Pashto films: The show must go on

Thursday, February 16th, 2012 4:30:05 by

[[IMAGE: Pashto film-makers tell the story behind substandard, ultra-glossy Pashto films.]]


The Pashto film industry has matured into a resilient fraternity that aims to dispel preconceived notions of radicalisation and conservatism attached to the Pakhtuns. Despite the security and financial issues bolstered by the Talibans to clog its productivity, the Pashto industry managed to remain an inherent part of the culture of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).

Around 12 to 15 films are released annually and reports, published in The News in 2009, suggested that over a period of nine years, a total of 156 films were released in the region of K-P. Studies also showed that these films were able to find a following in Kabul and in commercial centres like Dubai as well. Lahore-based Pashto film-maker and actor Ajab Gul, who remains a pivotal force in the industry, seconds this fact by stating that Pashto films have been able to compete with Indian films in the local market despite minimal resources and low quality.

While speaking about the response of the audience in K-P, the actor says, “Pakhtun society is very liberal. Every culture has tolerant and conservative groups therefore generalising Pakhtuns as backward and rigid is unfair.” Gul — who has just started shooting for his film Intikhab — says that his films’ target the younger audience that wants to be entertained and go to cinemas in the region.

The legacy of Badar Munir

Dilbar Munir, who is another film-maker and actor based in Lahore, continues to keep his father Badar Munir’s cinematic legacy alive. Badar Munir was considered by many as the veteran Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar of Pashto cinema. During the peak of his glorious career, Badar is said to have appeared in around 70 per cent of all Pashto films made up till the late 1980s.

Dilbar explains that most Pashto films revolve around the action genre, with an average of seven to eight songs in each project. A typical Pashto film is shot in a month and is usually ready to be screened in cinemas within two month’s time. While projecting a softer image of the region, film-makers have also played a major role in promoting local recording artists such as Rahim Shah, who has now become a well-known name in Pakistani music industry.

According to Dilbar, there used to be five cinemas in Mardan but now there is only one, while Kohat and Bannu had three cinemas each and now they only have one cinema each. The overall economic circumstances and security issues are considered as the main reason behind the low-budget films that come out of the Pashto film industry. Still, there is a market for these ventures and most of the work for the industry is done in the two months that fall between Eidul Fitr and Eidul Azha.

Art under attack

Veteran director Mumtaz Ali, who found Pashto film icon Gul, says that Talibanisation has been a constant threat to the industry. According to Ali, the Talibans kidnapped famed actor Lala Sardar Khan five years ago and since then, sporadic kidnappings of film actors have been taking place.

“The Taliban have never really liked the industry. Many local gangsters joined the Talibans and participated in kidnappings and as a result many artists moved to places such as Pindi, Murree and Lahore,” says Ali who himself moved to Lahore 45 years ago. “There was a huge following of Pashto films and even now the industry has the potential to play a huge role in promoting harmony.”

Ali, who was recently in Peshawar, says that he tried to persuade several government functionaries to use film as a medium to promote the positive aspects of culture and nationalism. “I spoke with one Awami National Party (ANP) minister and told him that with the reading culture declining rapidly, films are the only tool of change left.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2012.

Peshawar News Sources -2

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