Pakistani Film Cake Breaks Sindhi Stereotypes

Pakistani movie "Cake" is a Sindhi family drama set in Karachi and rural Sindh.  I had the chance to see it on a Silicon Valley theater screen in California.

Cake is nothing like the usual Bollywood fare featuring an "item song" included in a series of song-and-dance sequences. It tells a story accompanied with a great soundtrack showcasing the classic Sindhi poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and Shaikh Ayaz, some of it sung by Allan Fakir in his mournful voice.

Directed by Asim Abbasi, the movie has an interesting plot and it tells a good story. What makes its  plot especially relevant to the Pakistani diaspora is that it involves a theme familiar to them: Ailing elderly parents  (Jamalis ably played by Mohammad Ahmed and Beo Raana Zafar) in Pakistan with two of their three children living overseas. It also defies the stereotypical depiction of patriarchal Sindhi men as cruel landlords oppressing their women and peasants.

At the center of the story is Zareen (Aamina Sheikh) who takes care of her aging parents in Karachi and their land in rural Sindh. She is joined by her sister Zara (Sanam Saeed) from London when their elderly parents' health suddenly deteriorates.  Many long unresolved family issues come to the surface as they spend time together.  Some of the issues are triggered by the arrival of Christian nurse Romeo (Adnan Malik) who helps the sisters in providing care to their parents.

Except for a few sentences spoken in Sindhi by Aamina Sheikh, the rest of the movie features Urdu as the primary language spoken by the main characters in the movie. It shows how widely Urdu has been embraced by all ethnic groups as the lingua franca binding Pakistanis together as a nation.

Cake is a well-made and beautiful movie featuring great acting talent that breaks old stereotypes. It is yet another confirmation of the renaissance that the Pakistani cinema has seen in the last decade.

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Comments

Riaz Haq said…
A new golden age
The fall and rise of Pakistani film
Islamisation put paid to the first great era of cinema in Pakistan. But new directors with edgy social content are leading a revival

https://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2018/04/new-golden-age.

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But a new generation of directors and producers is now leading Lollywood’s recovery. The nickname has endured, but little else remains the same. Production has moved from Lahore to the coastal city of Karachi. The ban on Indian films was lifted, and it is these and Western offerings that keep Pakistan’s cinemas open today. But Pakistani films are, slowly, returning to the screen.

Shoaib Mansoor is the director credited with reversing the film industry’s fortunes, but his reputation is partly built on savvy marketing. In 2007 his film “Khuda Kay Liye” (“The Name of God”) was advertised as marking the official revival of Pakistani cinema. The move was a public relations masterstroke that took advantage of softening government control and tapped into a public hunger for local films.

“Khuda Kay Liye” follows the lives two young Pakistani men in the aftermath of 9/11. The film is darker than classic films, and the plot is sometimes convoluted. Yet Mr Mansoor found an audience eager for a modern Pakistani Urdu production and the film played to packed cinemas. Pakistani audiences had been promised a revival, and by showing up to cinemas across the country, they made it happen.

Mr Mansoor followed up with “Bol” (“Speak”) and 2017’s “Verna”. Both focus on gender issues, and the latter triggered a national debate. The plot of “Verna” follows a sexual assault survivor, a subject that caused enormous political controversy after Pakistan’s censor board took issue with what it called “edgy content”, and considered banning the film. The ensuing debate touched a public nerve, as it coincided with widespread protests held over the rape and murder of Zainab Ansari, a seven-year-old girl. When it was eventually screened, the film’s skewering of misogyny was applauded. Mr Mansoor typically focuses on content over style, choosing to pack his films with social criticism, sometimes to a fault. Both “Verna” and “Bol” were criticised for erratic pacing and weak cinematography.

But Mr Mansoor’s example has been followed and improved on by other directors. “Cake” (see picture), directed by Asim Abbasi, was released at the end of March. It’s a far cry from 1960s films, known for their melodrama and impressive song and dance numbers, yet is all the better for this. The plot revolves around the lives of two sisters caring for their ailing parents. One has remained in Pakistan and the other has just returned from Britain, a common scenario in Pakistan’s wealthier neighbourhoods (accordingly, critics have praised it for its realism). Mr Abbasi focuses on the conflicted relationship between the two women as they gather to celebrate their parents’ wedding anniversary, and neither muffles their anger nor exaggerates their rivalry. Refreshingly, their romantic ties remain secondary. “Cake” became the first Pakistani film to premiere at London’s Leicester Square.

