Friday, 30 November 2012

Revival of Pakistani film industry

‘Industry’ is an exaggerated word when spoken in reference to the current state of Pakistani films. With lack of technical crew and an absence of infrastructural support, output of Pakistani film industry stands frail – a stark contrast to the golden days of cinema that reigned supreme a few decades ago.
Dictatorial rules and lack of studious efforts to strengthen the film culture sent the industry down a spiral of gradual destruction as a result of which “Lollywood,” as it is popularly referred, stands in shambles. Gone are the days of romantic movies starring likes of Waheed Murad, Zeba and Muhammad Ali with chartbuster songs composed by Ahmad Rushdie.
That brand of cinema has reached its creative death and stands almost but over. But that’s not the end of it. While old cinema may have reached its threshold, the new age cinema has started spreading its wings thanks to young upcoming film-makers, whose love for the art of storytelling hasn’t diminished their passion despite the obstacles that come with pursuing a profession in film-making in Pakistan under current circumstances.
The list of problems start with funding issues and goes on to unavailability of technical crew, lack of equipment and absence of distributors or reliable distribution sources. While the idea of working for the big screen and being a part of the ‘film business’ sounds fancy in words, the truth is ‘film-making’ is an unprofitable business right now and one that requires tedious juggling. It is sheer passion, determination and perseverance that drive the film-makers of today.
Waar by Bilal Lashari, Lamhaa by Meher Jaffri, Josh by Iram Parveen Bilal, Gol Chakker by Aisha Lineaa and Shahbaz Shigri; the list of films due to be released in the coming year is a surprisingly long one and these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are several more in pre-production, scripting and production stages.
Usman Mukhtar
One commonality that these films share is the departure from typical Bollywood inspired films based on weak scripts, lackluster performances and complete absence of any substantial content. These films are giving rise to a newer, modern mode of cinema that is high on critical content which is more realistic and tackles current issues. One could argue that four or five films a year, don’t make a film industry but the truth is, we are at a juncture where we have to develop an industry from scratch. With minute individual efforts, a film here and there and unflinching support from press and film buffs, we have to kick start the momentum, cultivate the film culture and channel ideas. It will be a slow and tedious process but one that will take a massive movement with inputs by makers and audience alike.
“Ours is not a proper industry right now, but it is the beginning of an industry,” says Usman Mukhtar, an Islamabad based film-maker and actor, who also stars in Gol Chakkar.
But one could argue that all these films, under production right now, are composed of content very non-commercial in essence. Can we revive an industry when most of the work is unappealing to common lay men? Shouldn’t the focus be on making commercial films that appeal to the masses? Usman dismisses the notion by saying, “Every country has an audience of all intellect levels. Your audience will mature with time. If you start off at a low level then your standard will never improve. I am very pleased by the fact that our young film-makers are not being overly commercial. We don’t have an industry yet so we can mould it any way we want.”
Releasing films at foreign film festivals may rake in critical appreciation but the activity is pointless if the local audience doesn’t get to experience and appreciate cinematic endeavors of these film-makers. Most potent problems that these film-makers face are the funding and distribution issues — in a cash-stricken economy it is an uphill task to pull in an investor and the few distributors that do exist, are least interested in developing a film industry and more in making money. This is where multinational corporations and sponsors could come in. Instead of spending millions on mindless, trivial TV advertisements, they could help the film industry and these film-makers by sponsoring them. Take for instance the example of how alliance of “Coke Studio” and Coca Cola benefited both the brand and the music industry. It is the best thing that happened to Pakistan’s music industry in ages and Coca Cola, as a brand is more successful than it ever was and holds a sizeable market share in the cola industry.
Films are cultural archives of a nation. They document, project and channel cultural, social and political ideologies of a country and are resonates of an alive and active nation. Cohort endorsement is what our wrecked film industry needs right now along with sustenance, faith and backing on a national level. This is what it will take to pull it out of this state.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Goonda raj

Remember one thing, a Gujjar can sell his blood on the 11th of each month but he won’t sell milk,” Jagga Gujjar tells a group of shopkeepers. Jagga then goes on to beat them and instructs them to return the milk they had taken from him forcefully. He then takes it to the Dera Buddha Gujjar and distributes it amongst destitute children.
