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  • Demise and rise [of film industry] by Waseem Altaf, Viewpoint

    It is heartening that presently a number of private universities, media institutes and art schools are offering courses in TV and film production and many young people taking such courses
    In 1977, there were 8 full-time studios, today there are only two; Evernew and Bari, which are partly closed and partly available for TV and film production. Some of the floors of Bari studio have been turned into warehouses while Shahnoor has been partly replaced by a housing colony. In 1976,one year prior to Zia’s martial law, the total number of films produced was 111, in 2011 only 20 were released; 5 Urdu, 7 Punjabi and 8 Pashto. Out of all these films Thakur 420 and to some extent Bhai Log performed well at the box office. Reema’s Love Mein Gum (in publicity posters it was spelled Love mein ghum) released with much fanfare, was a flop and the rest were super flops. In 1946, one year before the Partition, 144 films were released in this region which was later to become Pakistan (24 of these were foreign films). No film was released in 1947 while one film namely ‘Teri Yaad’ hit the box office in 1948, which proved to be a super flop.
    The total number of cinema houses in 1977 was 700 which have now been reduced to less than 200, with presently some 175 as fully functional. The rest were either demolished or converted into shopping malls, which are presently being used as either theatres showing stage plays or warehouses.
    Today a typical Pakistani film costs between Rs 8.5 to 10 million. However, the cost almost doubles if it involves DTS for which facilities are available in India, Thailand and Singapore.
    In 1977, watching a film in a cinema house was the premier family entertainment. Today, one would hardly find a family in a cinema house; this excludes Cineplex as this is a new phenomenon of different dimensions.
    Most of the movie-goers today are illiterate singles from the low-income group who get an opportunity to watch some X-rated shots crudely incorporated into the film.
    The film makers are mostly gujjars and some businessmen who do it for what in vernacular we call ‘tharak’ [sexist-pleasure]. You are a producer, some artists particularly young actresses are around you; you can have pleasure while drinking, having fun and sometimes gambling too, plus there are prospects of getting some return on your investment as a fringe benefit. In addition, since you have wealth and regard in your particular group, there is also a possibility that you may achieve fame in case you come up with a box office hit. So film making is addictive till such time that you are left with no more money to invest.
    Another trend very much in vogue today is releasing old films with new names. Let us have a look at some of the titles; Badmash Gjjar, Chaudhary Badshah, Pappu Gujjar, Ayyash Gujjar, Chowk Badmashan Da, Billo 302, Kala Shah Puria, so on and so forth. What they do is that some semi-nude shots, some x-rated dances and sequences are added to an already released film and present it before the Censor Board with a new title. The Board, which already knows the trick, issues a certificate for exhibition after an underhand deal is struck.
    A film industry which was thriving till the 1970’s and even early 1980’s is history today, yet once in a while we do find one outstanding effort on part of someone going against the tide. ‘Bol’ was one such endeavor during 2011. Directed by veteran director Shoaib Mansoor, ‘Bol’ was a high profile film marketed by Geo Films. It is said that the US, some European countries and even some NGOs funded this project. The film is characterized by a bold subject, powerful script and direction. It also excelled in the areas of music, cinematography and acting. Although it focuses on several subjects simultaneously, yet the overall impact of the film won several accolades.
    Today, Pakistan film market is almost completely taken over by Bollywood. On Sep 20, 2011 the Central Convening Committee of the Pakistan Film Industry held a press conference where its Chairman Mr. Anwar Ali Warraich sought complete ban on Indian films, as this was causing hindrance in the screening of their own films. However, the Pakistan Film Exhibitors Association totally disagree with this stand as they say that the quantity, let alone quality of films released every year is so miniscule that it is virtually not possible to reserve all the cinema houses for them.
    The fact remains that even in the past when generally there was no competition; Pakistan film industry produced by and large sub-standard films. Of course there were some exceptions, and some of them even won international film awards, yet Pakistani film as a whole stands nowhere when compared vis-à-vis international cinema. Illiterate non professionals mostly belonging to the red light district of Lahore with third rate actors and actresses ruled filmdom for a very long time. The people had little choice but to watch their clumsy performances on screen.
    However, when in 1954 Indian film Jaal starring Dev Anand and Geeta Bali was imported for exhibition, fearing stiff competition, leading personalities of the film industry came on the roads to prevent its release. On the forefront was W.Z Ahmad. It is interesting to note that the first Pakistani film to be banned titled ‘Roohi’ was produced and directed by W.Z Ahmad. Competition is always healthy and nourishing while people always want to see good films whether Pakistani, Indian or Western.
    In an interview with Sama channel on November 7,2011 actor Saud admitted that almost all Pakistani artists were willing to go to any extent, if invited to perform in an Indian production. It is quite frequent that a film actress from Lollywood would disclose on media that she got an offer to act in an Indian film, however, it was refused as Pakistan was very dear to her. However the fact remains that even if most Pakistani artists get the small role of a servant in an Indian film, he or she would accept it then and there without any second thought. Even in the past our so-called super stars Mohammad Ali, Zeba and Nadeem performed small side roles in Indian films.
    It is however heartening that presently a number of private universities, media institutes and art schools are offering courses in TV and film production and many young boys and girls from the lettered-class are taking such courses. Recently a Pakistani lady named Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, who co-directed a film namely the Saving Face has been nominated for an Oscar in the ‘documentary (short subject)’category.
    Sarah Tareen is also a highly qualified professional who is producing a film titled ‘Tamanna’ which is due for release this year and is being seen as a trend-setter for Lollywood.
    It is also high time that a proper film institute be set up by the Government of Pakistan to patronize and promote performing arts. Similarly, film production should also be declared an industry and tax exemptions, financing and other incentives should be offered by the government to boost the trade. With the coming of new talent in an age of stiff competition from films from across the border and the coming of Cineplex, fostering a new cinema culture, we do have a genuine reason to be optimistic.
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  • Lahore a launchpad for many filmstars and singers

