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Saadat Hasan Manto’s ‘The Films of Pakistan’

A weekend Eid visit to the cinema in Lahore prompts Raza Naeem to remember Saadat Hasan Manto’s 110th birth anniversary with an original translation of his little-known but prescient 1948 essay, ‘Pakistan ke Film’.

Translated from Urdu by Raza Naeem

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Translator’s Note: The essay in translation,‘Pakistan ke Film’ was published in the Daily Imroze, Lahore on August 15, 1948

To imagine pure Pakistani films too is like a man becoming carefree of thirst just before digging a well. There is no doubt that a year has passed since Pakistan was created. But in this duration a film institution has not been built upon which we can inscribe a Pakistani stamp.

There was distance among faiths but the distance was not so great in daily life and films are very much associated with daily life. Therefore, however many films were made, nearly every one of them had a thing of interest for people of every faith and nation.

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Such films were also prepared from a commercial point of view which everyone could see and this point of view would remain established for a very long time. The partition has taken place. The exchange of population has also happened. But here and there, this point of view of filmmakers has not changed and how can it change, when the question is one of earning.

If someone in India made a film which is against Pakistan then it is obvious that it will not run here in Pakistan. In exactly the same manner, if somebody in Pakistan made a film which hurts the feelings of Indians, then it is very much useless to send it to India for showing. In the first place, the censors will not pass such films.

Before partition, the market for Indian films was India alone; or India and Afghanistan or the small markets of East Africa. As opposed to this, the field of American and English films was very vast and still is, meaning the whole world – this was the reason that Indian films could not thrive well.

Today the film industry has become even more weak after being divided, here and there, both sides. Everything has come to Pakistan’s share in a small quantity. The film industry here now is next to nothing and its future is not so much bright.

There were very few studios in Lahore, all of three or four. One was razed in the riots. Now only one remains, (of) Mr Pancholi, in which some Muslim filmmakers are working. It has two stages. But the furniture in them is not good. Anyways whatever there is, the filmmakers here are turning the same upside down, making films while weeping bitterly.

Though it can be said that when conditions will get better – these very filmmakers who are now making improper films stand on their feet; they will strangthen the falling walls of the Pakistani film industry, but when a person hears the speeches of these maulvis, who want to enforce their so-called sharia, then the future of art becomes very much totally dark.

In the past few days, an aged man used to carry around this big scissors with him and said that if I saw any Muslim woman unveiled, then I will cut off her braid. Now if another two or three such hair-dressing grandees were born, then pray what will be left in films? Actresses will have to work in them too wearing a burqa.

Considering this and bringing the picture of the effect of so-called sharia before the eyes, the future of music too becomes dark. If God-forbid the wrong sort of priesthood begins to reign, then the art of music in which Muslims breathed life will become very much totally extinct here and if it becomes extinct, then the question of making films very much does not arise.

This is the dark side of the picture. A glance at the bright side too is not so encouraging. The life of films is its story. Think what type of stories will be filmed here; the topics are very much innumerable here, but who will write on them. There are many many obstacles associated with every topic.

Write something on the veil and present something on the cinema screen; you yourself can think of its reaction. Divorce is such a good topic but we are unable to prepare some daring film on it and even if they make some film by being careful, then there will be a fear that wrong education will spread among the people.

Over there in India there are no such hurdles in the path of filmmakers as there are in the path of filmmamkers here which will appear at every step. Those people will make films in the same manner as they have always done so because the majority of films related to Hindu society. Muslim filmmakers too generally made films in the same way and it had become their habit too. But now what type of films will they make in Pakistan? This is such a question to which nobody knows the answer yet therefore these days a clear program is in sight of nobody. Someone is making Heer Ranjha, somebody Jihad, and someone Teri Yaad (Your Memory), which is very much about Hindu society.

Jihad, as is obvious, a film like this will be made which will only run in Pakistan. The distributors over there will not even touch it. Teri Yaad can go there from Wagah and Heer Ranjha too, since partition cannot much affect these lovers.

Maybe Jihad could work but then the field of business is not so vast, since the whole of India will be cut off from its commercial circle and if God forbid it fails, then do understand that a director will suffer a great loss.

There is no clear program in front of the filmmakers here since the government too has not been able to assign a clear program for itself yet. But the filmmakers have to think of their profit and loss themselves. Since the patronage of the government neither fell to their lot before and nor will it now.

The government does not consider about films probably because there are other countless complex problems which should be solved first of all. In addition, the status of this industry too is not so high in the eyes of the government. It will impose a tax but will not think anything about its betterment. So it is obvious that filmmmakers very much have to sit together to find some path for their and their industry’s success.

There are many paths too of finding the path. One is the very same that whatever happens, let it happen; whatever is built, let it be built. The people will themselves decide and tell that which path is wrong, which one is correct but this path too is costly. Experiments look good at that very time when there is prosperity, but here the matter is very much totally opposite. If two to three films fail in succession, the whole industry will very much disappear suddenly.

There is another way as well, that is that only Mughal films be made but for them unlimited wealth is required which at the moment our filmmakers do not have. Supposing somebody courageously makes a film too then what about that innovation which had begun in Mughal films with pucca? Meaning the filmmaker by a degree of compulsion will have to jumble up history to stuff Rajput characters in competition with the Mughals so that others too are happy.

There are other ways too, but all of them thorny. There, films will continue being made. Here, deliberation will keep happening. I am not saying this by way of ridicule. Conditions are very much worse. Here, there is the fight in Kashmir. There, the dispute of Hyderabad is present. Sometimes the canal water is shut off; sometimes it is resumed.

Now see, if you happen to visit there, obtain a permit; and now see the trade at Wagah is closed – which capitalist will open his chest to put money into filmmaking in this state of deception and confusion?

Though there is hesitation on every side. But it has intensely conquered the film world. Should we build a studio or not; and if we do, then which is the place which will be safe and sound in the case of war starting between both dominions?

Should Hindu characters be kept in the film? –  What if the folk here dislike? It hardly matters to keep Islamic characters, but what if the folk there be grieved?

Those who plan on making an Islamic film, I think, they are also thinking that now can they show some actress reciting the Holy Koran or offering prayer or not; and till now many film producers have not been able to decide upon whether they should work here or there.

What films will be made in Pakistan it cannot be said today. What is going to happen tomorrow, any prediction about that too cannot be made; and what are pure Pakistani films in our imagination are very much a distant thing.

However, the very few film institutions of ours are struggling hard and this effort of theirs is worthy of praise; since they are shooting arrows in the total dark. If the intelligent persons guide them and the negligence of the government is somewhat reduced, then I think that conditions can be promising and the film industry at the point of death can recover.

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