Last week, the Film & TV Department of the National College of Arts (NCA) held a thesis show of its final year students. The short pieces of creative work of 13 young filmmakers, five documentaries and eight fiction films, were delightful to say the least. One felt as if NCA was quietly sowing the seeds of cinema’s revival in Pakistan; albeit, at this stage, it seemed like sprinkling a desert to create an oasis!
With a combined duration of about four hours, if one were to watch these shorts in a certain sequence and one go, they would be as captivating, entertaining and thrilling as the two parts of the Indian epic Gangs of Wassaypur. The eight fiction films covered a wide range of social, emotional, psychological and sensual subjects with impressive techniques, treatment, and teasing of imagination. These films cover the entire socio-economic geography of the country.
Among them, one saw haunting and realistic depiction of poverty, crime and horror (Mithay Chaol, Raath, Birthday Gift by Humza Yousaf, Amar Ali and Waqr Akbar respectively); genuine entertainment through lighthearted and black comedy (Bachan and Meena Show by Meeran Kazmi and Eshah Shakeel); sexual awakening of a young girl through a subtly subversive but deftly handled drama (Moashqa by Kanzul Fatima); soft story of harsh awakening of ambitious, confused young man (Jaag by Farzeen Imtiaz); and heartwarming coming together of a distraught couple at the verge of falling apart following the death of their newly born child (Jarak by Laila Khalid).
The short documentaries were equally impressive in storytelling and engagement. The Oblivion of the Hindukush Mountains (Junaid Ali) told a triumphant story of Gabral Valley residents who must migrate in the harsh winters. Jita (the riser) by Sabika Zahra Naqvi) profiled the remarkable tale of a slum child whose life is changed due to education that he pursued against all odds; Shuwanang (The Baloch Shepherd) by Nidal Sher captures the gruel and routine travel of over 2200 kilometers this Baloch shepherd undertakes with his herd of sheep he adores (and Nidal travelled with him all along). Mur Mur Kay na Dekh by Risham Waseem portrays the deep impact of sexual harassment on the lives of ordinary women, and highlights the ironical role of cinema in promoting this. Anjaan Raastay (Alien Routes) by Umair Khwaja stunned the audience by showing the forced Islamic conversion of Lahore’s famous roads and intersections through great cinematography and delightful content.
The creativity and maturity of productions show that the raw energy and passion of young filmmakers had access to seasoned and diligent mentoring of the competent faculty.
Currently, NCA’s Film and TV Department admits only 20 students from across Pakistan. Some drop out in the four years of rigorous odyssey. This year, out of the 20 enrolled, 15 stayed, and two opted to delay their thesis.
There are a few things that the department at NCA and the government (Cabinet Division of the Federal Govt.) need to contemplate. The department, with such abundant talent at its disposal, may help graduating students make a feature film and a feature length documentary instead of several shorts. That will help it showcase the creativity to larger audiences, nationally and internationally.
The government can help scale up the current sprinkling of the desert to a drizzle in the prairies by raising the seats from the current 20 to a potential 120. That can be made possible by upgrading the department to a film school attached to NCA that is allowed to offer competitive professional services to the evolving film and bursting TV industry, as the quality of creative and technical services at their disposal have a real and present market.
The barren land of cinema in Pakistan needs several seasons of rapid sowing. The proposed national film school can help that, and very profitably!