Saturday, 28 May 2016

Punjab continues to be the biggest film market

LAHORE: While Karachi may have become the hub of film-making, leaving Lahore staggering behind, there’s no gainsaying that Punjab still remains the biggest market for movie-goers. In the turn of events, it seems as though 2016 will be the year for a revolution in the cinema industry in Punjab, as various business groups have shown interest towards investing in digital cinemas across the province. Around 12 digital cinemas are expected to open by the end of the year, with the biggest attraction being an 11-screen multiplex in Lahore. The movie theatre is being built by the Nishat group in the premises of Packages head office in Defence, Lahore.
At the moment, there is a cumulative of 80 cinemas in Punjab, with the figure including both operational and non-operational exhibition spaces. Out of these 32 are located in Lahore with 10 supporting digital projection and 22 being standalone cinemas with analogue projectors.
The sudden increase in digital cinemas in Lahore is a direct result of an avalanche of local and international films in the past few years. These include Cinepax, 3D Super Cinema, DHA Cinema, Sozo World, PAF Cinemas, Cinestar IMAX, Luxus Grand Cinemas and Cine Gold. To the surprise of many, the masterminds behind these existing cinemas have also lent a helping hand in the establishment of more of the same kind. Cinestar is opening a cinema on MM Alam Road in Lahore, the Kohat cement company in Gulberg, and Cinepax in Model Town, Muree and Gujrat. Cinepax will also be constructing two cinemas in Multan.
Known film importers and distributors, IMGC Entertainment is also investing in digital movie theatres in Islamabad, Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Sargodha and Jhelum district. “Producers are appreciating the construction of new cinemas in Lahore and other big cities of the country. The preparations for new cinemas are in full swing. We are extending our reach to other cities, so people in lesser developed cities get to experience digital projection as well,” Shahzad Awan, Public Relations Officer at IMGC entertainment told The Express Tribune. 
Awan also revealed that the cinemas in Islamabad and Lahore will be five-screen-multiplexes while the remaining cinemas will only feature two screens. Concurring with Awan, film producer Mian Amjan Farzand stated “It is great to see new groups investing in the cinema sector. Soon, there will be no complaints from film-makers and producers about the shortage of exhibition spaces in their cities. It is because of the quality of films and a relatively stable law and order situation that we are witnessing such a boom.” He was hopeful that soon the Pakistani cinema industry will attract foreign investment as well.
While back in the day 900 cinemas were functioning across the country, the numbers are now down to 130 (including non-operational cinemas). These numbers were much worse considering that the 2011 film Bol was released only on 38 screens across Pakistan.
The years that followed saw a remarkable increase in the number with 2013 blockbuster Waar being released on 54 screens and films releasing in 2016, having an available exhibition network of more than 80. Despite the enormous numbers shown at Nueplex and Atrium cinemas in Karachi, Punjab has consistently held the lion’s share, even in the digital age. 57% of the whopping Rs220 million earnings of Bilal Lashari’sWaar were generated from Punjab, followed by Sindh holding a 35% share.
Cinepax General Manager Mohsin Yaseen, acknowledged that Punjab is no longer the hub of film-making but he is positive that it will continue to be the most flourishing film market. “Punjab was and will continue to be your most important film circuit. It has more cities with a denser population as compared to the rest of the province so, for your film to do well generally, it has to do well in Punjab,” said Yaseen. Post Eidul Fitr, Cinepax group of cinemas will be extending its reach in Sindh with a five-screen multiplex in Hyderbad.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Upcoming: 'Maalik' fiasco forces Jamal Shah to tread carefully with 'Revenge of the Worthless'

