Each passing year is an installment in the ongoing and oft-mentioned revival of Pakistani cinema. 2014 saw a tussle at the box office between two of the most high-profile local releases of the year, Nabeel Qureshi’s Na Maloom Afraad and Jami Mahmood’s O21, from which some took away the lesson that local films should not release simultaneously. Other releases came and went quietly, all except for Dukhtar, which earned a little extra mileage for its dispatch as Pakistan’s second submission to the Oscars since the reinstitution of the annual tradition in 2013. Several highly anticipated films, like Jalaibee and Kambakht (initially slated for a summer and September 2014 release respectively) left eager cine-goers hanging. Now, how is 2015 looking? Some of the eagerly awaited titles may finally materialize on screen, and a few surprise projects have sprung up as well.
Pakistan’s most expensive film to date, Yalghaar, is close to winding up its shoot. If their shoot has gone accordingly to schedule, their penultimate spell of shooting is wrapping up in Islamabad today and its jumbo cast and crew are expected to finish off the remainder of their Swat scenes in February. For the uninitiated, Yalghaar is Waar producer/screenwriter Dr Hassan Waqas Rana’s directorial debut, which is based on a real-life story of officers and soldiers involved in a successful military operation in the Parichar district of Swat. Featuring a star-studded cast consisting of Shaan Shahid, Humayun Saeed, Adnan Siddiqui, Ayub Khoso, Gohar Rasheed, Ayesha Omar and Bilal Ashraf (who is also the COO of the film’s production company, Mindworks Media, and the film’s Visual Effects director), the film will also be launching the film careers of several known ‘celebrities’. The debutantes include (former) talk show host Sana Bucha, restaurateur Sikander Rizvi and singer/musician Umair Jaswal, among others. As in Waar, Dr Hassan Waqas Rana will also be seen on screen in a prominent role.
And as in Waar, Dr Hassan Waqas Rana is pushing the technical envelope in his latest film. According to Bilal Ashraf, Waar is “a small product” compared to Yalghaar in terms of the films’ VFX. He has heavily invested in equipment that has never been used in Pakistani films before, and the film features action sequences, stunts and the all-important explosions that will make the ones in the awe-inspiring Waar seem generic. This is a brand of filmmaking that aspires to create Pakistan’s mark in world cinema by transposing attention-grabbing Hollywood slickness onto stories rooted in the land. In the past, the momentous technical feats of similar ventures like Waar and O21 have been reduced to a single adjective like ‘slick’, while the films’ scripts and storylines have been bashed in much more expansive terms. Still, there is no doubt that the achievement of sky-high production value through the sole use of Pakistani talent is a big and applause-worthy one. Here’s hoping that the script, much more personal and truer-to-life this time, will resonate with the audience.
The Yalghaar team will soon be giving the audience a taste of the action with its promotional campaign consisting of a first-of-its-kind theatrical trailer (a separately shot mini-film that boasts 30-40 layers of compositing in each frame) and digital motion posters.
The film is tentatively slated for an Eid-ul-Azha release, although the finalization of its release date depends on the other local films releasing on the holiday. Film producers may have accepted the inevitability of the competition against Hollywood and Bollywood films, but consider it a mutually lost opportunity when local films have to vie against each other for distribution on the limited number of screens in Pakistan and the subsequent box office profits. In a move they describe as “game-changing”, the Yalghaar producers are hoping to release the film internationally first, in a bid to give the film extra mileage and ‘take the industry forward’.
Marking another first in cinema will be SOC Films’ joint venture with a TV channel, Waadi Animations, which is releasing Pakistan’s first fully animated children’s feature film 3 Bahadur in May 2015. Featuring voice artists including Behroze Subzwari, Khalid Ahmed, Alyy Khan and Bassam Shazli, 3 Bahadur has been collaboratively written by several people at Waadi Animations and its entire soundtrack has been composed and sung by Shiraz Uppal. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has taken care of the creative direction of the film, while the camera direction was handled by Waadi Animations’ Head of Productions Kamran Khan, who’s previously been involved in such projects as Milkateer and Commander Safeguard. The film is also intended for international release, which is expected to occur in the fall of the year.
We’ll also be seeing a healthy injection of comic relief in cinemas with the expected spate of comedy releases. Humayun Saeed’s Jawani Phir Nahi Aani has been planned for an Eid ul Adha release this year. Half of the film’s shoot has been completed, while the remainder is scheduled to wrap up by March. Set in both Bangkok and Karachi, the film will be a relationship comedy based on the concept of wives who don’t give their husbands space. It is a light-hearted commercial comedy, starring Humayun himself, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Ahmed Ali Butt, Vasay Chaudhry, Mehwish Hayat, Sarwat Gillani, Sohai Ali Abro and Ayesha Khan. The latest actor to come on board is Bushra Ansari, who is playing “a major and mazedaar character”. Humayun has once more roped in the Main Hoon Shahid Afridi team, the writer Vasay Chaudhry and composing duo Shani-Kami, who are joined by Sahir Ali Bagga and Shuja Haider in the composition of the film’s fun soundtrack. The goal for Humayun was to have his audience “enter and leave the cinemas, happy and laughing.”
In addition to his roles in the above and Yalghaar, Humayun Saeed will also be seen in Bin Roye Aansoo, a serious romantic drama with an underlying social theme, produced by Hum TV. The film based on Farhat Ishtiaq’s novel, which also stars Mahira Khan, Zeba Bakhtiar, Javed Sheikh, Hamza Ali Abbasi, and Armeena Rana Khan, is said to be slated for an Eid ul Fitr release. Humayun is also the lead star in the film formerly known as Malik; the production of the film is currently halted, the film is being renamed and it has been made clear that the film is not based on the life of business tycoon Malik Riaz.
