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Coming to the (Celluloid) Screen Near You

Published 15 Jun, 2021 04:25pm
What the new film policy in Pakistan entails.
Photo: Dawn Images
Photo: Dawn Images

Fawad Chaudhry’s announcement of imminent changes to Pakistan’s film policy drew excitement from Pakistani film aficionados. Chaudhry focused on the business of filmmaking in the announcement, alluding to key changes like changes in the tax structure, ease of NOC and new markets for Pakistani films.

Now… should these changes be implemented, what impact will they have on the quality of content Pakistani audiences tune in to each week?

What Goes Around Comes…Around?

For audiences sick of saas bahu dramas, the new policy could spell a brilliant new display of themes that resonate widely across the cinematic spectrum. But will these new films and plays ever make it to mainstream cinemas? When a netizen decried the role of PEMRA in “regulating” content, concerns about a new form of censorship resurfaced. Also, the focus on new geographical markets may translate into a cookie-cutter approach towards film production to guarantee a positive reception in those countries (thereby increasing the risk of neglecting themes relevant to Pakistani viewers and values, which may offend audiences elsewhere).

Famed writer, poet and lyricist, Neelum Basheer Ahmed welcomed the new policy, and warmly supported the spirit that, in her opinion, can beckon a new generation of creative talent and better subject matter. She said this policy can be an effective engine in improving Pakistan’s creative image. But before this can happen, decision makers need to prioritize some internal housekeeping. She says, “The censor board needs to represent the modernity and diversity of Pakistan. People educated in the art of filmmaking need to be included. Censorship shouldn’t be a top-down decision.”

Eyeing an Oscar or a Netflix Contract?

Sure, abolishing taxes will encourage newer, lesser-known filmmakers, opening cinema halls to the proverbial fresh of breath air in the quality of stories they experience. Newer subjects and newer themes are always welcome. But the danger of skewing to a purely commercial approach remains. Actor and radio show host Samhan Ghazi remains optimistic on this front.

“Nothing coming out of art is bad. Giving more people a chance means increasing the variety of output and increasing the size of the pie. Encourage parallel cinema and commercial will follow…The key to making this work is to ensure the main beneficiaries of the new film policy are new people.”

Breaking the Oligopoly of Exploitation

Gul Zaib Shakeel, screenwriter, Teeli Films, spoke on the issue of exploitation: “The government should facilitate the establishment of unions to set a fair wage for industry workers and to ensure royalties to artists who do not benefit from re-distribution of their past work. Formation of guilds should be encouraged for technicians to learn the craft rather than get trained on the job… Tax credits will open doors for young talent that can rightfully contribute to the process and gain experience, rather than get exploited as free labor or interns.”

Ghazi remains skeptical of its impact as he says, “The existing lot will not gain much by the tax break…they’re already too monetised, and this will just help them become more powerful and controlling.” Ahmed meanwhile concurrs on the issue of the entertainment industry’s oligopolistic structure as she says: “Same faces, same stories, same themes. We need to break away from this. The problem with the entertainment industry being controlled by too few players is that the output soon begins to lack any intelligence and quality.”

Reaching Out To Rising Talent

Everyone consulted for this article remained frustrated by the complacency of the ‘suits’ in the entertainment industry.

“Relaxations in taxes will relieve the stress on tight budgets. This might allow production houses to rent out better equipment, hire more skillful technicians and engage actors of a higher ranking; but the writing will remain the same…. Although creatives bear the brunt of tight purse-strings, they rarely benefit from such changes,” says Shakeel.

Ghazi spoke of nepotism, which is a powerful deterrent towards new talent. “People calling the shots won’t improve and they’re not interested in improving either. Maybe because they lack exposure. Or maybe because the current arrangement works too well for them.”

Like Ahmed, he emphasized the need to support our local film schools. Ahmed spoke of policies that encourage local talent via practical initiatives—like supporting efforts to screen their films; exposing them to international audiences, and nourishing an appetite for offbeat topics.

“I’ve seen many young filmmakers come up with great work—and these are often low budget and independent films. The new policy needs to allocate funds and other forms of support for this niche. Not just for directors, but writers, cinematographers.”

Ghazi quoted the work of many local universities in producing talented, creative professionals who can take Pakistani cinema global. “They’re passionate, they’re full of ideas, and they’re hungry to achieve new things. The new film policy needs to ensure its benefits trickle down to schools responsible for nurturing them.”

“By giving new talent a chance, we’re allowing new stories to be told.”

Nayyara Rahman is an award-winning researcher and author. Her interest areas are in technology and business ethics, corporate transparency and process improvement. Her work in integrating marketing and technology is aimed at making organizations more efficient, accountable and transparent. She currently works at Arturo Labs.