KARACHI: Since its inception Jamal Shah’s directorial debut, Revenge of the Worthless, has had a troubled life. From a lengthy production schedule to a turbulent post-production phase, all that went wrong for the movie cannot be rectified. However, to avoid any more mishaps, Shah is ready to submit the movie to the censor boards a month before its official release date.
The production team behind the movie has become more cautious following the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) ban on Maalik three weeks into its release. With Eidul Fitr marked as a potential release date for Revenge of the Worthless, Shah revealed he will be submitting the movie to the censor boards in the next few days. “After the Maalik ban, we want to be careful and don’t want to take any unnecessary risks,” he told The Express Tribune. “We will submit our movie early so that any changes or cuts that the censor board recommends can be made beforehand. If we keep it for later, it will just become difficult near the movie’s release.” When asked about his stance regarding the controversial ban on Maalik, the director-actor refused to take a side. “I firmly believe that movies should not be banned but then again it is also the responsibility of film-makers to retain objectivity and originality,” said Shah. Although Revenge of the Worthless has been delayed on multiple occasions in the past, Shah is confident about releasing the film on the sealed date. Initially slated to hit cinema screens in spring of 2015, the film’s release was pushed back to March 2016, before eventually settling for Eidul Fitr.
Previous delays were mainly due to the problems the movie encountered during its post-production. The team had to restart the editing process after they lost the near-finished cut of the film during a system crash. Given that Shah’s film takes inspiration from the 2009 ‘insurgency’ in Swat, he is aware that the movie will be examined closely by the censor board. “I am confident about our product because we have made a very objective film,” he elaborated. “We aren’t trying to set an agenda or anything, it is just a simple movie about our land.”
To ensure that his movie is appropriate for all sorts of audiences, Shah has gone a step further and already conducted test-screenings with different groups.
Revenge of the Worthless will face a clashing release with the Salman Khan-starrer Sultan. However, unfretted by the competition, Shah revealed the decision was made after much deliberation. “Revenge [of the Worthless] can actually benefit from it by getting the footfall fromSultan.”
Directed by Jamal Shah, Revenge of the Worthless features a host of notable television actors including Firdous Jamal, Maira Khan, Ayub Khoso and Shamil Khan. The movie is primarily in Urdu, featuring parts in Pashto and English. It will be distributed by Summit Entertainment.
Following the movie’s release, Shah plans to commence work on his next project which is likely to be a romantic film. The director will make a formal announcement regarding his upcoming project in the coming days.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Danish Taimoor and Soniya Hussain are starring in "Pakistan's biggest film yet"

So says director Imran Malik, son of veteran director Pervaiz Malik, who's begun shooting the said film up north.
The untitled film stars Danish Taimoor and Soniya Hussain (of Moor and Nazofame) in the lead, and also features Nadeem Baig in an important role. Actors Mariam Ansari and Irum Mazhar are also a part of the principal cast.
"My film will introduce five new heroes to Pakistani cinema," promises Malik, "and also feature a big supporting cast."
What will this new film be about?
"The film has elements of patriotism, a very powerful love story, some action scenes - a film has never been attempted on such a big canvas in Pakistan before," says Malik, refusing to divulge any plot details until the first teaser is out next month.
The film also has its musical side working for it.
Sahir Ali Bagga is composing the soundtrack, and has roped in Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan and Qurratulain Baloch to sing.
Malik also revealed that a cinematographer from Australia, Ben Jasper, is shooting the film, which will have its opening scenes and a few songs set in London.
The film is being produced by Imran's brother Irfan Malik and is tentatively scheduled for a late 2016 release.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Horror has niche following worldwide, says ‘Aksbandh’ director

KARACHI: When the Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, nobody thought the low-budget horror flick would pave the way for a new sub-genre. Implementing a found footage style approach, the movie proved to be a sleeper hit at the box office.
Nearly 17 years and many successful found footage films later, Pakistani cinema is set to have its own film of this kind, Aksbandh. The film does not comprise industry heavyweights, VJ-actor Ayaz Samoo is the only recognisable face in the cast, nor does it incorporate any formulae of success. Furthermore, history shows horror films have never featured among our box office high achievers. Yet, its director Emraan Hussain remains confident. “You see, the horror genre has a very niche following worldwide. A horror film would never rely on star power to become a success. Story is the main thing and we have that covered,” the debutant told The Express Tribune.
According to the director-writer, the two main points that they kept in mind throughout the entire production were intention and execution. “If we are making a horror film that is unable to scare or thrill audiences then what’s the whole point?”
On why he went for the found footage style, Hussain said, “Most of the horror movies that are being produced nowadays are moving away from a subjective to a more POV style.” He said this not only enhances the cinematic experience but also fits perfectly with the genre itself.
With most of his actors having little or no acting experience, Hussain stated that they conducted 15-20 day-long acting workshops to prepare the performers. Defending his decision to cast fresh faces, Hussain stated, “We are shooting this in found footage format so it is important to retain the element of believability,” adding, “No one would have believed the story if we were to cast Humayun Saeed. The audiences would think that such an incident can never happen to him.”
Filmed in a little over a fortnight, Aksbandh is currently undergoing post-production and this is what has taken the most time. “We have shot the whole film on Arri Alexa [cameras] and we had to be very careful with the light and all. We have worked extensively on sound,” he said. For this, services of Indian sound director, Ajay Gupta, were acquired.
Scheduled to release on May 20, Aksbandh follows the story of six college students who want to make a film. Things go wrong when one of them gets possessed by a supernatural being.
Co-produced by Samoo, Aksbandh features a cast comprising Bilal Yousufzai, Danial Afzal Khan, Saud Imtiaz, Shehzeen Rahat, Mahrukh Rizvi and Arshad Ali. Screenwriting has been carried out by both Samoo and Hussain.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Review: ‘Mah-e-Mir’ is a once in a blue moon film