Much work remains to be done. Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors continues to wield enormous power over which films are seen. And although the rising numbers of subversive films are encouraging, the social consequences of their release fall disproportionately on the women involved. The lead role in “Verna” was played by Mahira Khan, who has long been a target for sexist trolls online. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, an Oscar-winning documentary maker, has faced similar problems for her work on honour killings and acid attacks.

But despite the obstacles, a resurgence is finally underway in Lollywood. Fresh-faced directors such as Mr Abbasi have access to high production budgets, talented casts and scripts that avoid clichés. The new wave of Pakistani cinema may well eclipse its golden age.

Riaz Haq said…
#Dubai's Abraaj invests in #Pakistan #cinema operator; Plans to build 80 new screens in next 4 years. #FDI #Theaters

http://www.arabianbusiness.com/industries/banking-finance/380400-dubais-abraaj-invests-in-pakistan-cinema-operator

Dubai-based Abraaj Group has announced it has invested in Cinepax Limited, Pakistan’s leading cinema operator.

With Abraaj’s investment, the value of which has not been disclosed, Cinepax plans to develop 80 new screens across multiple locations over the next four years and also grow other entertainment related ventures, Abraaj said in a statement.

Arif Baigmohamed and Pir Saad Ahsanuddin established Cinepax in 2006 and launched their first multiplex in 2007. Since then, the company has established itself in the market and today has 29 screens in 12 locations.

Pakistan’s entertainment industry has significant growth potential, with a low ratio of cinema screens (0.5 per million population).

Abraaj said it will support the company in establishing international standard multiplex cinemas in new and upcoming areas.

Omar Lodhi, partner for Asia at The Abraaj Group, said: “Our investment into Cinepax demonstrates our faith in the opportunity that Pakistan’s young growing population and expanding middle class represents.

"As one of the most active investors in Pakistan, with a strong on-the-ground presence, we see a long-term market opportunity in the cinema operator and video streaming business.”

Arif Baigmohamed, chairman of Cinepax, added: “We are delighted to welcome Abraaj as an investor into our business and look forward to partnering together to reach more people across the country, providing much needed entertainment options.”

The Abraaj Group has been present in Pakistan since 2004. This transaction marks Abraaj’s ninth investment into Pakistan across a number of sectors including healthcare, power distribution, renewable energy and industrials.
Riaz Haq said…
CM vows to make Karachi the hub of film production again

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/284797-cm-vows-to-make-karachi-the-hub-of-film-production-again

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has said his government will assist in every possible way in promoting the cultural cause to make Karachi the hub of film production in the country again.

“In the 50s ad 60s, Karachi used to be the centre for film production in the country, but later on this activity moved to Lahore. Now Karachi once again has started becoming the centre for film production,” he said as he inaugurated the four-day Asia Peace Film Festival at Expo Centre on Friday.

“The Government of Sindh would definitely be part of this activity. We would assist in every way possible the cause to bring the film production back to Karachi so that we can add to the rich culture of our province.”

The chief minister called upon the film-makers and other people associated with film industry to help the provincial government to adopt the first-ever provincial films’ policy.

He said that after the 18th amendment, films had become a provincial subject, and the Sindh culture department had been striving hard to adopt a films policy for the province.

“God willing, we will come up to the expectations of film industry by formulating a policy which would attract film-makers and which would give them more incentives, and which would also promote film industry in the province.”

Shah was of the view that input from the film-makers and other people associated with the industry would greatly help the culture department to adopt this policy. He said the chosen theme of the festival “Karachi for all” was closest to the truth because Karachi and the province of Sindh had always welcomed people from all over the world.

“I am glad to know that more than 50 countries are represented in this festival. A total of 109 Asian films will be screened in the festival along with 24 Pakistan films. This is a great opportunity for everyone here to get together and share views to promote the film industry,” he said.

Shah added that the festival would greatly benefit students, amateur and budding film-makers and would help them learn a lot from the experience of seniors and seasoned professionals in the field of film production.

