Sunday September 19, 2021

A new lease of life for Balochi cinema?

Whether it was a case of morals or politics, 40 years have passed since chants of ‘Balochi film chalay ga tou cinema jalay ga’ echoed in Karachi’s streets. Today, however, as a new generation of Baloch tries to take up the mantle, a plethora of challenges must still first be overcome 

Karachi: Forty long years had passed since an agitation was initiated for a ban on screening the first ever Balochi film and, since then, not a single Balochi production has managed to make it to the silver screen, regrets Lala Fateh Muhammad Nazar, a prominent musician from Lyari, as he speaks of the conspicuous absence of Balochi films from Pakistan’s movie theatres despite a thriving regional language cinema industry in the country today.

It was in 1976 that well-known TV actor Anwar Iqbal had produced the first-ever Balochi feature film titled ‘Hammal o Mahganj’ in Pakistan. The screenplay was written by prominent academician and poet Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi, while Nazar was the movie’s music producer. Iqbal, Anita Gul, Nadir Shah Adil (now a journalist), Bobi, Mehmood Laasi, AR Baloch, Muhammad Sididque Baloch, Shakeel Laasi and Noor Muhammad Lashari had acted in the film.   

Nazar said the movie, production preparations for which had started in 1973, was ready to be screened by early 1976.

“The film was in fact based on a Balochi folktale of resistance and love eulogising the ruler of Makran, Mir Hammal Jeayand, the hero of an armed resistance led against the Portuguese occupation,” Nazar told The News. 

Hailing from an affluent family, Iqbal made the entire movie from his own pocket but, in his own words, had to surmount a number of challenges during the film making process.

But when the movie was to be presented before audiences – with Karachi’s Bambino Cinema finalised for the premiere – protests against the screening erupted, making the movie the first and last Balochi production.  

‘Balochi film chalay ga tou cinema jalay ga’ 

A prominent social and literary activist, popular among Karachi’s Baloch residents, Lala Faqir Muhammad, who led the agitation against 'Hammal o Mahganj,' said the Baloch youth and other like-minded people felt the movie was aimed at maligning Baloch traditions and culture, and its exhibition would have paved the way for more vulgar movies.

“Baloch are proud of their culture. And we saw the screening of the movie as a threat to it,” Muhammad said.

“What are Pashto and Punjabi movies today? Had we allowed the film to be screened this is exactly what Balochi films would have been like,” he opined.

A writer and activist based in Lyari, Ramazan Baloch, who recently authored a book titled ‘Lyari Ki Adhoori Kahani’, said around two dozen groups, including community-based organisations and literary circles gathered to oppose the release of the movie. 

They formed the ‘Tehreek-e-Tahafuz-e-Saqafat-e-Balochan’ (movement to safeguard Baloch culture) and nominated Muhammad as the president.

Anjuman Baidari Balochan, Anjuman Ustakaran Nawalane and Anjuman Lasharyan Jahanabad were among the key groups in the movement, Baloch said.

“The movement’s main slogan was ‘Balochi film chalay ga tou Cinema jalay ga’ (If Balochi films are screened, cinemas will be burnt).”

Besides, in Baloch neighbourhoods of Karachi, the agitation also gained momentum among various Baloch tribes in Balochistan, rural Sindh and South Punjab, claimed Muhammad.

A case of politicisation?

Political analysts believe the matter of the movie’s screening was politicised, especially in Lyari, where the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Baloch-nationalist groups, specifically the National Awami Party (NAP), were active competitors in local politics. 

According to Baloch, “Some activists of the PPP were in favour of having the film screened, while nationalist-leaning activists opposed it.”

To address reservations of activists opposing the movie, Iqbal organised a screening specifically for the purpose of reviewing the entire movie, in Eastern Cinema. Then Sindh labour minister and a PPP leader Abdullah Baloch especially participated in the event.

Those part of the event agreed that the film did not have anything that went against the Baloch culture; but young emotional Baloch activists were still not satisfied and resorted to threatening cinema owners.

The threats resulted in cinema owners refusing to screen the movie and, thus, Iqbal suffered a heavy financial loss.

New breed of filmmakers

In recent years, a number of filmmakers from Baloch neighbourhoods had started making short films and documentaries on social issues, of which some plan on making feature films.

Interviews with young filmmakers suggest that political developments in the Baloch community both in Balochistan and Karachi impacted the Baloch youth’s psyche. It got them to think on how to get their issues out in the open.

Thrity-seven-year-old Tariq Murad, an alumnus of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa), is among the young filmmakers, making his first documentary in Balochi titled ‘Ich Gushgi Nahe’ (Keep Silent), in 2007.

 “The community had realised the importance of having a medium which could increase social, cultural and political awareness of the community,” Murad observed.

According to him the opposition against ‘Hammal o Mahganj’ on the basis of a misconception was not the right thing to do. “That decision resulted in there not being a Balochi cinema at all,” he stated.

“Had the movie been screened, we would have had hundreds of Baloch artists, writers, music directors and other related professionals today, who could play a role in promoting Baloch culture and issues in true spirit,” Murad further stated. 

In a four-day long film festival held in September 2014 in Lyari, the Lyari Film Festival (LLF), a number of impressive short films and documentaries were screened. From then on, the Baloch youth went on to prove their mettle in several other film festivals.

Among the ones which garnered the most attention at LLF were ‘Mani Reesh Espetan (My bread is white), ‘Minglish’, ‘Sukoon’, ‘Wheels’ and ‘Azmaan’.   

Naming Murad among the many talented filmmakers to have emerged from Baloch areas, Ramazan Baloch further named Ahsan Shah, Imran Saqib and Adil Bizenjo as some other prominent filmmakers of the community.

“Hasht Roch (Eight Days) is another good short movie based on the infamous eight days of police operation which took place in Lyari, in April 2012,” Baloch maintained. 

The filmmakers have a plethora of ideas and no limits to their talent, but there remains a crippling lack of equipment and resources, he said. However, Baloch acknowledged the support of a number of civil society organisations in helping them produce quality content, expressing hope that such encouraging endeavours could one day finally help them achieve the greatness they dream of.