Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Pakistani Film Cake Breaks Sindhi Stereotypes

Pakistani movie "Cake" is a Sindhi family drama set in Karachi and rural Sindh.  I had the chance to see it on a Silicon Valley theater screen in California.

Cake is nothing like the usual Bollywood fare featuring an "item song" included in a series of song-and-dance sequences. It tells a story accompanied with a great soundtrack showcasing the classic Sindhi poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and Shaikh Ayaz, some of it sung by Allan Fakir in his mournful voice.

Directed by Asim Abbasi, the movie has an interesting plot and it tells a good story. What makes its  plot especially relevant to the Pakistani diaspora is that it involves a theme familiar to them: Ailing elderly parents  (Jamalis ably played by Mohammad Ahmed and Beo Raana Zafar) in Pakistan with two of their three children living overseas. It also defies the stereotypical depiction of patriarchal Sindhi men as cruel landlords oppressing their women and peasants.

At the center of the story is Zareen (Aamina Sheikh) who takes care of her aging parents in Karachi and their land in rural Sindh. She is joined by her sister Zara (Sanam Saeed) from London when their elderly parents' health suddenly deteriorates.  Many long unresolved family issues come to the surface as they spend time together.  Some of the issues are triggered by the arrival of Christian nurse Romeo (Adnan Malik) who helps the sisters in providing care to their parents.

Except for a few sentences spoken in Sindhi by Aamina Sheikh, the rest of the movie features Urdu as the primary language spoken by the main characters in the movie. It shows how widely Urdu has been embraced by all ethnic groups as the lingua franca binding Pakistanis together as a nation.

Cake is a well-made and beautiful movie featuring great acting talent that breaks old stereotypes. It is yet another confirmation of the renaissance that the Pakistani cinema has seen in the last decade.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investment Review

Bollywood Revenue in Sharp Decline

Bollywood Eyes Pakistan Market

Peepli Live Destroys Indian Myths

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Indian Bollywood Seeks Cultural Dominance

US Mortgage Fraud Funded Bollywood Movie


Riaz Haq said...

A new golden age
The fall and rise of Pakistani film
Islamisation put paid to the first great era of cinema in Pakistan. But new directors with edgy social content are leading a revival



But a new generation of directors and producers is now leading Lollywood’s recovery. The nickname has endured, but little else remains the same. Production has moved from Lahore to the coastal city of Karachi. The ban on Indian films was lifted, and it is these and Western offerings that keep Pakistan’s cinemas open today. But Pakistani films are, slowly, returning to the screen.

Shoaib Mansoor is the director credited with reversing the film industry’s fortunes, but his reputation is partly built on savvy marketing. In 2007 his film “Khuda Kay Liye” (“The Name of God”) was advertised as marking the official revival of Pakistani cinema. The move was a public relations masterstroke that took advantage of softening government control and tapped into a public hunger for local films.

“Khuda Kay Liye” follows the lives two young Pakistani men in the aftermath of 9/11. The film is darker than classic films, and the plot is sometimes convoluted. Yet Mr Mansoor found an audience eager for a modern Pakistani Urdu production and the film played to packed cinemas. Pakistani audiences had been promised a revival, and by showing up to cinemas across the country, they made it happen.

Mr Mansoor followed up with “Bol” (“Speak”) and 2017’s “Verna”. Both focus on gender issues, and the latter triggered a national debate. The plot of “Verna” follows a sexual assault survivor, a subject that caused enormous political controversy after Pakistan’s censor board took issue with what it called “edgy content”, and considered banning the film. The ensuing debate touched a public nerve, as it coincided with widespread protests held over the rape and murder of Zainab Ansari, a seven-year-old girl. When it was eventually screened, the film’s skewering of misogyny was applauded. Mr Mansoor typically focuses on content over style, choosing to pack his films with social criticism, sometimes to a fault. Both “Verna” and “Bol” were criticised for erratic pacing and weak cinematography.