The scene is from the 1979 Lollywood film Wehshi Gujjar. On the face of it, to any modern critic of the Punjabi film industry, the story follows the ‘tried-and-tested’ Punjabi film formula: honour, bharaks (grandiose boasting), machismo and violence.
But there is something unique about this film. Not that Wehshi Gujjar is the second super-hit, after the success of Maula Jutt (1979), in the late 1970s to 80s period of Punjabi cinema, but the film is the first to be inspired by the story of a real-life goonda.
Jagga Gujjar, the film’s lead character, is a portrayal of Jagga Gujjar of Chowburgi, who is remembered till today for imposing the notorious ‘Jagga Tax’ on Lahore’s Bakra Mandi in the late 1960s.
“The film was actually going to be named Jagga Tax but the censor board did not pass the name. It was renamed Wehshi Gujjar to get it approved,” says Jagga’s nephew Chaudhry Imtiaz Gujjar.
Imtiaz, who is better known as Tajja, lives at the Dera Buddha Gujjar in Samnabad. This is the same dera which is referenced in the films Wehshi Gujjar, Puttar Jaggay Da (1990) andJagga Tax (2002). We enter through an arched gateway and walk past a parked land cruiser. Tajja is seated on a wicker lawn chair, with a loaded assault rifle lying next to him. “We are people with a lot of rivals and enemies,” explains Tajja, gesturing offhandedly at the gun.

The most famous of these rivalries, with Qila Gujjar Singh’s Shukerwala family, has since turned into a friendship but clearly that’s no reason for Tajja to let his guard down. Inheriting his uncle’s mantle, Tajja now runs Jagga Gujjar Productions. “The first film I produced wasPuttar Jaggay Da in 1990, which was a success. Then I made Jagga Punjab Da, which I had to release as Gujjar Punjab Da (1994). A decade later, I released Jagga Tax.”
the Flim
Tajja is clearly proud of his prolific film-making. “If you check the Guinness Books of World Records, you will find that I hold the record for the shortest time taken to produce a movie: 36 days to produce Jagga Tax, including the script, music and production at Bari and Evernew Studios. Then I made Numberdani (2010) in 30 days. Gujjar Punjab Da also took 30 days.”
Wehshi Gujjar, the first film on Jagga Gujjar, was made by Jagga’s brother, Chaudhry Miraj Din. “The story is more fiction than fact… but it is definitely about our family,” he says.
“While it is true that Gujjars do not sell milk on the 11th, no such event [with the shopkeepers] actually happened,” he says of the film’s opening sequence. “Puttar Jaggay Da is closer to the truth but it is also not a true story either.”
So what is the true story?
“Jagga was the name given to my uncle by his mother. From a very early age, he wanted to be remembered,” Tajja tells us. “People forget one thing… Jagga Gujjar spent only six months outside of jail before he was killed.”
Jagga, he explains, was jailed at the age of 14 for avenging the murder of his brother, Makhan Gujjar, at a mela in the year 1954. “Jagga killed the man who shot his brother eight days later. Holding Acha Shukerwala responsible for Makhan’s murder, Jagga organised an attack on Shukerwala from his jail cell. Two of Shukerwala’s men died while Shukerwala was wounded in the attack,” says Tajja. “He also killed a man from Acha’s group in jail before he was released on early parole in 1968 at the age of 28.”
“The fame Jagga earned was in the six months he was able to live out of jail,” he says. “I don’t know what story to tell of him. Wherever he went he fought people. He went to jail in an early age but continued to fight antisocial elements in society.”

The film Puttar Jaggay Da’s opening sequence is set in a Chowburgi market. When Buddha Gujjar, Jagga’s father, stops his horse carriage at a shop, people gather around him and sing praises of Jagga Gujjar to him. “Your son Jagga stopped a man from eve-teasing my sister,” says one. “Your son, Jagga, stopped a bootlegger from selling liquor,” says another. “Your son, Jagga, ensured that my husband returns home on time,” says a woman.
“This is true… the people in this neighborhood feared Jagga because he stopped young boys from eve-teasing and stopped others from bootlegging or selling narcotics,” says Tajja.
