A few months ago, there was a clamour within the Pakistani film fraternity to choose an appropriate term to address the cinema. While some wanted to use the word Lollywood, others thought it was best to keep calling it the Pakistani film industry. Others weren't bothered either way because for them it's all Pakistani content at the end of the day.
The recent wave of cinema seems overly obsessed with superficial details, which are either too glossy or too caricatured.
To be frank, I don't think this was as big a matter as it was made out to be. There are greater issues that have to be addressed by the Pakistani film fraternity. In our films, we are not telling the stories of the cities we live in, the cities that consume us day and night, the cities that live within us no matter what part of the world we are in. Sadly, in Pakistani films today, our cities are reduced to mere stereotypical backdrops, divided by differing accents and infrastructures.
A few successes
The sad state of most cinema today notwithstanding, some films did do justice to the locations they were set in. The best recent example is the enchanting 2013 film Zinda Bhaag that transported us to a milieu of red-bricked houses in the narrow alleys of Lahore. Having lived in the said city for a long time, the film brought back memories of my childhood. This is how beautifully directors Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi made that space a delirious outpouring of joy and happiness. Expertly translated by the director duo, Lahore accomplishes something very, very close to its real personal identity in Zinda Bhaag, which is in itself an achievement.
The 2015 release Moorcan well be described as director Jami's continuing love affair with Balochistan. The celebration of Balochistan in this film is Jami's warmest and most intense yet.
I also found 2014's partly delectable and partly half-baked Na Maloom Afraad quite vibrant in its depiction of Karachi. Director Nabeel Qureshi remained remarkably staunch in his masterful choices regarding outdoor locations. I just wish Qureshi had devoted more care to the content.
Romancing cities, like the maestros
The recent wave of cinema seems overly obsessed with superficial details, which are either too glossy or too caricatured. In our films, we flounder to portray our cities in the light that they deserve.
Can we portray our cities in the light that they really deserve? We might just need to call in the magician known as Woody Allen...
As a reincarnating industry, it's the best time for us to have a look at Woody Allen's résumé. He seems to literally romance the world's most bewitching cities, serving us Barcelona, London, Paris and Rome with the best of their essence intact.
In Midnight in Paris, Allen takes the city by its wrist and tangos with it. And the results are heart-meltingly enchanting. The sight of Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson walking on the streets of a city paved with magic fascinates you with its artistic splendour.
I simply cannot get off my mind the Barcelona of Vicky and Cristina, where Penélope Cruz's Maria Elena gives Javier Bardem a dramatic tongue-lashing in a bustling street of the city.
In Manhattan, Allen seems more in love with the New York City borough than with the lead Diane Keaton. The film begins with Isaac (Woody Allen) professing to romanticize the city "out of all proportion", underscored by Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". How poetic is that!
Let's get to the main point and ask ourselves: Can we portray our cities in the light that they really deserve? We might just need to call in the magician known as Woody Allen to do it for us. Perhaps he can tease out the sophistication of Lahore or the vibrancy of Karachi on screen. He can come in and cast a spell, and the cities will divulge their secrets only too willingly. Let the world know the treasure troves Pakistan owns. But this is just a fantasy, like Gil's travel to the great 20s in Midnight in Paris, so expect no wonders here.
It is the need of the hour to look at our cities in a deeply philosophical way to tap their elusive allure.
But let us keep Allen in our sight to develop a framework for revivifying our cities through cinematic brilliance. We don't have to faithfully mimic Allen's techniques, but at least his body of work is a guide to lead us out of this bleak situation.
Of course, it's not only Woody Allen who we can learn from. There are ample examples in world cinema, ranging from Iran's Jafar Panahi to Belgium's Dardenne brothers.
Panahi's Taxi Tehran is a recent example where he takes you on a ride through the Iranian capital. In this film, the Iranian film-maker offers a piercingly sad social commentary as he takes you through the streets of Tehran on a fine afternoon, making you familiar with the city in less than 90 minutes.
There are so many lessons to learn from the maestros of world cinema.
Why contexts are important
Having said that, it is the need of the hour to look at our cities in a deeply philosophical way to tap their elusive allure.
We should understand that a filmmaker's heightened degree of sensitivity in exploring a certain place is a sign for the audiences to interpret the notions of the space within particular cultures and geographies, in our case Pakistani and South Asian cultures. Cinematic experiences can help form interpretations in the most fascinating manner because films offer a unique aesthetic pleasure that is missing in other media.
Filmmakers must realize that physical spaces are like visual cues that help viewers to form a perspective of their own, deepening their understanding of subjective experiences.
It is important for our films to capture the transforming paradigms in various cities over time, to record changing human behaviour. Filmmakers must realize that physical spaces are like visual cues that help viewers to form a perspective of their own, deepening their understanding of subjective experiences.
We must realize that the Pakistani film industry's strategic planning has to be more rational in the depiction of physical spaces if it is to play an important role in shaping the future of our country.
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