Can Pakistan’s Long-Struggling Film Industry Finally Stand Up to Bollywood?

Last week, the Pakistani Academy Selection Committee announced that it was nominating the film Zinda Bhaag, a drama/comedy about three young Pakistani men who dream of living abroad, as Pakistan’s first Oscar submission in five decades. It’s a development some are heralding as a sign of the revival of Pakistani cinema — and a particularly ...

RIZWAM TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
RIZWAM TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
RIZWAM TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, the Pakistani Academy Selection Committee announced that it was nominating the film Zinda Bhaag, a drama/comedy about three young Pakistani men who dream of living abroad, as Pakistan's first Oscar submission in five decades. It's a development some are heralding as a sign of the revival of Pakistani cinema -- and a particularly noteworthy one given the country's fondness for Indian entertainment and the movie's emphatic departure from the copycat Bollywood genre that has defined Pakistan's movies in recent years. So, is Pakistani cinema really poised to take on India's world-famous movie industry?

In the mid-20th century, "Lollywood," as Pakistan's Lahore-based film business is known, thrived under such legendary actors and directors as Waheed Murad and Nazir Ahmed Khan. But in the decades that followed, several factors combined to strangle movie production in the country. In 1979, Pakistan's president, Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, launched an Islamization agenda that included banning all films made in the preceding three years and promulgating the Motion Pictures Ordinance of 1979, which subjected films to a rigid censorship code. Zia-ul-Haq also banned Indian movies -- films often infused with nationalist, even anti-Pakistani, themes -- from the country, which simply encouraged a blossoming of VHS smuggling and DVD pirating that essentially rendered meaningless Gen. Pervez Musharraf's lifting of the ban in 2008. According to the U.S. government, Pakistan is now one of the worst violators of intellectual property rights in the world. As the nation's film infrastructure crumbled (the Pakistani Taliban has repeatedly targeted cinema houses), financing for movies dried up.

Now, however, there are indications that the quality and quantity of Pakistani films are improving. Zinda Bhaag, for instance, couldn't debut on time because there was too large a bottleneck of unreleased Pakistani films scheduled before it. Still, it's worth noting that the film had a mostly Indian crew and post-production was done in Mumbai. Lollywood, in other words, hasn't broken free of Bollywood's grip just yet. Here's a trailer of the movie, which comes out on Sept. 20:

Last week, the Pakistani Academy Selection Committee announced that it was nominating the film Zinda Bhaag, a drama/comedy about three young Pakistani men who dream of living abroad, as Pakistan’s first Oscar submission in five decades. It’s a development some are heralding as a sign of the revival of Pakistani cinema — and a particularly noteworthy one given the country’s fondness for Indian entertainment and the movie’s emphatic departure from the copycat Bollywood genre that has defined Pakistan’s movies in recent years. So, is Pakistani cinema really poised to take on India’s world-famous movie industry?

In the mid-20th century, "Lollywood," as Pakistan’s Lahore-based film business is known, thrived under such legendary actors and directors as Waheed Murad and Nazir Ahmed Khan. But in the decades that followed, several factors combined to strangle movie production in the country. In 1979, Pakistan’s president, Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, launched an Islamization agenda that included banning all films made in the preceding three years and promulgating the Motion Pictures Ordinance of 1979, which subjected films to a rigid censorship code. Zia-ul-Haq also banned Indian movies — films often infused with nationalist, even anti-Pakistani, themes — from the country, which simply encouraged a blossoming of VHS smuggling and DVD pirating that essentially rendered meaningless Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s lifting of the ban in 2008. According to the U.S. government, Pakistan is now one of the worst violators of intellectual property rights in the world. As the nation’s film infrastructure crumbled (the Pakistani Taliban has repeatedly targeted cinema houses), financing for movies dried up.

Now, however, there are indications that the quality and quantity of Pakistani films are improving. Zinda Bhaag, for instance, couldn’t debut on time because there was too large a bottleneck of unreleased Pakistani films scheduled before it. Still, it’s worth noting that the film had a mostly Indian crew and post-production was done in Mumbai. Lollywood, in other words, hasn’t broken free of Bollywood’s grip just yet. Here’s a trailer of the movie, which comes out on Sept. 20:

Katelyn Fossett is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy. A native of Kentucky, she has previously written for the Inter Press Service and Washington Monthly. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University. Twitter: @KatelynFossett

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