There was a time before the advent of cable TV filled our living room sets with Bollywood films when Pakistani Punjabi films ruled the roost.
However, a decrease in popularity has led to a consistent decline in quality and intelligent story-telling has been replaced by the gandasa.
The 2007 hit Khuda ke Liye and the 2013 blockbuster Waar, which ironically featured legendary Punjabi film actor Shaan Shahid, breathed some life into the Pakistani film industry as a whole but hammered home the demise of the Punjabi film industry that receded further into the background.
Not everyone has given up though and one of the country’s most successful directors, Syed Noor, announced last year that he is working on a Punjabi film Bajray di Rakhi that he hopes will help revive the dying industry.
“The film Bajray di Rakhi is almost complete except for a few shots that are set in Bangkok,” Noor said while speaking to SAMAA Digital. “A lot of effort and money has been put into this film. Audiences have been yearning for a good Punjabi film for some time now but unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has put a hold on things for the time being. As soon as things change, we will release the film.”
The high-budget film boasts a who’s who of cast members, with the likes of Saima Noor, Mustafa Qureshi, Rashid Mehmood, Shafqat Cheema, Naghma Begum and Saima Saleem all featuring.
However, Noor also wants to introduce a few new faces into the Punjabi film industry, with popular TikTok stars Jannat Mirza and Abdullah also getting their big screen debut.
“The landscape of the Punjabi film industry changes drastically every decade and modern cinema has been particularly difficult for it due to the increasing popularity of Bollywood films,” Noor added.
Syed Noor also praised Bilal Lashari, whose recent remake of Maula Jutt earned him several plaudits.
Punjabi films have been around almost since independence, with Pakistan’s first film being the 1949 release of Nazeer Ahmed’s film that set the foundation of the Punjabi box office.
SAMAA’s entertainment reporter in Lahore, Muhammad Qurban, has said that the production of Punjabi films has almost completely stopped, with the few films being released on every Eid being the only exception. “The quality of regional films has gone downhill to such an extent that they now only cater to a niche audience,” he said. “Those who are still producing regional films don’t make use of the latest technology either so that leaves them struggling against the competition from the very start.”
The lack of demand means film producers have little bargaining power over cinema owners, who are either reluctant to put up Punjabi films or exploit film producers when they do so.
“Cinema owners used to keep a 30% cut in the past but that has gone up to as much as 70% in some places,” said Pakistan Film Producers Association's chairman arbitration Ejaz Kamran.
“The films are only screened in old cinemas since new cinemas are reluctant to take that risk. Some cinemas give a 50% cut to film makers but they take a lot of time to give them the money, while there are some who have defaulted and ran away.”