Bring on the magic, bring on the act

November 21, 2021

Kahay Dil Jidhar, starring Junaid Khan and Mansha Pasha in lead roles, is introduced as another film all set to bring cinemas back to life.

Bring on the magic, bring on the act

After a long, unfathomable night of being in inertia, Pakistani cinema has reason to celebrate. The announcement of Nabeel Qureshi (writer/director) and Fizza Ali Meerza’s (producer) upcoming feature film, Khel Khel Mein (KKM) sowed the seeds of hope. With an all-star cast including Sajal Aly and Bilal Abbas – KKM tackles the subject of war that led to the independence of Bangladesh, and is scheduled to release this month; it could already be in cinemas by the time you read this article. KKM may be the first film to announce a cinematic effort following the infectious virus (that is still in the air but dimmed by vaccines for now) but it is, most certainly not going to be the last. Other efforts are on their way.

Among them is Kahay Dil Jidhar (KDJ) featuring Junaid Khan and Mansha Pasha (Laal Kabootar) as the protagonists. Having seen delays in its release, the film – as its trailer suggests - is an effort in exploring what is a drug-infested society with Junaid Khan essaying a police officer and Mansha Pasha, a journalist. Directed by Jalal Roomi and produced by Wajdaan Films, the supporting cast includes Atiqa Odho, Sajid Hasan, Kamran Bari, Roma Michael and Dino Ali. A crime drama at heart, the trailer is not the most impressive and needed to be cut sharply; it is not as gritty as it is confused. That said, with a press conference for the trailer launch along with film’s cast and industry insiders like Faysal Quraishi and Aijaz Aslam present, you have to ask yourself: is cinema rising again? Given the changes we’ve seen in these last two years, can it actually succeed the way it did before the pandemic? But first, let’s focus on KDJ and what its cast came out to talk about during the trailer launch event at Atrium Cinemas in Karachi.

How many roads must a man walk down/Before you call him a man? How many seas must a white dove sail/Before she sleeps in the sand?”- ‘Blowin in the Wind’ by Bob Dylan

Surrounded by a sea of digital, print and broadcast media, being watched by curious bystanders and accompanied by his family, Junaid Khan admitted the film had been delayed many a times. “The film got delayed. We shot it and were going to release it but the pandemic broke,” he said, “We’ve been waiting. We know the project is good; it has a mix of light comedy, friendship, action, songs. You’ll get to see me dance in the film for what will be a first time. There are things in it that I never explored in television projects. I was waiting for the right team, the right script and now I have it and I can’t wait for people to see this film.”

While Junaid is banking that the film will get the audience’s attention, similar is the case for his co-star Mansha Pasha, who last starred in director Kamal Khan’s excellent, Laal Kabootar. Expectations from Mansha, therefore, are sky-high.

“Our team operated like a family. Our director, Jalal, was calm. You never know with a film, but he never passed on his stress – if any – to us. KDJ isn’t a heavy-duty film. There is romance, there are songs… given how stressful times were and still are, this film will provide a light segue, like a feel-good time film.”

For Mansha, post Laal Kabootar, expectations are high, but she says the two films are not only different but each had its challenges and can’t be compared. “A film like Laal Kabootar comes once in a decade. As an actor you won’t get offered such a film very often. Plus, you don’t want to be pigeonholed as an art-house actor. Compared to LK, KDJ is a much more commercial film tapping into the desi mindset. Laal Kabootar should stand on its own and I, as an actor, should do something different and take a risk in some other way.”

She continued, “My first film was also, in a way, a non-commercial film but this film is about the desi mindset. There is a storyline and it has its own drama but it isn’t like Laal.”

Also present at the press conference, Atiqa Odho, noted that the film has been made with the Anti-Narcotics Force. “It’s an important film that talks about drug addiction that has spread like cancer in the youth. ANF really helped. It’s a collaboration of ANF and the producers. Such joint ventures should happen more often. There is a message to it that could help the youth.”

“For the loser now/Will be later to win/For the times they are a-changin” – ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan

It is good to see filmmakers, both prominent and emerging taking a plunge and make films for a cinema audience. At a time when consumption habits have changed thanks to the availability of streaming content, will the cultivation of the habit of going to a cinema, which began a approximately a decade ago return? Add to it the rising inflation, can a family or a group of friends actually afford cinema, even the target audience of such a film as KDJ?

Seasoned actor, host and a man who wears many hats, Faysal Quraishi, when posed with this question at the press event, agreed that we are living in different times and changes do need to happen to motivate the audience to watch a film in a cinema instead of opting for digital media only.

“Honestly speaking, it will take time to bring the audience back to theatres,” Faysal shared, “I’ve seen movies in Dubai and the people weren’t coming out the way they used to. Though, internationally several major films have released and are releasing, but people are hesitant about going to cinemas.”

Faysal astutely noted other factors. “The capacity allowed – here – is less. So, that feel of cinema has consequently dimmed. As actors, we maintain that the joy of watching a film in cinema is nothing like watching it at home. However, I feel we need help from the big two. First is the audience itself, which should come forward and watch films. The second is from cinema owners who need to relax on tickets. Some initiatives need to be taken.”

Faysal also pointed out how inflation will play a role. “Right now, how can an average person afford to watch a film? Even as he comes, how will he afford what goes with the cinema experience?”

To help the audience, said Faysal, the slots given to film could include shows that are targeting students and allow for a cheaper student package. “Other packages like a family package should be made available where if you buy X numbers of tickets you get some discount. People did become accustomed to the habit of coming to cinemas. It needs to be rejuvenated with incentives.”

Mansha Pasha added on the subject, “I think it’s too early to predict since cinemas are just starting up, again. What the future will look like, say a year from now, is a toss-up. In areas where people do not watch Netflix, and prefer desi content, with the language and culture making more sense than a Netflix project, I’m hoping we will still be able to draw people to the cinema. The only problem is ticket pricing in context with inflation but I’m hoping that people will come and watch it.”

Both Faysal and Mansha rightly pointed out many factors that will see the rise or fall of cinema. Netflix content may or not appeal to the desi audience at large or they may not be able to afford it. Rising inflation remains an issue that needs to be tackled to create the room for the audience to have the ability to afford films in cinemas. Will cinema owners come up with packages?

Will producers offer some incentive? Is the audience comfortable watching screens (or pirating) films during the pandemic at home? All these questions remain prickly points but with director-producer duo of Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza, and efforts such as KDJ, a future for profitable cinema is certainly possible. As more films release, we will learn, what will make films both a possibility for the audience and profitable for exhibitors, distributors and concerned parties.

While the return of movies to theaters seems almost triumphant after a long time of limited socializing and frequent isolation, post-COVID cinemas may not be the crowd-pullers they once were.
While the return of movies to theaters seems almost triumphant after a long time of limited socializing and frequent isolation, post-COVID cinemas may not be the crowd-pullers they once were.

Bring on the magic, bring on the act