Pakistani cinema has been blowing up recently. Today, we see hoards of Pakistani youth flocking to cinemas to watch the latest local release and tickets for local films selling out almost immediately. Previously, only the latest Hollywood or Bollywood flick could create this reaction in our cinemas. The reason for this is the major shift in the types of content Pakistani cinema’s are producing now.
Films such as Cake, Motorcycle Girl and Verna have been revolutionary for the revival of our film industry. In previous years, Pakistani directors never chose to venture out of a certain safety net when it comes to film producing. Film plots were often were safe, mundane and patriotic resulting in no meaningful development of characters or greater theme that could resonate with audiences. However, recent releases have shown that this may not be the case anymore.
The Pakistani film industry today is attempting to be more controversial and experimental with the types of content it is producing. By shifting the focus to exploring more progressive topics and social issues, Pakistani cinema has managed to transcend from it’s traditional roots and create stories that are able to ring with audiences in a way that previous local flicks couldn’t. This new found strategy has resulted in remarkable success for the industry.
Take the example of the film ‘Verna’ (‘Or Else’). Ironically, the hype around Verna was triggered by a censorship row, in a sense the film was promoted by the very people attempting to restrict it. Verna tells the story of Sara, a teacher who is abducted, held captive, and raped by the son of a local politician. She escapes and seeks help from the justice system. When this fails, Sara takes matters into her own hands to exact revenge. When news of the film being restricted was released, Pakistani social media was outraged with women coming forward using it the film as a vehicle to discuss sexual assault in the country.
Given the rise of social movements, activism and progressive ideals in the country, this shift has been received very well with newer and younger audiences. Moreover, these intense reactions to the film send an important message to film makers: it’s okay to experiment and break boundaries. Although this formula is risky in nature, art has no boundaries and is made to question, comfort and connect with it’s audience.
Along with this comes the opportunity to include various individuals from different communities and walks of life in films. The shift to more serious topics allows directors to catapult people from marginalised communities into the limelight, thereby helping bring their issues to bay and providing them with unique opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.
Take the example of the short film ‘Darling’. The plot follows the story of a transgender girl auditioning for an erotic dance show. The film tackles topics of gender identity and sexuality; topics that are otherwise taboo in our society. In this manner, this short film has become a statement film for the transgender community in Pakistan. Additionally, it has also provided the impetus for film makers to include minorities in their work therefore opening up different career avenues for these minorities.
While exploring more hard-hitting topics may not seem like a big deal in the Hollywood or Bollywood industry, Pakistan is a different story. Due to the deep and complex stigmas and taboos that exist within our society, stories like these are able to immediately form a connection and elicit a strong response with Pakistani audiences.
Unearthing the different artistry of film and a new generation of filmmakers could elevate Pakistani cinema to new heights. Moreover, it is likely to give rise to films that aren’t just stylistically different and aesthetically unconventional, but also bring a plethora of new subject matters to the big screen. It is safe to say that despite immense criticism, this new strategy is working well for Pakistani cinema and the industry is finally finding a way to showcase art that is inclusive and representative of all communities in the country.
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