Eid Rush: In Bollywood’s Guise, A New Is On The Rise

  • 02 Sep - 08 Sep, 2017
  • Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
  • Spotlight

On our Eid holidays, one can’t help but notice a bad trend emerging. A trend that took a long, persistent push and a lot of bickering of our producers. Like meethi Eid, the meaty Eid is only going to show new Pakistani feature films. Hurrah is in order (I think).

Now don’t count my notion as un-patriotic. As an ardent supporter of Pakistani cinema as well as one of its hardline critics, I am happy that we have a steady stream of domestic motion pictures.

This year alone, we have had nine releases so far. In release order – with immediate emotional responses in brackets – they are: Thora Jee Lay (atrocious), Balu Mahi (hmmm), Whistle (heard bad things about it), Raasta (a Sahir Lodhi film), Chalay Thay Saath (a public service message about tourism, culture and foreign relations), Yalghaar (the biggest actioner of the year), Mehrunisa V Lub U (who was Mehrunisa, anyway?), Chain Aye Na (right out of the 90’s), Geo Sar Utha Kay (kinetic, zippy action, that makes do with a sketch of a story).

From that overview, now that I think about it, I enjoyed films that were more ‘conventional’ and predictably old-school bad (Chain Aye Na, Geo Sar Utha Kay and to an extent Raasta). As a friend and longtime, astute journalist says, “We don’t have film-making in our genes.” That, of course, is not true; but then again, it could be.

There are exceptions – Humayun Saeed and Nabeel Queshi. One, an overpowering media force, the other a new-age film-maker. This brings me back to my point.

This Eid, we have only two major competitors: Punjab Nahin Jaoongi (PNJ) and Na Maloom Afraad 2 (NMA 2). One, a typical Pakistani film based on conventions we have learned, and modified from, Bollywood. The other, still totally enamored and literal in its understanding of Bollywood.

Of course, these are cursory guesstimates, and I accept that we’re not that different from Bollywood. The audience expects that showboat-y zeal – especially if it looks good on the screen.

In NMA 2, a sequel that moves the franchise’s staple characters to South Africa where they try to get their hands on a golden commode, we see a lot of Indian film-making sensibilities. Like the director’s last film Actor in Law (AiL), one sees these sensibilities engulfing whatever domestic-minded progress he should be making.

Nabeel is a good director with a keen eye for technique. NMA was fresh, even with its influences; it was a necessary requirement – at that time. AiL, also an Eid release, was fresh, but inconsequential, remolding Rajkumar Hirani’s essence into a half-thought out film. Like most good film-makers (and I don’t doubt Nabeel’s abilities), the reasons he presents in his films are superficial.

In NMA 2, his push for “more Bollywood” continues.

Firstly, let’s talk about item numbers: do we need them? Especially ones with bare (and quite vast) waistlines and tops holding on by the slightest of straps. Sadaf Kanwal plays a belly dancer (I think) in the song, and given the concept of ‘entertaining’ an evil sheikh, her costume design may look apt. Again, do we need this? Just like we didn’t need to see Billi in NMA, or Marhaba in Mehrunisa V Lub U – or the bikini flaunting foreign women in Jawani Phir Nahin Aani or NMA 2 (the song Hug Lay).

Films can work just fine without them. Chuck them out and the narrative – or the box-office – doesn’t suffer, even though our filmmakers think it would.

Yes, we see Indian films every week (thankfully Pakistani cinema can’t thrive without Bollywood) – and yes, bare bellies and provocative numbers are a norm there. The thing is, Pakistan is not India – and our people can see and appreciate the differences. It’s an inbuilt thing.

When one filmmaker thinks it’s apt, others – with feebler imaginations – will indubitably follow suit, promoting a needless trend.

Eid Rush: In Bollywood’s Guise, A New Monopoly is on the Rise

At these times one appreciates Asim Raza’s take. Ho Mann Jahann had music in its core, but didn’t deem it necessary to flaunt women with conventional chauvinism.

I also fear that NMA 2’s narrative slant is to go for bang, but not bite. Although I am not a stickler for story depth (at times), I can foresee double-meaning humor and tackiness subjugate genuine entertainment. Not that it would not make money – Wrong No., Mehrunisa V Lub U and Karachi Say Lahore did, too.

Right now though, money is a secondary concern – and in any case, I predict NMA 2 to pull in domestic collections of 20-25 crores. In the event of extended stays, consistent footfalls and hold-out of Indian releases (like Ajay Devgn-starrer Baadshao), the film can even make 27 crores at maximum.

In PNJ, thankfully, Humayun Saeed and Nadeem Baig seem to have learned from experience. The songs have melody, film-making feels refined (no doubt due to Suleman Razzaq’s cinematography). It will have greater family pull. PNJ’s domestic box-office will also have an advantage – despite the industry thinking otherwise.

I estimate Humayun (who, as I keep repeating in my analysis, has proven to be a consistent crowd puller) and Mehwish Hayat’s combo will easily lead PNJ towards 25-30 crore range. Internationally, I was informed just last night that the film will release in 150 screens – which is Humayun’s biggest release so far.

I expect both, NMA 2 and PNJ to appeal to international audiences. Business in the U.S., U.A.E., and U.K., is going to rise in comparison to last Eid. U.K., where the film is releasing in 70 screens, will contribute a lot to PNJ’s international grosses (to put the number into perspective, a Pakistani film releases in 20-30 screens in the U.K., while an Indian film typically secures 150 screens).

At the time of my writing this feature, Jab Harry Met Sejal, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, A Gentleman, Mubarakan, Annabelle: Creation, Terminator 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Nut Job 2 are playing in Pakistani cinemas. By Eid, the schedule only compensates domestic releases – which circles back to my point about Indian releases on Eid holidays.

Once, our film-makers were adamant about shutting down Indian films. Their wish came true, and the cinema owners suffered ten-fold. Now film-makers demand that, at least for Eid, no one releases Indian films because it impacts box-office.

This new monopoly of releases seems to work – for now. However, it is not a commendable approach, especially when one looks at the rest of the year when every Pakistani release faces competition from India and abroad.

For one, we’re not playing with an even field. I don’t know how well this strategy will work next year, but if it does, I expect the practice to be a new trend.

One thing I do know is that if you haven’t reserved your seats at the cinemas, you may not get the chance to do so now – at least for the first week of Eid.