How wonderful is it to want to see a new Pakistani film and actually have several to choose from?!
After General Zia’s Islamisation drive the film industry had much gone into decline and the culture of family cinema outings had pretty much ended. But with the advent of multiplex cinemas in shopping malls and the boost given to local productions by TV production houses, ISPR funding, brand promotion and lots and lots of young talent, the situation has changed drastically — and so it is that a grim film about a controversial literary figure (Saadat Hasan Manto) can play next door a totally commercial, naach-gaana comedy, both to packed theatres.
Manto is a difficult film to watch but brilliantly put together (shot originally as a TV serialisation); it looks at the final years of the great Urdu writer in Lahore when he was struggling with alcoholism, financial problems and what would probably now be identified as some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following the horrors of Partition.
Some criticisms of the film have been a little odd — suggesting that a film on his life rather than just his final years should have been made. To such critics the answer is one word: Documentary. Yes, a 55 or 85 minute documentary is the correct and most useful form for such a venture. As it is, the film’s photography is excellent (even the Lahore scenes are all shot in Karachi) as is the cast, and what is truly wonderful about it is that it brings some of Manto’s work into focus through dramatisations and also provides glimpses into an undocumented (or largely officially documented) era. I do hope it sparks off a resurgence of interest in Manto’s writings as well as a re-examination of social and political history.
My only criticism of Manto is that the film lacks the dramatic choreography that steers one from tragedy to comedy to pathos. It’s all very grim and I do think that some of the manipulative techniques that many commercial films use might have worked well and not left the viewer feeling emotionally drained and physically battered by the end.
But my next cinematic outing was to ‘Jawani Phir NahinAni’, an upbeat comedy in which three friends who have become henpecked husbands are taken on a break to Thailand by their fourth friend who is a hip bachelor (Humayun Saeed) visiting from the US. One half of the film is set in Karachi and Thailand while most of the second half is set in the Lahore of weddings, wedding planners, and the nouveau rich. The film is very, very funny. Apart from lots of slapstick and revolving-door comedy, it also has lots of witty jibes and clever topical references. It’s very well cast, the acting is terrific, there’s plenty of dancing and singing and it’s all very light hearted.
But Jawani has outraged certain sections of society because of its ‘fahashi’. This is presumably a reference to all the scenes with bikini clad women and the rather frank acknowledgement that most Pakistani men do actually lust after women. True the film gets a bit lewd and lecherous in some bits but the bikinis are not that much scantier than many of the ridiculous bare midriff ‘wedding outfits’ that have featured in ‘cultural’ fashion shows over the last decade… so lighten up people.
And speaking of lightening up, a skin whitening cream is one of the film’s many, many commercial sponsors. Product placement and brand promotion is blatant but, surprisingly, not that annoying. Jawani is great fun, it’s wonderful to see Javed Sheikh, Bushra Ansari and Ismail Tara in fine form along with younger counterparts and I also liked the film because despite its boys-will-be-boys storyline, it’s full of strong, independent female characters.
Time to go to the cinema…