What is forgotten by most Punjabi film critics is that the goonda did not suddenly enter Punjabi film in the 80s. It was in fact in the 60s that the first real-life ‘goonda’ entered the film industry as a producer, and this is also when the real social context for these characters and stories was established: the enforcement of the Goonda Act in 1968.
The enforcement of the Goonda Act is one of the many events conveniently forgotten by many historians of Punjab… but film producers of the 80s did not forget it. Instead they re-wrote the script of the Goonda Act period through film and thereby reclaimed the role of thegoonda in popular imagination.
It was, in fact, Jagga’s great rival Acha Shukerwala, the pehlwaan from Qila Gujjar Singh, who was the first goonda to step into film production in 1965 with the hit film Malangi (1965). But contrary to what you may think, he was far from a social outcast and a criminal as far as the state machinery was concerned.
“Shukerwala was West Pakistan Governor Amir Muhammad Khan Awan’s right-hand man,” explains Kamran Chaudhry, producer of Bhai Log (2010). Chaudhry is Shukerwala’s nephew and is continuing the family’s legacy of film production. His office is located in Lahore’s film district, the Royal Park, opposite the Buddha Gujjar building, which is still owned by Jagga Gujjar’s family.
“Shukerwala would act as an enforcer for Amir Muhammad Khan… if there was a public agitation against a price hike, Shukerwala would be called to enforce ‘law-and-order’… If a politician was raising his voice, Shukerwala would be asked to deliver a ‘warning’,” Chaudhry says.
Amir Muhammad Khan, also the Nawab of Kalabagh, was in turn known as the right-hand man of then President Field Martial Ayub Khan. According to film lore, Governor Khan once ordered his men to abduct film heroine Neelo and forced her to dance for the Shah of Iran despite her refusal. Habib Jalib is said to have visited her in hospital after she attempted suicide following the humiliation at the hands of Khan. He composed the verses:
Tu ke na’wakif-e-aadaab-e-ghulami hai abhi
Raks zanjeer pehn ker bhi kiya jata hai
(You are still unaware of the etiquette of being a slave
One dances even when chained…)
The verses were later sung by Mehdi Hassan in the film Zarka (1969) and became the metaphor to remember the late governor with.
“The Goonda Act was enacted due to an incident involving my family,” Karman Chaudhry relates. “Acha Shukerwala had a rivalry with another group, which led to someone getting killed. During the hearing in the sessions court, one of the case witnesses was shot dead and his family took the body outside Governor House to protest. The then Governor Musa Khan imposed the Goonda Act [1959]. Acha and members of our family were rounded up and put in jail as suspects in the sessions court shootout case, and other known goondas were shot dead in staged police encounters.”
Tajja says Jagga Gujjar was the first person arrested after the enforcement of the act. “He was killed in confinement and then his body was thrown in the Bakra Mandi,” he says. “We were middlemen in the Bakra Mandi and the butchers tried to frame our family after Jagga was murdered. They murdered two of my brothers claiming they had returned to take Jagga Tax, but Jagga had never taken any tax himself. Police just created the propaganda of Jagga Taxto justify killing him… he barely spent six months out of jail before he was killed.” Tajja also says that there were between five and seven murder cases against Jagga. “Our entire family was forced to live within the confines of the Raiwind police area during this time.”
While the Goonda Act remained in force, over a dozen men labelled as goondas, including Jagga Gujjar and Kaka Lohar, were killed in police encounters across the Punjab area (then a part of the One Unit).
Coming out of this period, the families who had lost their relatives to the Goonda Act began pouring their money into film to reclaim their memory by offering a counter-narrative to the state.
The trend started when Chaudhry Miraj Din produced Wehshi Gujjar, and continued till Shahia Pehlwan of the Walled City stepped into film production. Riaz Gujjar, also considered a goonda, stepped into film production as well.
This era of Punjabi film featured not only a new generation of producers, but also saw the rise of new directors and actors. Filmasia distributor Mian Tariq, explains that this period was marked by the rise of actor Sultan Rahi. “Maula Jutt was released in 1979…and the rest is history,” he says.
“One of the lesser known stories is that a film, Wehshi Jutt, had been produced before Maula Jutt. Both films had taken Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi’s short story Gandasa on the culture of Gujranwala as the inspiration for their script.”
