By Syed Afsar Sajid
The book is purported to be an anthology of ‘recently published academic research, critical essays, translations, and interviews on Pakistani cinema’, and brings ‘cutting edge works previously trapped behind paywalls together with neglected writings by figures such as Manto, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, and Muhammad Hasan Askari’. The scope of the book encircles ‘past and present complexities of filmmaking, distribution, and cinephilia in a country whose rich cinematic heritage is just beginning to be appreciated’.
The book bears a foreword by Rachel Dwyer (b. 1961), Professor Emerita of Indian Cultures and Cinema at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London, in which she opines that the Pakistani film industry is largely undocumented. She regards this book as ‘an important part of this new history of Pakistani cinema, engaging with different language/regional cinemas (Urdu, Bangladeshi Urdu, Sindhi, and Punjabi), horror films, technologies, and aesthetics’.
The Editors’ preface is a kind of a manifesto outlining the imperatives leading to the publication of the book. Themes and topics illustrated in the work cover cinema and the nation-state; gender and sexuality; ethnicity, language, and region; aesthetics and form; media and urban ecology. Unlike its prototype ‘Cinema and Society: Film and Social Change in Pakistan’ (2016), meant for the academia and the general reader, the content of the present volume is comprised of research-based writings tinged with social and cultural theory.
The book has three parts captioned ‘Cinematic Pasts’, ‘Archives’, and ‘Transitions’, with an ‘Afterword’ by Kamran Asdar Ali. Films discussed in the first part are ‘Zehr-e-Ishq’, ‘Aina’, and ‘Umar Marvi’ besides a critique of some Urdu-Bengali movies produced and exhibited alternately in the then two Wings of the country. Translated versions of three Urdu essays about film making in Pakistan by Sa’adat Hasan Manto (1912-55) and Muhammad Hasan Askari (1919-78), a short essay in English on the delicacy and contemporaneous relevance of the cinematic art by Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-84), and an interview with famed filmmaker and producer Sabiha Sumar (b. 1961) reputed for exploring themes of gender, religion, patriarchy and fundamentalism in her films and documentaries, constitute the second part of the book. The third part features appraisals of Pakistani film poster art; masculinity, caste, and gender in Punjabi movies; film technologies and aesthetic exclusion in Pakistani cinema; temporarility, trauma, and the spectre of nostalgia in horror movie ‘Zibahkhana’ (‘Slaughterhouse’); and the circulatory dynamics of Pakistani film.
Taken as a whole, the book, as Kamran Asdar Ali, Professor of Anthropology at University of Texas, Austin (US), views it in his epilogue, tends to educate the reader on how the chequered political history of Pakistan can be seriously, and profoundly too, ‘rethought in aesthetic terms’, in films, literature, art and theatre. It would also be instructive here to echo the opinion of Ulka Anjaria, Professor of English at Brandeis University (US), on the vires of ‘Film and Cinephilia in Pakistan’— which she terms as ‘a brilliant book of impressive depth and range …… with a superb introduction, and filled to the brim with theoretical and historical insights’, constituting ‘a field-defining intervention into Pakistani cinema studies.