But Mr Mansoor’s example has been followed and improved on by other directors. “Cake” (see picture), directed by Asim Abbasi, was released at the end of March. It’s a far cry from 1960s films, known for their melodrama and impressive song and dance numbers, yet is all the better for this. The plot revolves around the lives of two sisters caring for their ailing parents. One has remained in Pakistan and the other has just returned from Britain, a common scenario in Pakistan’s wealthier neighbourhoods (accordingly, critics have praised it for its realism). Mr Abbasi focuses on the conflicted relationship between the two women as they gather to celebrate their parents’ wedding anniversary, and neither muffles their anger nor exaggerates their rivalry. Refreshingly, their romantic ties remain secondary. “Cake” became the first Pakistani film to premiere at London’s Leicester Square.

Much work remains to be done. Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors continues to wield enormous power over which films are seen. And although the rising numbers of subversive films are encouraging, the social consequences of their release fall disproportionately on the women involved. The lead role in “Verna” was played by Mahira Khan, who has long been a target for sexist trolls online. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, an Oscar-winning documentary maker, has faced similar problems for her work on honour killings and acid attacks.

But despite the obstacles, a resurgence is finally underway in Lollywood. Fresh-faced directors such as Mr Abbasi have access to high production budgets, talented casts and scripts that avoid clichés. The new wave of Pakistani cinema may well eclipse its golden age.

Z Basha Jr said...

Good that you are highlighting the plight of aged parents.. these days in Karachi and other cities it is becoming fashionable to throw parents into old age home.. even educated elites use excuse of medical care to throw old parents out of homes.. all that old people need in their last days is really love and living among strangers is as if being in jail... your post highlights this aspect very well...

Riaz Haq said...

CM vows to make Karachi the hub of film production again


Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has said his government will assist in every possible way in promoting the cultural cause to make Karachi the hub of film production in the country again.

“In the 50s ad 60s, Karachi used to be the centre for film production in the country, but later on this activity moved to Lahore. Now Karachi once again has started becoming the centre for film production,” he said as he inaugurated the four-day Asia Peace Film Festival at Expo Centre on Friday.

“The Government of Sindh would definitely be part of this activity. We would assist in every way possible the cause to bring the film production back to Karachi so that we can add to the rich culture of our province.”

The chief minister called upon the film-makers and other people associated with film industry to help the provincial government to adopt the first-ever provincial films’ policy.

He said that after the 18th amendment, films had become a provincial subject, and the Sindh culture department had been striving hard to adopt a films policy for the province.

“God willing, we will come up to the expectations of film industry by formulating a policy which would attract film-makers and which would give them more incentives, and which would also promote film industry in the province.”

Shah was of the view that input from the film-makers and other people associated with the industry would greatly help the culture department to adopt this policy. He said the chosen theme of the festival “Karachi for all” was closest to the truth because Karachi and the province of Sindh had always welcomed people from all over the world.

“I am glad to know that more than 50 countries are represented in this festival. A total of 109 Asian films will be screened in the festival along with 24 Pakistan films. This is a great opportunity for everyone here to get together and share views to promote the film industry,” he said.

Shah added that the festival would greatly benefit students, amateur and budding film-makers and would help them learn a lot from the experience of seniors and seasoned professionals in the field of film production.

He said “peace” as the chosen subject for the film festival was most appropriate given the nature of the city and the place where it was being held. “Sindh is the land for Suifism. Sindh is the place of peace. We have always promoted peace as it is our very culture that we are the promoters of peace and friendship. We are a pluralistic society as we will always be known for this.”

He said his government would continue to assist in holding such conferences and festivals to promote cultural activities in the province. “By the end of March, there will be another such event with the name of Karachi Film Festival as the provincial would also provide help to conduct this festival to promote the cause of culture.”

Amjad Bhatti, convener of the Asia Peace Film Festival, also spoke on the occasion and shed light on the objectives of the event.