    LAHORE: Many high profile Indian actors and singers lived in the Walled City in the 1940s and Lakshmi Chowk was where the film fraternity got together in tongas decorated with maroon flowers, foot bells and lamps on the side.

    The tonga was the primary means of transport for the ordinary and elite in the 40s. Most tongas were undecorated, but the ones used by the elite were special and fascinating.

    Indian superstars Pran, Muhammad Rafi, Om Parkash, Balraj Sani, Dev Anand and many less known artistes started their film careers from Lahore. The film life in Lahore was very high profile and animated in those days. Lakshmi Chowk was the hot spot for formal and informal film gatherings.

    Pran, who mostly played the role of a villain in films, lived in Qilla Gujjar Singh. He was a skilled photographer and took photographs of famous artistes. One day – while standing at a pan shop in Lakshmi Chowk – he met Wali, a leading film director of the time. Wali asked Pran if he was interested in acting and Pran said yes. Wali wrote the address of Pancholi Studios (one of the most famous film studios of Lahore in Muslim Town) on the back of a cigarette pack and asked Pran to see one of his friends there.

    Pran started his film career with ‘Chaudhry’ and later appeared as a hero in ‘Khaandaan’, a film by Shaukat Hussain Rizvi. The heroine was melody queen Noor Jahan. Pran migrated to Bombay in 1947.

    The subcontinent’s legendary singer Muhammad Rafi lived in Bhaati Gate. He was from a family of barbers and ran his own barbershop. Rafi had a beautiful voice and most of his customers would often ask him to sing for them while they got their hair cut or got a shave. A man from the film industry introduced Rafi to film director Gul Baloch who gave Rafi the opportunity to sing three songs for ‘Gul Zaman’. The film proved a launching point for Rafi’s film career in Lahore and by the time he migrated to India in 1947, he was an accomplished singer. In Bombay Rafi got a breakthrough in ‘Jugnoo’. The hero was Dilip Kumar and heroine Noor Jehan. Om Parkash was also one of the great names of Bombay. He lived at Matti Chowk, Lohari Gate and always rented out a decorated tonga to take him from Matti Chowk to Lakshmi Chowk every day. Parkash did many small and large roles in films made in Lahore and also migrated to India in 1947.

    Balraj Sani also lived at Matti Chowk and was the secretary general of the All India Communist Party. He studied at Government College. Sani also acted in pre-Partition films in Lahore. Dev Anand lived in Lohari Gate, but later moved to Bhaati Gate. He also studied at Government College. Dev Anand participated actively in politics in Lahore. His brother Chaitan Anand was a famous film director in Lahore and was considered quite influential in film studios when it came to casting and other affairs.

    Meena Shori was one of the leading female actors of her times. She lived in Bhaati Gate and married the owner of Shori Film Studio (now Shah Noor Studio). She acted in several pre-Partition films made in Lahore and migrated to India in 1947. In 1956 she returned to Pakistan to act in ‘Ms 56’ and never went back to India. She accepted Islam and started living in Lahore. BR Chopra is a leading name in production and direction in the Indian film industry. Chopra lived in an area where at present Chuburji Quarters exist. He produced a film in Lahore called ‘Chandni Chowk’. Khayam, one of the leading music composers of the Indian film industry, was his assistant and served him and his guests tea.

    Khurshid Begum was an outstanding singer from Lahore who migrated to India in 1947. She also lived in Bhaati Gate. She sang several famous songs for various Indian films. She sang a great song for film ‘Tan Sain’ with singer Sehgal. She returned to Pakistan after a few years and started living in Karachi.

    Tanveer Naqvi was a noted lyricist of his times. He lived in Faqirkhana Museum inside Bhaati Gate. He wrote ‘Awaz Dey Kahan Hai’ and ‘Jaan-e-Baharan, Rashk-e-Chaman’. He migrated to India in 1947. Naqvi also returned to Pakistan after a few years and spent the rest of his life in Lahore. Lakshmi Chowk was the focal point of Lahore’s film industry crowd. By the evening, Lakshmi would be full of tongas, with film stars, top film directors and producers thronging teahouses and discussing filmy affairs. Pran, Om Parkash and Al Nasir, another Lahori film hero, would spend their evenings chatting and playing billiards.

    There also was a hotel called King Circle at Lakshmi Chowk where film stars gathered. A bank has taken its place these days. Even today Lakshmi Chowk is a major centre of filmi Lahore.
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