Features, Pakistan

Hail the new Chairman! Or Maybe Not…

Last week it was reported that the Central Board of Film Censors in Pakistan not only had a new chairman but that the new incumbent was busy making the usual proclamations that have been heard by so many of his predecessors.
Yet, the cinema “industry” remains in the shambolic state that it has been ever since the VCR made its debut as a mass consumer product.
Firstly, nowhere in the press does it mention that the new Boss of the CBFS has any connection to cinema or indeed art or literature or history, but when has that ever mattered in the selection of the CBFS chairman?
The new Chairman Barrister Malik Shahnawaz Noon made some encouraging sounds among a bunch of often heard clichés. Firstly he mentioned that a complex would be established to provide “necessary guidelines to new filmmakers.” I wonder what exactly these guidelines would be considering that the CBFS has been using the guidelines as established by Pakistani history’s most regressive regime way back in 1979 and amended again in 1980. Are these going to be the same guidelines which banned a film recently by the name of Shoot on Sight because apparently one of the characters depicted was a terrorist from Pakistan. No doubt the guidelines that govern the CBFS insist that all Pakistanis be depicted as the saints, which in reality could not be further from fact.

So, a film like Shoot on Sight can be banned for negative depiction yet a film like Saturday Nite can be passed even though it advocated killing “immoral women”. So, what are the guidelines that are being spoken about? Guidelines that make a total mockery of fact and fiction?

Meanwhile, more depressingly, the new incumbent chairman mentioned that the “downfall of the industry was due to the ineffective policies of the previous government who were responsible for ruining the industry.” How typical to lay the blame for what has been happening for the last 50 years on the previous regime. He also went on to display some comic flair when he mentioned “during the time of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, film industry promoted the real cultural identity of the country and provided quality entertainment for the people” He mentioned that the same was true of the Mohtrama’s reign. He failed to mention however that the industry has been run on a set of draconian rules created during the time of Zia Ul Haq and that no PPP government hence (nor any other) has made any significant changes to alter this fact.

Another fact is that some of the most semi-pornographic and violent films ever conceived in Pakistan were made during the reign of the People’s Party. It is established within the film circles that whenever a PPP government comes to power, the moral standards of local films plummet to new depths as a result of the relative “relaxed” and open attitude of a PPP government as opposed to dictatorships. While this openness is welcome it does have side effects. During the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto regime of the 70s, the Censor Board presided over the most glittering examples of pornography as producers of infamous movies such as Khatarnaak (1974) were able to get away with their incredible levels of sleaze because they had friends in important places. This is clearly stated in Mushtaq Gazdar’s excellent book on the History of Pakistani Cinema.

Some might be quick to pre-judge the new Chairman as simply more old mildewed moonshine in a shiny new People’s Party bottle but let us not jump to hasty and unfair conclusions . In time it will become evident to all whether the new appointment is indeed the man with the vision and the knowledge of cinema history, drama and art required to breathe life into the corpse that is our “film industry” or if he is just another loyal Party jiyala (loyalist) being granted his perk. One hopes for the former but dreads the latter.

PS: Cannot for the life of me understand why Upperstall has yet to feature Manoj Kumar’s epic CLERK as one of their “Classic Films” from the past. The film has literally haunted me for the last 20 years and I feel the time is ripe for a re-analysis and rediscovery of quite possibly one of the greatest films ever made.

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  1. Another well-written piece, Omar.

    Maybe Upperstall should have an Omar Ali Khan classic corner where Clerk, Dance Dance and Dil ka Raja can vie for top honours!

  2. Doesn’t sound much different from the Censor Board here. Some mysteries like ‘How does a film like ‘Neil or Nikki’ or ‘Tashan’ get a ‘U’ certificate?’

    By the way, I’m a great fan of ‘Clerk’ myself. Yes, should see it again.

  3. speaking of legendary classics….does anybody know if SURAKSHA is available on a legal DVD? I would part with several parts of my body to lay my hands on this one. It would take pride of place alongside The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin in the old collection, another stupendous gem that would be a must for any desert island situation.

  4. yes indeed………but surely its worthy of a DVD release. meanwhile…..i just cant get over the pic of John Abraham on the main page of the site – all set to out do Ranbir’s infamous bum shot from Sanwariya (what were they thinking?)

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