If you have had the displeasure of watching the trailer for Syed Noor’s Chain Aye Na chances are that you’re feeling a little dejected about the state of Pakistani cinema. But fret not, because I believe that despite the many duds that this country produces we do have the potential for greatness, and I have made it my life’s mission to ensure that my optimism is literally contagious. So, in a bid to reignite your hope for local film culture (and help you recover from that godforsaken “can I kiss”) I urge to watch these five films over Eid. Either by Pakistanis or about Pakistan, they demonstrate the power and undeniable charm of the medium.
This is what local films can be.
1. These Birds Walk
One of the things that often irks me about films in general is the lack of importance afforded to cinematography. Loosely, the cinematographer, as detailed by this article form The Harvard Crimson, is responsible for the visual elements of the film; whatever the audiences sees. Local films often credit this person as the Director of Photography, or DP. Local films also often limit cinematography to pretty colours.
But watch These Birds Walk to understand the true power of the visual medium. Directed by Bassam Tariq and Omar Mullick, this internationally acclaimed documentary follows the lives of runaway children in Karachi. It serves as both a reminder of the city’s resilience and one of the most intimate portraits of Abdul Sattar Edhi.
Most film-buffs will have seen it, but if you haven’t you really should. A brave and beautiful tribute to the legacy that Edhi left behind for his beloved city.
2. Reclaiming Pakistan
A short documentary focusing on the aftermath the APS Peshawar attack, this one focuses on the activists who founded Pakistan for All, and features rare interviews with the likes of Mohammad Jibran Nasir and Sabeen Mahmud. As the title suggests this one deals with the often desperately repeated cry of taking the country back.
It ends on a somewhat sombre note as Sabeen Mahmud was assassinated a short while after filming ended, but truly socially aware cinema cannot sugar-coat; it has to record and reflect. This film will help us remember, and for that it needs to be appreciated.
3. The School Bag
Recently showcased at multiple festivals and amassing twenty-two awards this is actually an Indian film about Pakistan. And Indian film and Pakistan have a rocky relationship to put it mildly (when Bajrangi Bhaijan and Phantom can be directed by the same man, and released in the same year) but this film doesn’t carry that baggage. Instead it tells a simple story about a mother, her son, his birthday and a tragedy.
Keep a tissue box nearby.
4. Smile for Karachi
This is actually a video series, but my favourite part focuses on Naveed Musarat, an orphanage mother who has faced and overcome a lot of adversity. Pakistan is littered with individuals who use personal hardships to inspire others and ensure that the future generations of the country know better and do better than the ones that came before.
Director Hamza Bangash has been in the news because of his many indie accolades and his ambitious project Rang Raaz, but I would encourage everyone to also watch his smaller projects. These are often shorts produced either in collaboration with a not-for-profit or to encourage social change. They demonstrate both the talent of the man and the need to encourage small-scale film production in the country.
5. O Pireen
Produced by the Department of Film and Television at the National College of Arts, this is actually a student project. To truly capture the essence of dessert life, director Kainat Thebo worked with non-actors entirely.
The story is really simple, the characters and their conflict are even simpler. Sometimes, it even gets a little monotonous. But this is a rare Pakistani film because it relies so heavily on subtlety. Nothing is ever blatantly said, everything is implied and the real star of the show is the landscape, at once beautiful and desolate.
Living in one of the country’s urban hubs can mean that we forget that not all Pakistanis live the same, this film reminds us of that beautifully.