. She was a joy to be around because she made everything comfortable and fun while being a true professional
Mohib: Fans can learn to believe in themselves and be the change that they need to see in the society

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Dunya — a film featuring khwaja siras

The media’s portrayal of khwaja siras (transgender individuals) is often negative. In the film industry, such a character is either the subject of a joke or frowned upon and given limited roles.
In Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol, we saw the transgender community play a more positive role as its members tried to save a young boy from the clutches of harassers. In the same spirit, this coming February these neglected individuals of our society will play a role in Dunya, a Punjabi film directed by the distinguished Shahid Rana, who is making a comeback after five years.
Near the acclaimed Evernew Studios in Lahore, a rooftop marriage hall is festooned with lights. Dhol and dafli players are all set to film a scene capturing an old-city haveli. Around 20 khwaja siras are dressed in their best outfits; their eyes shining with excitement as they prepare for their film debut. Starring alongside are some of Lollywood’s finest actors; Moammar Rana, Saima, Shafqat Cheema, Rambo, and Nargis. It’s the shooting of the filmDunya, in which 70 members of the transgender community will act alongside the film industry’s prominent stars.
Neeli Roy, the guru and chairperson of Anjuman Khwaja Sira, is from Texali gate in old Lahore. Over the years, she has taken in and trained many people from the transgender community and suggested some names for the shooting of the film. Roy wants to show the societal discrimination against khwaja siras like herself by appearing in the film. “People look at us differently — with really bad intentions,” she says. “It would be great if the awaam will love us [because of this film]; we are sad people and have been kicked out of our houses. All we need is love.”
One member from the community, Zebi, stands close to her group of friends at the shooting. Her face is lit up and she giggles as she waits for her scene to be filmed. Zebi is from Badami Bagh and lives with her teacher, Roy, most of the time. “Most of us have to run away,” she explains. “If I ask you to wear these hijra clothes, would you? Even if you wear them, would your family accept you? They would not!” Zebi cries out. “That’s why we stay away from our families and our neighbourhoods, because we cause them embarrassment.”
An underlying theme in the film is the dancing culture associated with khwaja siras. Roy laughs as she tries to dispel the stereotypes that come along with living in prostitution-associated neighborhoods like Heera Mandi.
“It’s known as Heera Mandi because that’s where the singing and dancing takes place,” says Roy. “If it’s a wedding or the celebration of a child’s birth, people want to have a function and call khwaja siras. At that time, people book us for their functions and go home,” she says bitterly.
With this film, for the first time, Pakistan’s favourite villain Shafqat Cheema will be playing a positive role in a Punjabi film — the role of a guru Khwaja Sira. In the movie, Moammar Rana works as a doctor in a village where he meets Saima. Rambo, who plays Saima’s brother, is the sole-breadwinner for their family. When his sister is ready for marriage, he leaves the village for the city to earn money for her dowry. His struggle begins when he arrives in the city and his horse is stolen outside of Data Sahib’s durbar.
“In the film, Rambo dances to make money for Saima’s dowry, but the result is that no one is willing to marry his sister,” says veteran screenwriter and lyricist Abdullah Chilli, who has penned the script for Dunya. “These traditions have a negative role, and it’s important that we rethink them.”
A series of mishaps lands Rambo behind bars, where Shafqat Cheema introduces him to the world of dancing in Heera Mandi and also plays the role of a mentor who gets Rambo on his feet.
Although it seems that Dunya is going to be a film that touches upon some serious themes, Rana clarifies that it will still be entertaining. “I have never really done a film like this before. Our action films are failing so we are hoping to do something light-hearted and comedic,” he says.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

'Sher Dil': Kashmiri struggles to be different

While the aftermath of violent protests on Ishq-e-Rasool day left cinemas in tatters in Karachi, it has inspired one film-maker to take on a project. Known for his films Jo Dar Gaya Woh Mar Gaya, Ghar Kab Aaoge and also for giving Sultan Rahi his first prominent role in Babul, director Iqbal Kashmiri explores the possibility of making a film on this controversial subject.
“The next film I will do will be about the recent incidents and events [riots across Pakistan] which damaged the image of the Holy Prophet (pbuh),” he told The Express Tribune. “The film’s title will beGhulam-e-Mustafa,” he added.
“The events have really inspired me. Currently, I have writers that are working on the script.When it’s done, I will decide how to proceed with the project.”
While he didn’t elaborate on script-details, he isn’t the first director to tackle such a controversial theme. The film International Gorillay, released in the ‘90s in context of The Satanic Verses controversy, portrayed Salman Rushdie as Islam’s main villain. It starred Mustafa Qureshi, Ghulam Mohiuddin and Javed Sheikh as mujahidsstruggling to save Pakistan from Satan’s evil forces. Kashmiri further explained how current events have insulted Muslim sentiments and have served as his source of inspiration to make the film. Other details will be provided once the script is complete, he said.
Project Sher Dil
While the general impression is that Lollywood is nearing its end, members of the industry beg to differ as this year’s third major Lollywood production is set to release this Eid – Iqbal Kashmiri’s Sher Dil. While the veteran director, who had a string of hit films up until the ‘90s, has lately had a bit of a rough patch, his expectations for his upcoming project are high. He hopes to connect with a wider audience via a more modern and non-conventional script.
Steering the conversation to his upcoming film Sher Dil, Kashmiri said that the star-studded cast includes Shaan, Saima, Silla Hussain and Shafqat Cheema. The script, on the other hand, has been written by three different writers which were chosen by Kashmiri, forming the final draft. He then said that it’s not a norm in the industry to use more than one writer but he has even used seven in the past. The story of Sher Dil centres around a modern political set up – two police officers are shown in heroic roles, one female and one male which, in effect, is a rare scenario in Pakistani films.
“I have always tried to be different with every film I have made in the past,” he said. “But my real search is for a good story.” In Sher Dil, Shaan will play the role of a DSP (deputy superintendent police) while Saima dons the role of a female police officer. While Silla Hussain will be seen as a news reporter, the glorified villain, Shafqat Cheema, will step into the role of a corrupt minister with Ahmed Butt as his son. “These characters are connected with the awaam’s voice. Addressing the current situation in the country, the police is shown in a positive light.”
He said that the story is different from the “Gujjar class” of films the audience is used to viewing. “The characters need to have some human sentiments – the thing that matters most is what the individual stands for and this is what the film should provide, no matter how special the story is,” he said. “Whether it’s a romantic hero, an action hero, a brother, a friend or anyone else – they should be characters we come across in everyday life.”
However, while he is excited about the film’s nationwide release, he is also regretful of the current circumstances film-makers are forced to endure – the burning down of cinemas, lack of government support and overall disregard for the film industry. “This has become a norm in the country, whether it’s the general public or anyone else,” he said. “Nothing can be said about whether any change will ever come.”
While the director was a box office attraction in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he seems to have lost his charm in the recent decade. One hopes that Sher Dil has the magic of his best works.