Meanwhile, Shamoon Abbasi, who’s been part and parcel of the brigade of action flicks, is working on his own film Gidh. Although he has landed himself roles in two productions, a foreign project titled Colder Than Ice set in Norway, and the Pak-UK co-production Debal-Uncrowned Dogs about 1960s Karachi gang culture directed by a Dukh Roth Simons, and co-produced and also starring Yousuf Bashir Qureshi, the actor is optimistic that his film Gidh will also release this year.
Young guns are piling on the comic quotient of the big screen, as Yasir M Jaswal’s Jalaibee is set to release on March 20. Described by director Jaswal as “a film somewhere in the middle of a comedy like Na Maloom Afraad and an action flick like Waar”, this comedy caper involves several intertwining storylines like that of friends Billu and Bugga, who have defaulted on a loan with the mafia and are scrambling to pay it back, the vengeful Ali who conspires to kidnap the mafia lord, and the mafia frontman Dara who juggle the tasks of recovering the debt and thwarting the kidnapping – a plot with as many twists and turns as a jalaibee.
Jaswal’s debut film venture features a cast of well-known faces, many of whom are acting on the big screen for the first time, including Adnan Jaffar, Ali Safina, Danish Taimoor, Uzair Jaswal, Wiqar Ali Khan. Zhalay Sarhadi, Sabeeka Imam and Sajid Hasan are the more experienced cast members.
The release of Hamza Ali Abbasi’s Kambakth is considered a given yet not confirmed – a member of the cast has shared that the film has progressed to post-production, which is expected to take another two months, but the director/producer has yet to announce a release date for the film. The film follows an odd pair of friends consisting of a young city slicker (Shehreyar Munawar Siddiqui) and a middle aged man from the frontier (Hamza Ali Abbasi). The film also stars Humayun Saeed, Shafqat Cheema, Sohai Ali Abro, Saba Qamar, Yousuf Bashir Qureshi, and Gohar Rasheed.
It’s an encouraging sign to see first-time directors being able to garner enough resources to make the film they want. As Jaswal observed, after this year, no director will be able to use the alleged lack of resources in Pakistan as an excuse to not make a film. Another young star set to make waves in the cine biz is Shehreyar Munawar, who is producing the Asim Raza romance film, which stars Mahira Khan and Adeel Hussain.
As for the remakes in the pipeline, Bilal Lashari’s homage to the Punjabi cult classic Maula Jutt is still in its pre-production stages and will star Hamza Ali Abbasi, Sanam Jung, and Adnan Jaffar. Whether he will clash with the original film producer Sarwar Bhatti in the court (who claims that Lashari does not have the rights to remake the film) or on screen (Bhatti is also said to be rereleasing Maula Jutt in 3D) remains to be seen.
Shaan Shahid’s Arth remake is delayed due to the superstar’s occupation with other films. The film’s soundtrack is ready, however, and its four-person cast, consisting of Shaan, Humaima Malik, Humayun Saeed and Uzma Hassan will be lined up after Shaan ends Yalghaar’s shooting in February.
Also expected to release in summer this year is Asad ul Haq and Ali Murtaza’s Dekh Magar Pyar Se, a romcom set in Lahore that promises fun for the whole family; the script has been penned by journalist/novelist Saba Imtiaz, who was hand-picked for her sarcastic and witty tone in her novel Karachi You’re Killing Me!, in which she explores an urban love story peppered with observations on pop culture and society. The Shiny Toy Guns team will be revealing details about their cast next month, and have hinted at a diverse soundtrack composed and sung by various celebrated musicians in the country. Yasir Nawaz is also said to be releasing a romantic comedy by the same name in March.
Other high-profile releases include Sarmad Khoosat’s Main Manto, the star-studded biopic of Saadat Hasan Manto that also dramatises some of his most iconic short stories; Sarmad himself plays Manto in the film that also stars Mahira Khan, Sania Saeed (as Begum Manto), Saba Qamar (as Noor Jehan), Faisal Qureshi (as a radio presenter), Imran Abbas (as Talochan Singh), Hina Bayat, Savera Nadeem, Nimra Bucha and Adnan Jaffar.
Also expected are Jami’s Balochistan-based Moor, which follows a family torn apart by corruption surrounding the 1984 closure of the Zhob Valley railways, and Anjum Shahzad and Sarmad Sehbai’s Mahemeer, a drama film inspired by the life and work of Mir Taqi Mir.
Other titles that have cropped up include Shehzad Rafique’s Aitzaz Hasan biopic, Salute, which will inexplicably be produced within a span of two months, with filming to begin in March, and a release expected in May this year. Also gearing up for the fight in the box office are Dance Kahani, about a girl who struggles to sustain her dancing career and Abdul Majid Khan’s Meri Jaan, a musical romance starring newcomers Hiba and Babar Ali and a supporting cast of veterans including Saba Hameed and Javed Sheikh.
From the looks of it, 2015 is set to be a landmark year that will see the release of many more A-list projects than the past year and the debuts of many a promising young director. What is crucial at this point is the timing of the films, as we have seen from the previous year that the clustering of films around the holidays divides the very profits that will drive the industry forward. Perhaps the opportunity cost of losing out on the holiday rush can be counterbalanced by the greater returns of an unaccompanied release.