In its early years, film was as much about learning something new as it was about witnessing something larger than life on an unusually big screen. Over time, world over, the learning bit has been compromised for the cinematic experience.
If the over-reliance on dialogue in talkies sacrificed the visual grandeur of this primarily visual medium, then innovations in sound design made horror films a mainstream anomaly. Special effects, ironically, made Michael Bay the most successful storyteller of our times, so on and so forth. What we’re left with are remnants of what great storytelling used to look and feel like. Modern day audiences, at large, are unaware of what it’s like to surrender at the hands of the director, both emotionally and intellectually, and witness something that stays with you; like an arrow in the liver, as Ghalib would put it.
The fondness for easy entertainment is even more dominant in our part of the world. The old world has almost fallen in Bollywood with producers, and sometimes even distributors, deciding on film content today. In Pakistan, it has been dead for ages. And the new order is in disarray: our film-makers  today are just eager on putting a film out there just so that they can fund the next one.
Amid all this urgency and confusion comes Mah-e-Mir like a full moon on a dark and cloudy night. Sarmad Sehbai and Anjum Shahzad’s masterpiece stands out among the plethora of ordinary Pakistani films by making the audiences participate in the very mystery it tries to resolve. By cleverly investigating an artist’s romance with his imaginarium in the presence of so many worldly issues, the film will surely become a reference point for both upcoming artists and screenwriters. Whether audiences would respond to the film with as much passion as an artist would, one cannot say.

David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method features Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, played by Michael Fassbender, and his mentor Sigmund Freud, played by Viggo Mortensen. In one of their most interesting exchanges, Jung tells Freud, “There are so many mysteries, so much further to go,” to which Freud responds, “Please, we can’t be too careful! We can’t afford to wander into these speculative areas. Telepathy! Singing bookcases! Fairies at the bottom of the garden! It won’t do! It won’t do.”
A similar discussion on ghazal giant Mir Taqi Mir’s obsession with the moon sets the tone of the film as various critics weigh in on this particular madness of the writer during a TV show. This doesn’t go well with Jamal (Fahad Mustafa), an upcoming poet who is watching the show in a coffee house and in a way similar to that of Jung, he questions this fixation with Mir by making a live call on the show and asking, “Why does Mir not see Neil Armstrong on the moon instead of fairy-like woman?” So begins a film that centres itself around the very concept of madness or vehshat, as the screenwriter interprets it, and uses it to propel debates such as that of the classical vs the traditional.
Dr Kaleem (Manzar Sehbai), who leads that TV discussion, is the torchbearer of classics and a great admirer of Mir. He is the polar opposite of Jamal and, much like Jung and Freud, they too find some sort of salvation in one another, whether they accept it or not.
The genius of Sarmad really comes out when a very literary debate turns into a discussion about the deconstruction of the present-day human condition and how it gets influenced by the surroundings.
The consistent tug of war between reason and emotion is what makes the viewer relate to Jamal’s frustration. Mah-e-Mir uses indulgence in art as an escape from basic existential problems and the artist’s inability to balance the two. Although the solution it provides is a bit dark and gritty for a viewer who has so far been finding his or her catharsis in Pakistani serials, it is nonetheless very honest. On a side note, Manzar’s outlook, too, has stark similarities with Freud. Perhaps, even I am fixated.
The real charm of Mah-e-Mir, however, lies in the fact that, running for a little over two hours, the film stretches but does not snap. All the visual references in the film, such as that of the halqa (circle), the coffee house, the old bookshop and even minor things such as the Rilke book, were justified within the context of the narrative. In terms of cinematography, it does rely too much on close-ups and at places the viewer is left wanting some breathing space, but even that works within the dramatic context of the film: it runs down emotions; hence, the focus on the faces.
The film also carries a very important message for other film-makers: how to use flashbacks sparingly yet effectively. They didn’t seem repetitive and yet, always added some nuance to the narrative without compromising on its pace. Anjum and his actors deserve equal credit for anchoring the film firmly. Manzar meant every word he said and felt every move he made only because it was clear that he genuinely knew what he was talking about. Top that with a gruff vocal texture and you’ll have the best example of method acting in front of you. Paras Masroor as Jamal’s friend, Ally Khan as the ruler of the time and Huma Nawab as Kaleem’s ex-wife appear for a short period but make every frame ooze with their dilemmas. Mah-e-Mir is one film of recent times that has the right actors for the right roles, save for Sanam Saeed’s half-baked portrayal of Naina Kanwal.
The problems with the film are both blatant and well concealed with the moon in the sky. Yes, the central issue with the film is the computer-generated moon, an aesthetic choice that eclipses all the curiosity built around its very existence. With its visual implausibility, the moon never becomes for the audience what it became for Mir.
Although Fahad has proved with this role that he is the most versatile actor of the new lot, at places his recitation of verses and lengthy Urdu monologues seem a little amateur for a film that demanded total control and finesse.
On the other hand, there were major issues of sound design as well. The attention-to-detail given to art direction was exactly what lacked with the sound design. And since the film seamlessly switches between two very different eras, a wide range of musical instruments and a variety of sounds could have been incorporated to make it more dynamic. And lastly, do not follow the subtitles. They are misleading and incomplete. This adds to another point: those who find it difficult to follow Urdu in its purest form might need some help from elders.
Whether you give credit to her makeup artist or to her natural looks, Iman Ali has proved that she is an absolute stunner. Her on-screen persona coupled with the lilted dialogue delivery is bound to inspire. Even when her dance moves weren’t as smooth as that of her fellow dancer, Iman’s role as a courtesan has a lot more depth to it; her eyes speak of the dilemma of the woman who stands at the a crossroad of what she wants and what is expected of her. Between playing a woman who is so powerful that she can make or break a poet to playing a girl who has no will of her own, Iman has proved that, at the moment, she is the only complete package in Pakistani cinema.
Music is one area where most Pakistani films have lacked in recent times. However, with Mah-e-Mir, both Shahi Hasan and Ahmad Jahanzaib have delivered one of the finest music albums of late. The songs not only stay true to the story but also add character to the film. Rajab Ali Khan of Azal fame gives a fresh take on Mir’s Yeh Dhoan Saand his husky voice and acoustic arrangement make for a treat. On the other hand, Piya Dekhan Ko by Shafqat Amamant Ali is a personal favourite for it brings back the Shafqat of the Fuzon days; a Shafqat who could sing as well with the harmonium as he could with a rock band. Shahi has come out of the closet in style and the grandeur of Piya Dekhan Ko will surely silence most of his critics.
Verdict: Watch the film with your friends and family. It is worth your money and initiates a constructive discourse