Maariya Syed, an independent film-maker from India, Fatemeh Moosavi, film-maker from Iran, Prof Nend Dizdarevic, belonging to Bosnia, and other international participants also spoke and shared their experience of being part of a days-long cultural activity in Karachi featuring active involvement of the film-making talent of several regional countries.

Riaz Haq said...

An Industry Awakens


With the aim to be one of the largest film festivals in the country, the Pakistan International Film Festival (PIFF), a project of the Karachi Film Society – its parent body – was held in a four-day whirlwind programme (March 29 – April 1) comprising an impressive line-up of seminars, premieres, exhibitions, workshops, star-studded gala dinners and a glamorous closing ceremony at Karachi’s Frere Hall. In the process, with an aim to give an open platform to local independent filmmakers, they were invited to submit their stories, some of them compelling, thereby discovering new talent in the country. The festival also welcomed international filmmakers to share their best and award-winning films.

More than 1,500 submissions from 93 countries were received by PIFF for consideration, out of which 210 from 30 countries were shortlisted for screening at the festival. The PIFF jury selected an immense diversity of films that showcased the formidable talents of local and international filmmakers. During the festival, a series of screenings of documentary shorts, feature films, documentaries and virtual reality (VR) films were shown across Karachi at select cinema halls and institutions including the Nueplex Cinema , Goethe Institut, Iqra University Defence, Iqra University North Nazimabad, Alliance Française and The Second Floor (T2F).

Simultaneously, three-day seminars were conducted at the Ziauddin University Clifton Campus, comprising discussions that touched on a wide range of subjects related to the cinema industry. What made the discussions particularly interesting was the fact that the largest international delegation was from our neighbouring ‘enemy’ country, and the one with the world’s largest film industry, India.

A 23-delegate strong Indian contingent arrived with visible and vocal enthusiasm about being part of something new and important emerging in Pakistan. ‘Collaborations across borders: Possibilities and Future Directors’ was among the first sessions held on day one of the festival and featured renowned Indian actor/director Nandita Das, screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, musician Harsh Narayan, Pakistani director Asim Raza and actor Sajal Ali. The discussion was moderated by Asif Noorani.

The PIFF encompassed pre-Festival activities such as the three-day Digital Storytelling Workshop, in which young participants were asked to develop their ideas for short films, and finalise their storytelling processes before heading out to shoot their stories. The workshops included talks and training by professional directors, producers and writers on various aspects of filmmaking, such as Rasheed Noorani; Salman Sirindhi, Nadeem Baig and Sarmad Khoosat, film editor Rizwan AQ, and post-production training by Ali Ijaz and Salman Sirhindi. The workshop concluded with a certificate distribution by the chief guest, academy award-winning director/producer Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a member of the board of directors of the PIFF.

The workshop was followed by another pre-Festival activity: Mobile Screenings organised by PIFF at six venues across Karachi, starting with the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture; the Abdullah Haroon Community Centre in Khadda Lyari, the Szabist Auditorium at 90 campus; the Memon Goth Community Hall in Malir; the main campus of Iqra University, and the Murshid Auditorium in Muachh Goth Hub.

The founder/President of PIFF, Sultana Siddiqui, also hosted another pre-PIFF event titled ‘The Celebration of Women in Film’ to coincide with Women’s Day. The event was a seminar, the first of its kind to celebrate the contributions and challenges of Pakistani women in film, particularly female directors. In the course of the insightful panel discussions, some renowned women fimmakers shared the obstacles they faced in the entertainment industry and how they overcame them (see ‘Celluloid Queens’).

Riaz Haq said...

Western #Illinois University #Music #Education Professor visited #Pakistan on #Fulbright & worked with teachers and students at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in #Karachi and the Beaconhouse National University (BNU) in #Lahore for 2 weeks http://www.wiu.edu/news/newsrelease.php?release_id=16034

Western Illinois University Associate Professor of Music Education Richard Cangro recently returned from visiting and teaching in Pakistan as part of his 2018 Fulbright Teaching Specialist grant award.

