Thursday, 27 December 2012

The end: Shabistan cinema draws charred curtains

PESHAWAR: Ravaged by the fires fuelled by an angry mob protesting over the blasphemous film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ on September 21, the curtain has now fallen on the historic Shabistan Cinema.
The decades-old theatre situated along Grand Trunk (GT) Road near Jinnah Park shows no signs of the glamour it once exuded. The gate is shut and labourers can be seen razing its structure down brick by brick. A placard with a phone number near the gate reads: ‘Contact for purchasing bricks.’
Inside, the main hall is littered with bricks and metal beams, while the second floor has rolls of film strewn around in one corner. The walls, which are blackened by soot, are perhaps the gravest reminder of what happened on that day in September.
Labourers demolishing the structure are seemingly unaware of what the cinema represented in the past and what the future holds for it.
“Demolishing work is in progress for the past two weeks. First the roof was demolished and we are now tearing down the walls. We do not know anything about the owners and their plans,” said a worker at the site.
The person whose number is inscribed on the placard at the gate also expressed ignorance over whether the cinema was being demolished or reconstructed. “You better contact the owners, they have a business on Yadgar Chowk,” said the man who identified himself as Sher.
Aftab Sabri
The cinema’s former owner Aftab Sabri said he sold the building around a month ago.
When asked what was in store for the place now, Sabri said it was up to the new owners to use the property whichever way they like. “It is very unlikely that they will construct another cinema after demolishing its structure; and a plaza or market will probably be constructed in its place.”
“It was gutted beyond repair. Machinery, screen, roof – everything was destroyed,” said Sabri, adding that the damages amounted to millions of rupees.
Sabri said rebuilding the structure required a huge investment and since there is no guarantee it will not be torched again, he decided to sell it off instead. “Previously, it (the building) was on rent. I took over the cinema in the 1970’s.”
Shabistan over the years
Work on Shabistan Cinema was first initiated in 1946 by a prominent businessman of the time, Agha Jee Gul.
In the words of Mohammad Ibrahim Zia, a cultural enthusiast who conducted painstaking research on Peshawar’s actors in Bollywood, Shabistan was the first modern cinema opened after the creation of Pakistan.
“Its canteen was spacious and Syed Habib Shah, a leading art director of Lollywood, adorned one of its walls with a beautiful painting of Omar Khayyam’s quatrain,” recalled Zia.
He said the owners first planned to show ‘Jugnoo’ starring Dilip Kumar and Noor Jehan at the time of its opening, but ended up showing another film ‘Mehendi’ due to the non-availability of the former’s print.
End of cinemas in Peshawar?
Shabistan is the latest in a series of cinemas closed down in the provincial capital over the past few years. Novelty and Palwasha cinemas were demolished a few years earlier and multi-storied buildings were constructed in their place.
Falaksair Cinema was also demolished to make way for a plaza despite being termed a protected heritage site under the Federal Antiquities Act.
September 21 was, however, the worst day for the city’s cinemas. Angry mobs torched four theatres: Shabistan, Naz and Shama in the city limits and Capital Theatre in cantonment limits.
But while the others slowly got up to their feet and restarted operations, the fate of Shabistan was not as fortunate.
With the closure of Shabistan, the number of cinemas in Peshawar has decreased to eight.
“It is sad that a city whose artists reigned over Bollywood and illuminated the art scene of the world is gradually being devoid of art itself,” lamented Dr Adil Zareef, a member of the Sarhad Conservation Network.