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Jawad Bashir confident of learning from past mistakes

When musician-director Jawad Bashir first announced his cinematic debut with Maya in 2015, the news came as a surprise to many. From someone who is known as more of a comedy person, it was hard to imagine him experimenting with horror films.
What was even more surprising was how the film went unnoticed, virtually from the point of its production to the point of its release. Some would argue that making the film was risky business for Bashir right from the get-go. Even if little attention was paid to Maya and the film was taken down from cinemas without it disturbing the slumber of record-keepers at the box office, for the director it was a learning experience worth investing in.
“I have always taken pride in doing things differently and I was glad I started my career [in films] with a horror film because I always knew I would get many more opportunities to make comedy movies later on,” he told The Express Tribune. While his first outing may have been a blunder, Bashir remains unfettered and is hopeful of contributing to the cause of the film industry in the long run.
In a day and age where marketing and publicity are everything, Bashir feels a lack of hype for the film led to its failure. “People are not always willing to invest in horror movies so I had to produce Maya myself. I had exhausted all my savings during the production and since we had no money or media partners on board, we weren’t able publicise our product properly,” he recalled.

Having recently wrapped up the first production spell of his next feature film, Teri Meri Love Story, Bashir is confident he will not repeat the mistakes he made with Maya. “[This time] I have spent over three months rehearsing with the actors. We’ve had a very detailed pre-production for the movie. The preparation process has been very thorough as each and every actor and crew member has been briefed about their role in the movie,” he added.
Describing comedy as a genre that fits him like a glove, he said he felt more at home while working on Teri Meri Love Story. But for a movie that comprises a diverse cast of actors such as Mohib Mirza, Salman Shahid, Mohsin Abbas Haider, Uzma Khan and Ushna Shah, making humour work is the least of his concerns. “Fortunately there is excellent camaraderie between everyone, on and off the set. And since we had detailed rehearsals and reading sessions prior to the commencement of the shoot, everyone has gelled nicely; not only with each other but also with their on-screen characters,” said Bashir.
A notable name missing from the movie’s cast is Syra Shehroz. When the film was first announced a few months back, the actor seemed to be in the mix for the project but was eventually replaced by Ushna Shah. “Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with her as she had her own commitments; plus, we were also lucky to have found an excellent performer in Ushna [Shah].”
Unwilling to disclose the synopsis of the movie at such an early stage, Bashir remained tight-lipped about its storyline. However, terming it as a movie poking fun at the “irony of love”, he shared “It basically talks about the different shades of personality everyone has when they are in a relationship.”
Expected to release around September 2016, production for the movie will be completed in the next few weeks. The music for the film has been composed by Afzal Hussain.