This is Cangro's second Fulbright award. He worked with teachers and students at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in Karachi and the Beaconhouse National University (BNU) in Lahore for two weeks.

"I am very fortunate to have received this award and had the opportunity to visit Pakistan," said Cangro. "One of my goals was to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about the country. I was warmly received, and generously cared for during my visit, and made some great new friends."

Most of the students and faculty were proficient in English, so there were no issues in communication. Cangro presented on topics including music education in the US, assessing learning in the arts and his research area of cooperative learning. He also introduced and demonstrated the trumpet and had the opportunity to jam with a sitar artist and students at both colleges.

Goals for this trip included sharing information on arts education and cultural exchange; however, a new connection for WIU was at the top of the list. Both NAPA and BNU are very interested in collaborating with WIU to create a music degree program. Meetings with faculty and administrators at both institutions opened the door for future collaborative projects, as well as consultation for creating degree programs not currently available in Pakistan.

A contrast in socioeconomic conditions, Pakistan is a young country that is developing and building its identity through education. BNU and NAPA are deeply committed to their students and to building their programs to address 21st century ideals and developing global thinkers in the arts, while preserving their unique culture.

Cangro hopes this trip will be the beginning of a long-standing relationship for WIU that encourages study abroad opportunities, student and faculty exchanges and partnership degree plans.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan National Monument Islamabad

When the then Interior Minister brought Mr Lashari he announced that he is “a gift for Islamabad”. A gift, truly, he was. Mr Lashari was a man of mega projects and that was the age of extravaganza. President Musharraf, for all the debate about the legality of his rule, knew well the art of creation of money and had a taste for aesthetics in monumentalisation of the city.


Mr Lashari was made CDA chairman in the early days of the government of President Pervez Musharraf and he stayed at office for five years until in 2008 he was made the chief commissioner of Islamabad.

Riaz Haq said...

Under the Talpurs, Sindhi Hindus had been forbidden from owning land. That’s not to say they were not commercially active. In fact, Sindh’s Hindus had a long tradition of business success. The British imperialist Richard Burton wrote that ‘throughout Sindh the Hindu element preponderates in the cities and towns, the Moslem in the country: the former everywhere represents capital, the latter labour’.22 It was the Hindus who collected taxes, lent money and managed trade. Nevertheless, a British decision to allow Sindh’s Hindus to own land tilted things in their favour, and with many Muslims heavily indebted to Hindu financiers, some ended up losing their land to Hindu moneylenders. In 1896, a survey of villages in Sindh found that Hindus held 28 per cent of the land; fifty years earlier they had owned virtually none. The British were concerned. The Sindh commissioner Evan James complained that when Hindus obtained other people’s land through usury, the former owners were reduced to a state of abject dependence. ‘The feeling of injustice engendered by this tyranny strikes at the foundations of our rule,’ he said.23 The British worried that if the big estates were broken up, a crucial pillar of support in Sindh would be lost. Under the Sind Encumbered Estates Act a British manager could take over a bankrupt estate and declare many of its debts null and void. For the landowner there was a downside – the manager would take over ownership of the land until such time as the estate was solvent again – but once the books were balanced and the estate returned to profitability, it was given back to the landowner. Doda Khan Bhutto, sharp as well as forceful, was quick to exploit the Act. While some landowners held back, either to preserve their dignity or because they did not trust the British, Doda knew a good thing when he saw it and ensured that his estate was one of the first to be taken over. A manager, appointed in 1876, went through the books and confirmed Doda Khan was heavily in debt. Then, declaring that much of what Doda Khan owed was the result of exorbitant interest rates charged by Hindu moneylenders, the manager wrote off over half of his liabilities. At a stroke, Doda Khan’s situation was transformed. The remaining debts were dealt with by a government loan that the manager repaid from estate income over a five-year period.