Monday, 24 December 2012

For Mehreen Raheel, it’s Pakistan first

The actor says she wants to do work that will represent her country.
After several delays, the film Tamanna has quietly finished filming this week. The film, starring Umair Rana, Salman Shahid and Feryal Gauhar has already been featured in film festivals for its catchy soundtrack sung by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. A less talked about late addition to the cast is the talented actor Mehreen Raheel, who has been given an extended role in the film.
Tamanna is a UK-Pakistani production and is the first full-length Pakistani feature film directed by a British director Steven Moore. The story of the film is about a director who invites a man to his house to play games, but instead, the two characters fight over a woman. The story revolves around love, adultery, robbery and a murder. The film has been shot entirely in Pakistan.
Mehreen has been seen as the face of several brands with the most popular being Ufone and appeared in many television dramas as well. She feels that the film Tamanna is part of a larger project to help develop a Pakistani film industry. This is her second project since the much talked about co-production film, Virsa.
“Since our film industry has been in decline in the recent past, everybody is now working hard to revive it,” she says. “There was a big gap but the film industry never died out.”
Mahreen Raheel
Mehreen believes that the Pakistani film industry is functional mainly for the masses. However, now the directors and producers are focusing on making movies for “the elite or the educated”. “We need some time but we are actually being recognised in the market now,” she adds.
As she grows, Mehreen is more concerned about her craft. Presently, she has two television dramas on air, including a PTV Home production Daag-e-Nadamat and also Hum TV’sZindagi Gulzar Hai. She dispels the notion that she is being type-cast in younger character roles.
“I am a character actor,” she explains. “If you give me a younger role, I will do a younger role and if you give me an older role, I will do that. People think I am being typecast, but there is a lot of other work I do that should be reviewed also.”
Mehreen feels that she is versatile and is interested in both films and dramas, but that there is no comparison between the two. “It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Film can be a royal experience — it is the ultimate exposure. And if it’s an international film, one is not restricted to being popular only in their country.”
She adds that the new-age film scene is about struggling, coming together and making sacrifices to generate a new environment in our film industry. She acknowledged that talented people are working towards making films, despite the barriers and hang-ups that still exist.
Mahreen Raheel  coat
“We have modern thoughts that we have to execute with stone-age equipment; so it will take some time to be nurtured,” says Mehreen, adding that things need to change for improvement in the industry.
“A lot of film offers are coming my way,” says Raheel. “But if I am going to do something I want to represent my country — that comes first. It has to be something that I am proud of.”
Mehreen plays the role of a young girl in the film and says it is an interesting one. “When we started out, there were limited scenes for me but as they saw my work, the director decided to add more,” she adds.
Joining the film at the tail end of production, Mehreen says that she is excited about the soundtrack. “The soundtrack for my first film was also sung by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, which was a super-hit,” shares Mehreen, referring to Rahat’s hit song, Mein Tenu Samjhawan.
The young actor feels that this film is different from other films because of the subject it tackles.
“It’s not about a social issue,” she says, adding that there’s enough media coverage on those problems. “We have enough issues being highlighted daily on news channels. [They] touch upon sensitive topics both social and political,” says Mehreen. “It [Tamanna] is a pure entertainer; the story is a murder mystery. It’s about our glory days of cinema.”

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Rising from the ashes: Capri cinema Reopened

Exactly three months after it was looted and burned in a riot, Capri Cinema will officially opened.
For weeks, cinema facades were covered with posters depicting the September 21 carnage and asking who would help. On Thursday, bystanders were admiring a massive new billboard for the movie.
Capri’s owner, Chaudhry Asif, smiled as he addressed a press conference at the cinema – it’s newly laid marble still sparkling – on Thursday evening. “They can keep breaking down cinemas – and we will keep building them,” he said.
“This has been a struggle,” Asif said. “With the help of our friends and family, we’ve been able to reopen it.”
Asif was not in Karachi when the city’s iconic cinemas were targeted by mobs. On that day, arsonists and rioters broke open the grilles and beat staff. The rampage, which took place as the country marked a national holiday for Yaum-e-Ishq-e-Rasool, saw prominent cinemas, such as Nishat, Capri, Bambino and Prince damaged and destroyed.
“I came back, and I came here first, and when I went to Nishat, I just sat down. This is my house, and so is Nishat, and everyone here is my family.”
Chaudhry Asif
But cinema owners at the press conference sounded a note of caution. The government, they said, must step up and ensure security.
Asif noted that let alone providing any help, there was not a “single phone call” from government representatives.
Mandviwalla said that the DC south had prepared a report on the riots and spoken to cinema owners about the damages. The report, as far as he knows, has been submitted to the government.
Nishat and Prince
While Capri is back in business, its neighbours – Nishat and Prince Cinema – are still closed.
Mandviwalla said that the damage to both was far more extensive than Capri’s, since they had “burned for four to five hours” and the roofs had caved in.
In October, the door to what was once an office at Nishat Cinema was still on its hinges. The glass was gone, as was the roof, screens and projectors. The chairs were made “from the best wood,” said Mukhtar, who worked there for over 20 years.
A hawk flew through the building, in the same space where crowds once hooted, applauded and cried at films. In one room, stacks of posters of the last few animated Hollywood films were charred, stuck together. A charred fire extinguisher clung to a wall.
In the rubble at Nishat were glimpses of the cinema’s rich past. An attendance book from 1981 recorded the daily attendance of the employees at ‘Nishat Talkies’ and their monthly salary, which then ranged in the hundreds. Another damp book, with roaches scuttling over it, was described as a ‘stamp book’ which had entries from July 1963, with meticulously recorded details of amounts paid out.
Employees at Nishat said that several prints of films from the past decade were also destroyed in the fire, including a print of Jinnah, as well as the colour version of Mughal-e-Azam.
Mandviwalla Entertainment’s Nawab Hazoorul Hasan said that Nishat had probably incurred a loss of Rs140 million in the September 21 riots.
“The process of deciding what to do with Nishat will only happen once the insurers assess everything. It could take a very long time,” he said.
The exterior of Prince Cinema presents as bleak a prospect. The large imposing gates are shut, and through the gate one can espy the charred structure, with three workers asleep in the midst of the rubble.
The cinema is currently being the subject of a property dispute case ongoing at the high court.
According to Muhammad Sohail, the manager at Prince, “This tragedy [riots] happened while it was in the court’s custody”. Until there is a verdict in the court case, the management of the cinema cannot make a decision on what to do with the building.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Bahar Begum — Lollywood’s favourite mommy