That one of the quintessential Urdu intellectuals was instrumental in the genesis of a genre of film considered so antithetical to the Pakistani cultural project is one of the great ironies lost in the cultural debate around the Punjabi film genre.
While Qasmi’s Gandasa might have unwillingly served as inspiration for the genre, Tariq considers the secession of East Pakistan in 1971 as another critical factor for the rise of the Punjabi film.
“Before East Pakistan seceded, Urdu film distributors had three circuits to distribute their films to: Punjab and the NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan, and East Pakistan. From the 1970s, we were left with only two film circuits and half the audience,” Tariq says.
“The death blow for veteran producers was General Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship… 344 films were banned for ‘violating Islamic norms,’” he says.
Even Maula Jatt was not given clearance by the Censor Board but managed to attract huge audiences to cinema houses, thanks to the Lahore High Court’s stay order on the ban, which remained in effect for two years. Then Jagga Tax cleared the censor after being renamedWehshi Gujjar, and so a new chapter in the history of Pakistan film was opened: the goondas, who were successively nurtured and disposed off under Ayub’s rule reentered the public imagination under another dictator, General Ziaul Haq. Ironically, all this happened as the State pretended to be building a more puritanical culture.
The increasing popularity of Punjabi films in this period, while wriggling past an otherwise strict censor board, was not received kindly from all quarters. “There was an innate rivalry between Urdu and Punjabi filmmakers… most Urdu directors did not consider Sultan Rahi a hero,” Tariq explains. “To them, a hero was like a diamond… a beautiful individual who, when on screen, boys and girls would fall in love with.”
As old directors began to distance themselves from the new Punjabi circuit, a new set of directors replaced them. “The culture of film and the culture of the film studio completely changed with the entry of Punjabi film and the goonda as a producer,” Tariq says. “The films released in the 1980s were based on the goondas of the 1960s; the films released in the 2000s were based on the goondas of the 1990s. This is the untold story of Punjabi film.”
Seated at Evernew Studios, Shahid Rana, who considers himself a bit of an outcast amongst directors, says, “Society is what makes a goonda. When I made the film Goonda (1993), this was the concept of it. Sultan Rahi’s character is forced to confront a powerful man who attempts to rape a woman on a street crossing. When the man points a Kalashnikov at him, Rahi ends up shooting him by mistake and is sent to jail. After he returns from jail, it is people that make him a goonda to fulfill their own ends… Rahi is, if anything, the ‘reluctantgoonda’… he becomes what he does because it is society that needs him to be that way.” Rana says.
Rana’s current project is to make the film Jajji Bahadur, based on the life of Shahia Pehlwan’s rebel son, Jajji (real name: Javed Ilyas Butt). He is directing the film for Shah Din Productions, also known as Shahia Productions, for whom he has directed a number of films earlier, including Kalka (1990), Goonda and Puttar Shahiay Da (1986). “Jajji was killed due to their family enmities in the mid-1970s. He was famed for his bravery and had fought off numerous police encounters and survived,” he says.
Jajji’s brother Shahabuddin Butt also entered film production with the film Gentleman in 1969. The mantle was then taken up by their two younger brothers, Pervaiz Butt and Babar Butt, who produced Rana’s Kalka and now Jajji Bahadur.
“Having made Puttary Shahiay Da for the family earlier, the brothers now want me to make a film with Jajji’s name in the title,” Rana says.
The film’s title poster, which hangs on a wall in Shahia Pehlwan’s dera near the Taxali Gate features the real-life photograph of Jajji. A number of pictures of Shahia Pehlwan with President Ayub Khan are also on display. Some of Shahia’s nephews have also acted in the films their uncles produced.
“The film will depict Jajji’s true story. He was a wrestler who was forced onto the wrong side of the law. The police opposed him for his bravery and his parents tried to make him reconsider his path, but he became too set in his ways and was killed,” Rana says.
Caste identities in Punjab have continued to find themselves in a tense relationship with the Pakistani state and its cultural project. This tension has found its expression through finding for itself an anti-hero, the goonda, and representing his tragedy as an attempt to negotiate a space within the cultural realm.