Bennett-Jones, Owen. The Bhutto Dynasty (pp. 23-24). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan Selects Busan Winner ‘Circus of Life’ (Zindagi Tamasha) For the #Oscars2020. The film had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in 2019, where it won the prestigious Kim Ji-seok award in #Korea.

https://variety.com/2020/film/asia/pakistan-oscar-selection-circus-of-life-1234841690/ via @variety

The Pakistan Academy Selection Committee has selected Sarmad Khoosat’s “Circus of Life” (aka “Zindagi Tamasha”) as the country’s entry in the 2020 Oscars’ international feature category.

The film had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in 2019, where it won the prestigious Kim Ji-seok award.

Set in Lahore, the film chronicles the chaos that ensues in the life of a staid, devout elderly man when a video featuring him gets uploaded onto social media.

After being cleared by the censor board, the film had its release in Pakistan in January disrupted when a political party said that the content was blasphemous.

“I did not make ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ to hurt, offend or malign anyone. It’s a story about a ‘good enough Muslim’ – there was/is no mention of a sect, party or faction of any sort,” Khoosat said in a letter he wrote to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in January.

“What was most important to me was exploring the idea of tolerance. Tolerance not just to others (to allow people to exist the way they are) but also tolerance to self – and this is where the concept of shame, need for approval, etc. come in to play,” Khoosat had told Variety at Busan. “I have been in situations where I have felt I should have been more tolerant of others and more accepting of my own self.”

The Academy Selection Committee was chaired by Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who has twice won the Oscar in the best documentary short subject category. She won in 2012 for “Saving Face,” sharing the award with Daniel Junge, and in 2016 for “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.”

“All the heartache that ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ gave me has somehow restored my faith in the power of art too: the sheer, almost physical power of art to make life imitate it,” Khoosat told Variety. “This announcement, for me, is a very bright light shining at the end of this dark tunnel of a year. No matter how far we go with this official selection, ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ will be representing all of us – our Pakistan. I feel honored on behalf of my entire team and I am extremely grateful to the committee for finding it worthy enough.”

Pakistan submitted films for Oscar consideration in 1959 and 1963 and then stopped. It began submitting annually again from 2013, but has yet to secure a nomination.

Riaz Haq said...

‘The Legend Of Maula Jatt’: #Pakistani Epic Sets Global Opening Weekend Record. Opening on over 500 screens in 25 markets, the action fantasy grossed PRK 51cr ($2.3M) globally, a new benchmark launch for a Pakistani title worldwide.#MaulaJatt https://deadline.com/2022/10/the-legend-of-maula-jatt-pakistan-global-box-office-record-1235147719/ via @Deadline

A reboot of the 1979 cult Punjabi classic, Maula Jat, Bilal Lashari’s The Legend of Maula Jatt is coming off of a record-breaking weekend for a Pakistan-made or Punjabi-language film. Opening on over 500 screens in 25 markets, the action fantasy grossed PRK 51cr ($2.3M) globally, a new benchmark launch for a Pakistani title worldwide. Check out the trailer below.

The movie (which The Guardian called Game of Thrones meets Gladiator) follows the titular Maula Jatt, a fierce prizefighter with a tortured past who seeks vengeance against his arch nemesis Noori Natt, the most feared warrior in the land of Punjab. Loyalties are challenged and families torn apart in an epic tale of truth, honor and justice. Fawad Khan (who appeared in Disney Plus series Ms Marvel), Mahira Khan, Hamza Ali Abassi and Humaima Malik star. Brian Adler (Avatar: The Way of Water, Avengers: Endgame) served as VFX supervisor.

From Encyclomedia and Lashari Films in association with AAA Motion Pictures, and overseas distributor Moviegoers Entertainment, this is said to be the largest-mounted Pakistan-made, Punjabi-language film to date.

In Pakistan, it took $517K, and in the UK picked up $355K from 79 locations. The latter is the highest opening weekend for any Pakistani or Punjabi film in the market where it entered at No. 9 on the chart.

