ILF: On both sides of Wagah

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Rubab Karrar

Nostalgia mixed with some robust optimism in the two discussions on Pakistani and Indian cinema at the ILF. Of course, any discussion on our film industry must carry a lot of laments for what was, and the session, ‘Pakistani Cinema: Kal Aur Aaj’ remained true to that expectation. But luckily, it went a step ahead, even going as far as to say that in a few more years, our film industry will be at par with the Indian industry.

Raju Jamil moderated the discussion between veteran film actor Bahar Begum, whose stately presence added some glamour to the panel, and actor, producer and director Asif Raza Mir, actor Jia Ali, and filmmakers Yasir Jaswal and Shehzad Rafiq. We got to hear what we have heard before, that our cinema produced good films between 1950 and 1970, eventually “getting buried,” in Jamil’s words, by the end of the 1990s.

What was interesting were the various reasons given for this dismal demise. Begum felt that our downfall was the result of our inability to change with the times. Our cinema did well, she argued, when it was successfully reflecting the “simpler life” of the 1950s and 1960s, but then we got stuck in the “gandasa phase” while the world, and the audience, moved on. As for the newer movies, she said, watching them is more like a succession of newspaper cuttings than a story. Jaswal seemed to agree with this assessment of the “new” cinema, saying that we need to move away from “issue-based work” as we get enough of reality in our news. The focus should be on entertainment, which is what people are looking for when they pay to watch a film.

But perhaps the most impassioned explanation came from Mir, who laid the blame on the doorstep of former General Zia’s dictatorship, arguing that the era and its censorship “closed the minds of our writers and actors”. The film industry was “dismantled” he said, an effect it is still reeling from, just as the country too is still recovering from those years. Rafiq added that the “loudness” of our films in the 1980s was a response to the restrictions that were imposed on people from expressing themselves. Mir as well as Rafiq also came across as champions of the new film-makers, lauding them for trying to rebuild a shattered industry and working with little support.

Lack of support for film-makers is something Ali also mentioned, calling the people who are entering the industry much needed “oxygen”. When Jamil mentioned, for argument’s sake, that maybe Indian films should be blocked, there was an immediate and angry reaction, both from the panel and the audience, who had to be reminded to wait for the Q&A to take part in the discussion. There was almost unanimous consensus amongst the panellists that Indian films have brought audiences back to the cinemas, even if their grandiose-sounding argument that we will soon not need foreign films for entertainment seemed hollow.

One of the last sessions of the festival, ‘From Lollywood to Bollywood and Back’, was a conversation between two film enthusiasts, Pran Nevile and Asif Noorani. Featuring clips from old movies and reminisces of film-makers and song writers, some of whom are long gone, it focused on the shared film heritage of the two countries.

Writer and cultural historian Nevile said that at least 100 films on the two sides of the borders must have the same titles, not to mention the same storyline, and in some instances, the same scenes and dialogues. He mentioned Anarkali, Aag ka Darya and Pakeeza as some of the examples. Music, too, was liberally shared between the two industries, with Nevile refusing to label this “borrowing” as cheating, instead calling it different versions of one song. As he said, “If the older brother made a film, the younger decided to as well”.

Art, said both Noorani and Nevile, has no borders, and belongs to everyone, comparing it to the birds that fly over borders without restrictions. Nevile, among whose work is a book on Lahore, was asked about his connection to the city. He said that once in Geneva he was asked whether he is from India or Pakistan. He replied that he is from Lahore and that was the start of his book on the city.

A sitting such as this is bound to come around to the question of Indo-Pak friendship, and that was what the audiences wanted to question the guest about. When one member of the audience asked why there is enmity when we share such a rich heritage, Nevile responded that “that is my question as well”. Noorani was a bit more forthcoming, saying that where the two countries share a lot of good things, they share the bad as well.

Rubab Karrar, “ILF: On both sides of Wagah,” in Dawn, May 3, 2015. Accessed on May 3, 2015, at:

The item above written by Rubab Karrar and published in Dawn on May 3, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on May 3, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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