He said “peace” as the chosen subject for the film festival was most appropriate given the nature of the city and the place where it was being held. “Sindh is the land for Suifism. Sindh is the place of peace. We have always promoted peace as it is our very culture that we are the promoters of peace and friendship. We are a pluralistic society as we will always be known for this.”

He said his government would continue to assist in holding such conferences and festivals to promote cultural activities in the province. “By the end of March, there will be another such event with the name of Karachi Film Festival as the provincial would also provide help to conduct this festival to promote the cause of culture.”

Amjad Bhatti, convener of the Asia Peace Film Festival, also spoke on the occasion and shed light on the objectives of the event.

Maariya Syed, an independent film-maker from India, Fatemeh Moosavi, film-maker from Iran, Prof Nend Dizdarevic, belonging to Bosnia, and other international participants also spoke and shared their experience of being part of a days-long cultural activity in Karachi featuring active involvement of the film-making talent of several regional countries.
Riaz Haq said…
An Industry Awakens


http://newslinemagazine.com/magazine/an-industry-awakens/


With the aim to be one of the largest film festivals in the country, the Pakistan International Film Festival (PIFF), a project of the Karachi Film Society – its parent body – was held in a four-day whirlwind programme (March 29 – April 1) comprising an impressive line-up of seminars, premieres, exhibitions, workshops, star-studded gala dinners and a glamorous closing ceremony at Karachi’s Frere Hall. In the process, with an aim to give an open platform to local independent filmmakers, they were invited to submit their stories, some of them compelling, thereby discovering new talent in the country. The festival also welcomed international filmmakers to share their best and award-winning films.

More than 1,500 submissions from 93 countries were received by PIFF for consideration, out of which 210 from 30 countries were shortlisted for screening at the festival. The PIFF jury selected an immense diversity of films that showcased the formidable talents of local and international filmmakers. During the festival, a series of screenings of documentary shorts, feature films, documentaries and virtual reality (VR) films were shown across Karachi at select cinema halls and institutions including the Nueplex Cinema , Goethe Institut, Iqra University Defence, Iqra University North Nazimabad, Alliance Française and The Second Floor (T2F).

Simultaneously, three-day seminars were conducted at the Ziauddin University Clifton Campus, comprising discussions that touched on a wide range of subjects related to the cinema industry. What made the discussions particularly interesting was the fact that the largest international delegation was from our neighbouring ‘enemy’ country, and the one with the world’s largest film industry, India.

A 23-delegate strong Indian contingent arrived with visible and vocal enthusiasm about being part of something new and important emerging in Pakistan. ‘Collaborations across borders: Possibilities and Future Directors’ was among the first sessions held on day one of the festival and featured renowned Indian actor/director Nandita Das, screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, musician Harsh Narayan, Pakistani director Asim Raza and actor Sajal Ali. The discussion was moderated by Asif Noorani.

The PIFF encompassed pre-Festival activities such as the three-day Digital Storytelling Workshop, in which young participants were asked to develop their ideas for short films, and finalise their storytelling processes before heading out to shoot their stories. The workshops included talks and training by professional directors, producers and writers on various aspects of filmmaking, such as Rasheed Noorani; Salman Sirindhi, Nadeem Baig and Sarmad Khoosat, film editor Rizwan AQ, and post-production training by Ali Ijaz and Salman Sirhindi. The workshop concluded with a certificate distribution by the chief guest, academy award-winning director/producer Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a member of the board of directors of the PIFF.

The workshop was followed by another pre-Festival activity: Mobile Screenings organised by PIFF at six venues across Karachi, starting with the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture; the Abdullah Haroon Community Centre in Khadda Lyari, the Szabist Auditorium at 90 campus; the Memon Goth Community Hall in Malir; the main campus of Iqra University, and the Murshid Auditorium in Muachh Goth Hub.

The founder/President of PIFF, Sultana Siddiqui, also hosted another pre-PIFF event titled ‘The Celebration of Women in Film’ to coincide with Women’s Day. The event was a seminar, the first of its kind to celebrate the contributions and challenges of Pakistani women in film, particularly female directors. In the course of the insightful panel discussions, some renowned women fimmakers shared the obstacles they faced in the entertainment industry and how they overcame them (see ‘Celluloid Queens’).

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