In the U.S., The Legend of Maula Jatt grossed $290K and in Canada $235K, kicking off at No. 6. The UAE saw a No. 1 start with over $515K. In Australia, it opened at No. 6 with $160K. Other releasing markets included Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and South East Asia.

The filmmakers tell us demand has been extraordinary with exhibitors adding screenings throughout the weekend and into the week.

Lashari — who directed, co-wrote, lensed, edited and produced the movie — enthused, “I’m beyond overwhelmed by the love the film has received from audiences and critics alike the world over. We are so proud that The Legend of Maula Jatt has been instrumental in putting Pakistan-made cinema on the global map as it continues to win over hearts in theaters across the world.”

Producer Ammara Hikmat said, “The Legend of Maula Jatt has been our labor of love for a number of years. The pandemic came and returned but we knew we had to hold out for a theatrical release, as the film is undoubtedly a big screen experience… We’re so delighted that our film has broken previous records and set a new benchmark for Pakistan-made cinema, loved and lauded not only domestically but by audiences and critics globally.”

Riaz Haq said...

Iram Parveen Bilal Wraps Pakistan Shoot on Social Media Themed Film ‘One of a Kind’ (EXCLUSIVE)


U.S.-Pakistani director Iram Parveen Bilal has wrapped principal photography at Pakistan locations on her fourth film “One of a Kind” (aka “Wakhri”).

Inspired by and offering tribute to unapologetic social media influencers like the slain Qandeel Baloch, the film is set in the world of patriarchal social media trolling and the burgeoning underground scene of the so-called “misfits” in modern-day Pakistan. It follows a Pakistani schoolteacher who accidentally unleashes the power of social media, unabashedly challenging the patriarchy. As she tries to keep her online identity a secret, she’s gradually exposed to society’s dangerous underbelly and forced to manage the repercussions.

Bilal describes the project as a “grounded masala” film that promises thought-provoking subject matter whilst also featuring loud Punjabi-language club tracks and Urdu-language rap songs to dance and chant with.

Bilal was named one of the directors to watch by the Alliance of Women Directors in 2020. Her previous film, “I’ll Meet You There,” was in the Grand Jury competition at SXSW in 2020 and hopes to overturn the ban on its release in Pakistan.

“Wakhri” was a 2018 Locarno Open Doors selection, where it was one of two Pakistani project selections, the other one being what is now Saim Sadiq’s Oscar contender “Joyland.” It was subsequently invited to the 2019 Cannes Cinefondation L’Atelier, becoming the first official selection of a project from Pakistan there. The project is also a Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) and CAA Foundation Full Story Initiative grant recipient and recently participated at the Busan Asian Project Market.

“Wakhri” features Pakistani actors Faryal Mehmood and Gulshan Majeed alongside well-known social media influencers. It is being produced by Abid Aziz Merchant’s Sanat Initiative banner (“Sandstorm”) and “Delhi Crime” producers Apoorva Bakshi and Monisha Thyagarajan’s Awedacious Originals, whose extensive slate was revealed by Variety at Busan, alongside Bilal’s Parveen Shah Productions (“Josh”). Roman Paul (“Paradise Now,” “Wadjda,” “Waltz With Bashir”) of Razor Film Produktion is co-producing.

Ludovica Isidori (“Sanctuary”) has shot the film, which has production design by Kanwal Khoosat (“Joyland”). The music of the film features celebrated Pakistani talent including Meesha Shafi, rapper Eva B (“Ms. Marvel”) and is being produced by Abdullah Siddiqui (“Coke Studio,” “Joyland”). Aarti Bajaj (“Sacred Games”) will be serve as editor.

Bilal is represented by Suchir Batra at CAA, Hannah Mulderink at Goodman, Genow, Schenkman, Smelkinson & Christopher, LLP and publicist Sam Srinivasan of Sechel PR.