Despite border skirmishes, cross-border shelling and gunpowder-laced neighbourly acrimony, Bollywood films continue to provide a lifeline to Pakistan’s film industry, says a leading filmmaker from across the border, Jamshed Mahmood Raza.
“It’s very simple. We are cousins. We share the same language. We share the same songs. We had cinemas, but we were not making films. New cinemas came because of Bollywood. Once the cinemas started to emerge, the filmmakers were ready. We can’t make films if there’s no cinema to show it. Bollywood is still giving CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to our industry,” said Raza.
Raza, whose film Moor, has been selected as Pakistan’s official entry for this year’s Academy awards, was screened at the just-concluded 46th edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI).
Moor, which means mother in Pashtun, is set in the terror-ridden region of northern Balochistan in Pakistan, where women fight mafia and railway corruption and take charge of their families.
“It’s slightly abstract for a Pakistani audience. Critically, it’s one of the best, but financially it’s probably the worst right now. The film was not for the masses and we had 11 a.m. screen timings. I mean nobody would come on a weekday at 11 a.m. We were sidelined as an art film,” Raza said.
Witty to a fault, Raza argued that the film was perhaps selected as Pakistan’s entry for the Oscar awards, precisely because it did not make any money.
“Well, I mean if you look at all the Oscar entries only ‘Whiplash’ or some other film made money. It’s interesting, if you don’t make money, it is pretty much of a guarantee that you will make the Oscar entry,” Raza said.
Dressed in jeans and a black kurta, the tall, bearded and balding Raza looks every inch a Rohit Shetty. But the comparison between the two South Asian filmmakers ends when Raza mentions the influence of legendary American director Stanley Kubrick on him, which explains his film’s abstract drift.
“I have a very different story from Bollywood or Lollywood. I was trained in an American film school. I loved Kubrick and in Pakistan not many people understood him,” he explains.
Asked about his shooting in the terror-affected and kidnapping-prone region of Balochistan, he said: “Balochistan is sensitive. Yes, it was tough working there, but it was secure also because we went through so many security agencies. We have Taliban insurgencies going on there too”.
“The army and the government were really protecting us because we had an American with us, a Pakistani American, and they don’t want any kidnapping cases,” he explains.
A fan of Bollwyood actor Aamir Khan, Raza said that film bans, like the one on Indian films in Pakistan, simply does not work. In fact the 1971 ban, he said, actually finished the Pakistani film industry.
“From 1971 we banned (Indian films), our industry was destroyed, not the Indian industry,” he says.
But there is a glimmer of hope he says, because the terror strike in a Peshawar school last year which killed over 100 students was a tragic catalyst, which has made Pakistanis sick of terrorism.
“Actually what people don’t know about Pakistan is very interesting that right now it’s exploding, in every direction. We are sick and tired of terrorism. Everyone is getting over this religious thing now, slowly, slowly,” he said.
The signs of a cultural revival are all over the country, according to Raza.
“So many bands are coming back, so many films are being made, so many cinema halls are coming up. There is definitely a change on cards,” the filmmaker said.
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