Punjabi film has undergone a transformation from Malangi in the 60s to Wehshi Gujjar in the late 70s all the way to Jajji Bahadur in the 2010s. Over the last two decades, Punjabi films have been unable to replicate the financial success of previous goonda-oriented scripts.
The families of former goondas who entered film production have also not been blind to the need for new stories to reflect changing audiences. The hit films Chooriyan (1998) produced by the Jagga Gujjar family, Kalka from Shah Din Productions, and Bhai Log (2010) from Chaudhry Kamran represent attempts at carving out a new niche for Punjabi film.
Khurram Bari, the chief executive of Bari Studios, speaks of an abandoned attempt by an educated Gujjar family to produce a film titled Gentleman Gujjar. This, coupled with admissions by directors, producers and studio owners that the formula Punjabi film is no longer profitable, points towards a need for Punjabi film to reassess the changing place of caste identities within contemporary Punjab.
“When Jagga Gujjar was released from jail, a crowd of people is said to have stood outside to greet him at Mazang Chowk. When he died, thousands joined his funeral,” Tajja recollects. More recently, the funeral of local goonda Tipu Truckanwala also saw a massive crowd in attendance.
If this is true, then the popularity of films about goondas should come as no surprise to anyone. Nor should one forget that almost all of those killed when the Goonda Act was enacted in 1968, and those killed in police encounters in Shahbaz Sharif’s second term as chief minister of Punjab in the late 1990s, have at least one film to their names.
The goonda, considered the anti-thesis of the law, has, if nothing else, carved out an indelible chapter for himself in the history of Pakistani cinema. That alone is enough to give the goonda, and the late Sultan Rahi, immortality.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

29th death anniversary of Waheed Murad today

 The 28th death anniversary of legendary Pakistani film actor, producer and script writer Waheed Murad was observed on Friday. He is well-known for his charming expressions, attractive personality, tender voice and unusual talent for acting in films. His romantic style of acting made him popular amongst the young cinema viewers of south asia. He was born on October 2, 1938 in Sialkot. One of his blockbuster films is Armaan, which was produced by him, made a pivotal impact on the sub-continental film industry such that the Pakistani film industry was considered as the rising sun and this film made him a superstar overnight. He was died on November 23, 1983 in Karachi. He was awarded Nigar award for best actor in Heera aur pathar (1964), Armaan (1966), Andaleeb (1969), Mastana mahi (1971) and Legend Award for life time in 2002. In November 2010, 27 years after his death, he awarded by the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, the “star of excellence,” an honour given for distinguished merit in the fields of literature, arts.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Hamza Ali Abbasi gears up for Kambakht

After several screenings of Mudhouse and the Golden Doll, film-maker and actor Hamza Ali Abbasi recently announced his next film venture: a comedy film, tentatively titled Kambakht, starring Ahsan Khan and Shafqat Cheema. In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, Abbasi discusses juggling the roles of acting and filmmaking and the need for more entertainment based films in the industry.
“I was primarily interested in working behind the camera when I entered the industry,” says Abbasi. “Even when I went to meet the team of Waar, as an assistant director, they offered me a role and made me act.” He has a prominent role in Bilal Lashari’s directorial debut,Waar and is eagerly awaiting its release.
As an actor, Abbasi has shown immense potential due to his theatre experience and willingness to adapt to specific characters. “I started to get commercials and other offers; I was doing a lot of work in front of the camera,” Abbasi shares. “Then I realised, I am not catering to the first love of my life.”
“The thing is that some of our senior directors are stuck-up, which is very shameful,” says Abbasi. “The good thing about Bilal is that he is a new and very well-groomed director. He is actually more of a friend and has taught me a lot about film-making.”
Although Abbasi is deeply excited about his performance in Waar and its potential as a new-age, action-packed film for Pakistani cinema, his passion remains film-making. He shares that he is only going to focus on being behind the lens, and not allow his priorities to be blurred, at least till January next year.
His current project Kambakht will be a medium budget film that is written by Abbasi himself. He is adamant that Pakistan’s film industry does not need art films or movies based on social issues; rather the need is for entertainment-based films that can connect with a wider audience.
