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Pakistan's first big-budget action film

Waar - one of several feature-length film releases this year - being seen as part of revival of a once vibrant industry.
Last modified: 17 Oct 2013 13:04

The Islamabad premiere of the much anticipated film Waar was a rare night of celebrity and glamour in the Pakistani capital.

The red carpet was littered with big-name stars, well-known politicians and fashionable socialites.

Waar – which means "to strike" in Urdu - is the country's first big-budget action film.

It's based on the real-life events following a 2009 attack on a top police academy by the Taliban.

The multi-million-dollar film is one of at least 21 feature-length film releases this year and is widely seen as part of a revival of Pakistan's struggling film-making industry.

Pakistani cinema, known as Lollywood, after the eastern city of Lahore where it was historically based, has steadily declined since the late 1970s.

It was during that time the then military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq, launched an Islamisation agenda that introduced a rigid censorship code, all but ending what has been described as the "golden era" of the industry.

Back then more than 200 Pakistani films were made annually, today it is less than one-fifth of that.

Adding to the challenges, from a peak of 700 cinemas operating across the country, that number is now just under 200.

Shaan Shahid, lead actor of Waar, says the film has the potential to dramatically change the industry which has struggled for decades.

"I really feel that with the release of Waar, the Pakistani film industry has arrived. We've received a lot of support making this movie and I think it will inspire young filmmakers to come out and make their own movies," he said.

Waar is one of around two dozen Pakistani film releases this year - including Zinda Bhaag - the country's first entry to the Academy Awards' foreign-language category in 50 years.

Many see this as an encouraging sign that the industry has turned a corner. But one of the main challenges facing Pakistani film-makers is being able to raise enough money to fund their projects.

Film-making is expensive, and with audiences mainly limited to a handful of major cities, it is not always easy to turn a profit.

Iram Praveen Bilal, a Pakistani film-maker, believes it will take at least four to five years before the film industry becomes lucrative to investors.

"In India, if you are investing, you can recoup the money on opening weekend for certain budgets. You can't say that about Pakistan cinema. You need a certain film of a certain budget of a genre that you know that the public will watch."

It is a gamble the makers of Waar are no doubt hoping will pay off with record box-office receipts.