Pakistan’s rich cultural context made a forceful impression in New York in 2016. It is now expected that the momentum will continue as we begin the new year. Several exhibitions held in the city in 2016 carried works of contemporary Pakistani artists, including those based in the US.
Some of the events were promising firsts, such as the art exhibition at the UN, the Lahore Literary Festival at Asia Society, and the introduction of the Lahore Biennale project by Rashid Rana at the Museum of Modern Arts. The last of these events, which brought another dimension of artistic work from the country, was Pakistan’s first film festival at the Asia Society in New York. It also capped a number of other cultural activities organised in 2016 by Pakistan Mission to the United Nations under the leadership of Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi.
Pakistani films have come a long way. After almost becoming extinct, they are undergoing a strong revival. A dynamic and thriving television industry –which is already providing home entertainment with the help of entrepreneurs – is contributing to this revival. Many of the country’s television actors are now equally engaged in movies. This revival is providing much-needed family entertainment on a larger screen to different segments of Pakistani society and the diaspora.
The selection of movies at the film festival represented a diversity of subjects. Some of the films include the profoundly hilarious Actor In Law, the mindlessly funny Lahore Se Agay, the overlapping story of classic Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir and an idealistic contemporary poet in Mah e Mir, an immigrant-themed romantic drama Dobara Phir Se, and the glamorous Ho Mann Jahaan.
Some of the directors, writers, and cast of the movies that were screened at the film festival had especially travelled from Pakistan. A panel discussion on the journey of screen entertainment in Pakistan could have added value and interest – especially among foreign audiences.
There was a deep expression of interest and appreciation for the event, especially from the South Asian diaspora. Some of them travelled to New York from Boston, Virginia, Washington and elsewhere only for the festival. The halls where Ho Mann Jahaan and Dobara Phir Se were being screened were packed .
The film festival resulted in what was dubbed a ‘khirki tor’ weekend at the Asia Society’s New York auditorium. It was a sign of expanding frontiers being traversed through Pakistani movies.
There was a time when Pakistani television dramas were a gold standard for the strength of their stories, acting, direction and the overall quality compared to the larger film industry across the border. They were also credited to be a source of inspiration for the emergence of the genre of art films in India, critical in raising the standard of filmmaking.
Who can forget the epic Qurat-ul-Ain by Ashfaq Sahib? The black and white play is available on YouTube for anyone to judge the quality of direction, acting and writing that was once the forte of the PTV. The creation of long plays in the 1980s acted as bridge-builders between the TV and the big screen.
With the power of the private sector and multiple channels at hand, contemporary writers, producers, and actors in Pakistan –with their immense potential and creativity – have more opportunities available than their predecessors. They have successfully utilised these opportunities to their advantage. The direction, acting and flow of many of the movies being made are superb. But work is required in developing stronger scripts and stories.
Despite the obvious linkages, moving from one medium of expression to another is not an easy transition. As a result, there is a strong visual and storyline reflection of the television’s scale in many films and one prefers watching a long teleplay rather than a big screen movie. However, with the appreciable progress made and the benefits of the free flow of ideas in a globalised and interlinked world, Pakistani filmmaking can easily overcome these hurdles and become a vital source of entertainment to audience in Pakistan and beyond.