Reviving culture

June 19, 2022

In the budget announced last week, another attempt has been made to rejuvenate the cultural scene; and in particular, to revive the film industry

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n the budget announced last week, another attempt has been made to rejuvenate the cultural scene; and in particular, to revive the film industry. So many attempts have been made in the last fifteen years to revive the film industry that every new attempt appears predestined for failure.

The contradictions embedded in the state of Pakistan can be best expressed by the policy statement of Abdur Rab Nishtar who said in the 1950s, at the height of the Jaal movement, initiated to ban the import of Indian films and inversely to support and protect the local industry, that since films were not allowed to be seen in Islam therefore they should not be made here, thought he left the door open for the import of films, both from India and elsewhere.

This was when East Pakistan too was Pakistan and we suffered less from these fits of guilt regarding culture that later regimes did regularly. After 1971 it became more simplistic. The see-saw has continued and the state still does not know where it stands on this issue except brandishing it as a caveat. It has been apologetic with an explanation always appended to the culture as being something that is not natural and an inevitable expression of the collective.

Pakistan had no culture policy for quite some time. It was the first Pakistan Peoples Party government that laid the foundation of one based on the Faiz Report written during the Yahya martial law under the chairmanship of QudratUllad Shahab. Many steps were taken, some stayed beyond the government’s tenure, some were distorted on the way; others were totally abandoned. It all went into a tailspin with the coming to power of Zia ul Haq. The next ten years were a tussle between the Pakistan that Zia-ul Haq had constructed and the efforts to escape that straitjacket. It was not till the second Benazir government in the late 1990s that the first culture policy was formulated. Since then, every government, especially in the last years of its tenure has made and approved a cultural policy. This has included the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government. However, no real headway has been made, not only in film production but in almost all kinds of cultural expression.

In the latest policy it appears that undue emphasis has been laid on film production and to a lesser degree on television production. The other art forms have not been given due importance. There has been a raft of measures like building a Film Finance Fund of Rs 1 billion, a medical insurance policy, tax holidays for five years on cinema and production houses. A Rs 1 billion allocation for the setting up of the National Film Institute, the National Film Studio and the Museum of Films. There have also been a series of rebates in exports.

A disturbing element over the past few years has been that films, the few that have been made in Pakistan, have been produced directly or indirectly under the influence of some security agencies. The lead in the making of films, indeed of all cultural activity, should be in the hands of the private sector. The leading individuals should be given the freedom to exercise their creative choices. The blossoming of the cultural activity, be it drama, theatre or films, must be led by the private sector. Otherwise, it is seen to be a command performance and will not last once the crutches are pulled from under it. This also creates an uneven playing field with all the advantages being laid at the door of some favourites while the others are left to thirst resources.

The import of Indian films was a good step because it rehabilitated the cinema houses and many new ones were in the process of being constructed. The gradual and continuous run and exhibition revived the habit of going to the cinema and in the process the Pakistani films were also screened. But then the Indian films were banned once again, and the cinema houses became dead investments and efforts again started to convert them into commercial plazas.


The author is a culture critic based in Lahore



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