In September, the expatriate Pakistani community in Norway honoured 70-year-old actor Bahar Begum with a lifetime achievement award for her contribution to the Pakistani film industry. Today, she is just as committed to acting as she was when she started her acting career in 1956, as a 14-year-old star in Chan Mahi.
Bahar’s name is tied to over 600 Pakistani films, but she gained widespread recognition for the roles in which she played legendary actor Sultan Rahi’s mother. Her film career is divided into two phases; her roles as a lead heroine and those as an emotionally strong mother. Her performances during the ‘70s, where Bahar played the matriarch, are culturally an important development for the trajectory of mainstream Punjabi cinema. Her most recent role was in Syed Noor’s family drama Shareeka, in which she played an urban mother. An eloquent speaker who speaks fluent English, Urdu and Punjabi, Bahar tells The Express Tribune that she’s still very much in the game.
While she grew up in Lahore, studying at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, she was given many roles in which she played a loud, unsophisticated rural woman. “Work, work, and more work made me a Chaudhrani,” says Bahar, referring to the characters she played.
“Sultan was around the same height as me and we could look into each other’s eyes,” says Bahar, as she recalls some of her films such as Sher Khan, Kaley Chor, and Maula Bakhsh. “Sultan Rahi and screenwriter-director Nasir Adeeb played a huge role in making my dialogues work,” she adds.
Bahar appreciates the feedback of her audience. She recalls that while she was shooting in remote villages in the 1980s, people would call her “Maa ji”, “Khala ji”, or “Chaudhrani”. It was just one example of how much she was adored by the audience.
She admits with pride that her personality has developed in a certain way because of the years she has spent in Lollywood, which she considers to be a part of her.  “Whenever I am asked if I have left the film industry, I reply by saying that I could never leave; it’s in my blood,” says Bahar.
Bahar left a lasting impression on her audience with her presence on screen, even in supporting roles. She attributes this quality to the studio system that was in place at the time which helped her build her career. She lauds the professionalism and quality of the films made and produced.
“Earning Rs10,000 to Rs12,000 was a big deal for a heroine when I started,” she says, talking with pride about how business went about in her prime. “My contract with director-producer Anwar Kamal Pasha was for three films. At that time, we did not get involved with money or contracts directly. Our families handled these things.” Lamenting the non-professional attitude of people in the film industry today, she adds: “Speaking about these things today is considered bad; these are the wrongs we made right, and everything went to the dogs.”
“During the second phase of my acting career, I developed a love for acting. Without that interest, one cannot improve,” says Bahar.
When you eat, breathe, and sleep Punjabi films for 56 years, it becomes a part of your anatomy. “I have absorbed the role to such a degree that when I walk into a house, I speak loud just like my character!” she laughs. “The industry temperament had become loud; it came to represent the culture of Punjab. When I would go to villages for shoots, I noticed women in those areas really did speak that loud, it was a part of that village atmosphere.”
When she returned to the film industry in the 1970s, Bahar said the scene had changed into a one that was ‘louder’, which then translated on screen in Punjabi films. She played the role of a strong and boisterous Punjabi mother, traits that other eras had failed to touch upon.
Bahar explains that old directors such as Aslam Dar had worked on stories in which the mother’s role was powerful. “Directors such as Aslam made it possible because of their emphasis on details,” says Bahar.
Sultan and Bahar had developed a unique rapport which was favourable for both. “The big skill for an actor is to look into a fellow actor’s eyes and then deliver a dialogue,” says Bahar. “It’s the difference between making something realistic or not.”