Too few film releases to raise hopes

June 23, 2024

Cinema industry has transformed beyond recognition from what it was in the Twentieth Century

Too few film releases to raise hopes


espite all the noise about the revival of the film industry in Pakistan, the number of releases to coincide with the Eid-al Azha did not exceed five.

Umro Ayyar is said to be the most expensive film ever to be produced in the country. Obviously its main selling point is special effects which may assume a separate value system of their own. The nature of the tale told, too, is not realistic. The fantastic nature of the story allows the technology based effects to assume an even greater role.

From among oriental classics, poetry is much valued. However, prose, particularly fiction, has not been subject to much critical assessment. There may be many reasons for this but the canon of realism alone could have been a major reason for its being undervalued. The European classics like the Iliad and Odyssey, too, were infused with instruments of fantasy but our fiction, like Dastaan-i-Amir Hamza and the Arabian Nights, was set aside as inferior. It is about time there was a critical re-evaluation of our pre-colonial fiction.

Actually there is no single Dastaan-i-Amir Hamza. The most popular plot emanated from medieval Baghdad. At the same time, there were a number of alternative narratives going around by the same name that germinated in other parts of the empire and competing centres of culture. The multiplicity of narratives is quite complex and rich. Alas, there has been very little critical analysis. This could yield an understanding of the tale that is as diverse as its telling and retelling.

This year one was not sure until the Eid arrived about the films that were to be screened on the big day. In the Indian sub-continent, there has been a tradition of films being released on traditional/ religious holidays other than the regular day of launch which is usually a Friday. There was speculation about a few releases but the number was not definite unlike yesteryears when an occasion like Eid typically unleashed a hail storm of advertisements about the release of films. The run up to days like Eid were strewn with all forms of publicity available then. Alas, now even the number of films to be released is not easy to ascertain. The high point of Eid used to be securing the cinema tickets by jumping the queue. The constant mad rush gave rise to expression like “khirki tor hafta” (a week in which the ticket seller’s window was vulnerable on account of the unruly crowds rushing it.)

The Twentieth Century belonged to the cinema. It ruled the entertainment and show business world on an industrial scale. A number of film production centres emerged in the world, led by Hollywood in the United States and South Asian cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Lahore.

Today, some people are of the view that the days of Pakistani cinema are over. The Twentieth Century actually belonged to the cinema. It ruled the entertainment and show business world on an industrial scale. A number of film production centres emerged in the world, led by Hollywood in the United States and South Asian cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Lahore. The latter kept the banner of a local cinematic expression flying high. The Indian cinema became the second biggest industry in the world. Japanese and the European cinema produced some great work but could never match the output volume.

The rise of new technologies in the late Twentieth Century rivaled the cinema. At one point television threatened to take over. Howeer, this did not happen, possibly because of the size of its screen and the limited possibilities of cinematography inherent in the medium. Now the computer and the digital streaming are expected to take over. Like television, internet streaming offers entertainment in the luxury of one’s home. Besides, it can be played at the time of one’s own choosing. The advantage has allowed the digital technology companies to venture into production, rather than being just service delivery platforms.

But it was all tentative and experimental till the circumstances imposed by the Covid-19 left little choice for the audiences. This helped production houses finding an open field and to secure a captive audience. Within no time streaming services assumed became a leviathan and stood in the way of a reviving cinema in the post-Covid phase.

Both Hollywood and the Indian film industry have struggled since then to regain the pre-Covid activity levels that have been only seen in snatches. The viewing culture has changed considerably. People are no longer averse to watching everything on a screen as small as that of a mobile phone. The constant physical latching on like that of a baby monkey with its mother with the mobile phone has changed the parameters of screening. The miniaturising of the cinema, once considered demeaning, is increasingly accepted as the way to reach out to the largest number of viewers.

Among the intended Eid releases, Abhi and Na Baligh Afrad, too, were able to crack the censor code. Some other films were unable to do so. The strict censorship policy is apparently too stifling for many producers to venture out and make films that might resonate with the audiences.

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

Too few film releases to raise hopes