“With time, you tend to know what you’re good at, and I realised my forte is comedy films,” says Abbasi. “That’s what I feel comfortable doing. I wouldn’t mind something intense and dramatic but what film-makers need to do is make it entertaining. It should be for the masses.”
Abbasi’s up-coming film, Kambakht is about two people from different backgrounds, who accidentally become friends. Abbasi emphasises that the film will be about the collision of two worlds; one character (played by Shafqat Cheema) belongs to a socially regressive area and the other is an Islamabad city boy, played by Ahsan Khan.
“It’s sad that brilliant actors like Shafqat Cheema, Shaan or even Mustafa Qureshi are used in such a bad way through Lollywood,” explains Abbasi. “People make fun of them. It’s time they are given an opportunity to act to their utmost potential.”
Talking about the budget of his new film, Kambakht, Abbasi says that it is much higher than that of Mudhouse and the Golden Doll — which was only Rs25,000 — which makes Abbasi proud for making one of the cheapest films to ever come out of this country.
“It’s a much larger budget made for a larger audience; this film has a market,” describes Abbasi. “Not only do I want you and I to enjoy the movie, but taxi or rickshaw-walas should watch the film and enjoy it as well.”
Writing the script was a tricky process for Abbasi, he explains. He emphasises that the key point was to keep the desi element intact.
“While writing the script, you have to keep duration in mind,” Abbasi shares. “It’s a pretty tricky job, and one thing you have to keep in mind is that there is an element for each person.” Abbasi continues, “For instance, we have Lollywood style and desi characters in the film, but also characteristics that would cater to the niche audience.”
Abbasi said his film Mudhouse and the Golden Doll following its tour would be released online very soon, via a platform like Vimeo.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Second International Children’s Film Festival calls out to Karachi

To entertain, inspire, and educate is the purpose of the second Karachi International Children’s Film Festival, which has been organised by festival director Shoaib Iqbal in collaboration with The Little Art and Teacher’s Resource Centre (TRC).
The idea behind the festival is to celebrate and encourage some of the best films made for and by children. It is geared towards specific age groups from four to 16 years old. Children have a vivid imagination with toys and make-believe characters, and can love unconditionally; these themes stood out at the screening showcased at the Rangoonwala Community Centre in Dhoraji Colony on Wednesday.
The first film to be screened was Disassembled, which came from the Netherlands. While it was packed with creative graphics and animated creatures, the film failed to attract much attention because there was no concrete plot.
However, another film titled Picture This gained positive feedback and touched the hearts of the audience. The story is about Giles, a young girl from South Africa, who left her elderly grandmother at her home town Gogo to be with her father in another town of South Africa. Like her father, Giles also shares his passion for painting and she paints the town in a myriad of colours. But when her father finds out, he becomes angry because she uses all his paints. The people, however, appreciate her for painting it red and making the town a livelier place to live in.
The Pakistani film Bhaoo was also an entertaining watch. It was the story of a little boy named Bilal who is scared of demons he thinks he sees at midnight. He has nightmares about them and screams out for his mother, but his mother doesn’t take his fears seriously. For young Bilal, many questions remain unanswered because his mother is always too busy on the telephone. The deeper theme of the play is that Bilal’s imaginary demons are a result of his mother’s neglect.
Another animated movie from the United Kingdom titled Lost and Found was interesting. The plot revolves around a little penguin from the shores of the South Pole who comes to an anonymous town in the UK and knocks on the door of a little boy. The boy then goes from place to place, trying to find a home for the animal.
Appreciation from the young
At the Zuleikhabai Audi-torium, about 50 students from the Foundation School in Bahadurababd were present. One of the 10-year-olds, Mohib Anwar, said he loved watchingLost and Found because the movie described how friends are made and then lost and regained.
“Children thoroughly enjoyed the festival,” said school administrator Ghulam Akbar. “However, a guide should be here to help the children understand morals behind any given story, so that they can understand it better.”
“Films are a mode of entertainment and inspiration for young minds,” said Ali Hameed, the program director for The Little Art. “We select films from across the world and bring it here to the local audience. This also makes them well aware of other cultures in the world.”
More films will be screened during the day time for young viewers on November 8 and then through November 12 to 14 at the Zuleikhabai Auditorium of the Rangoonwala Centre.