Atiqa Odho’s view on Pakistani Cinema

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Age: 124
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When one thinks of movies and the magic they create in our lives, one always feels delighted. What do movies do for us? They give us a great deal of relief from the day-to-day mundane issues of our lives. They take us away into foreign lands that help us discover the world and escape ours at times. They work towards creating awareness on global issues. They even work towards making or breaking the image of a nation.

People all over the world have started to connect with India via Bollywood. Wouldn't it be a shame if they started to connect with Pakistan via Lollywood? Why would it be a shame? Because Lollywood is not who we really are. At present, it represents a very small group of people who are unable to reach out to a larger audience. How do we change this? By creating opportunities for our young, educated, creative minds to think on a global scale. To help them understand themselves and take pride in who they are and use the tools available to them. Encourage them and they will strive to make a difference and hopefully contribute back to their respective fields.

Pakistan is a nation drenched in real conflicts. We are people who live for love and love to live through whatever may come our way. If a filmmaker is inspired by an experience or an idea, then Pakistan has a wealth of material for him or her as the country is so deeply affected by a mix of real issues and cultural heritage. Why are we not sharing these thoughts and experiences, through feature films made in Pakistan, with the rest of the world?

Our writers are the best in the world as they have survived and evolved in times of trouble. There have been times when their hands could not put down on paper what their minds were thinking. There was a time when we used to have to send out a message via television or film in a not-so-direct manner hence, making our writing far superior and creative than India's where there were never any such restrictions. If we open the floodgate to our national creativity, we will discover a different side to us.

Would opening up Indian movies in our cinemas benefit us as a nation? I would think not. A young and growing nation like ours is in desperate search for an identity. We must work from within and understand ourselves before we allow others to encroach on us. Only then would we have the confidence to welcome others in without losing ourselves. Let's help our entertainment industry grow and allow young talent to experiment with what they have to offer, then throw foreign elements at them. At this stage we would only lose them to others, as they have not ventured out on the road to self-discovery yet.

If one were to look at the financial aspects of Pakistani cinema, a lot of the revenue comes from a distribution network that is driven by cinema house bookings. If we start running Indian movies on our screens and they pull in enough of a crowd for the cinema owners to be happy with, they (the owners) will never put any funding down for local films again. How will we finance our movies then?

Media plays a very important role in developing the mind of a young nation. Ignore its strengths and a nation is in deep trouble. The people I have come to know and respect in the media have kept me creatively alive and pushed me to understand my own national identity. My "Proud To Be Pakistani" attitude comes from having lived away from my country and looking at it from the outside, realizing that we have to contribute back into the system in our own little way to, hopefully, make a difference.

Over the years I was encouraged by a lot of dear friends to take the risks I took going into television. At the same time I was discouraged by them to take the plunge into a dying film industry, as they were afraid of the backlash I would face from society. Years later, I can look back and say I have no regrets as I learnt from my experiences in films that we need to make a drastic change in an industry that has so much potential to reach out globally for us.

I would, after my little fling with cinema, advise others to give it a shot as only then will they realize that the big bad world of cinema is really a pussycat compared to it's reputation. Often asked about the 'TYPE' of people one had to deal with in Pakistani cinema, I would laugh and reply, "but what about the types of people I meet everyday of my life?" On a day-to-day basis, one is dealing with all types of situations and people. It all really comes down to who you are and how you generate an emotion back from others. I went into films, was very open and respectful towards everyone there and got a return on my attitude towards the people in cinema. They looked after me, handled me with care and returned me home with the experience of a lifetime. If we don't walk into a situation with a fixed mindset, people will always pleasantly surprise us.

If I hadn't gone into cinema, I would have never understood its potential and would not be sitting here writing this. At some stage I would like to pay back the film industry by pushing others to contribute to it rather than sit in their drawing rooms and complain about it.

In the past due to a disconnection between the arts and government, I always felt that we were not working towards a bigger picture. The last few years have been very encouraging. A lot of steps have been taken towards understanding each other that will help push us to another level. There must be something about us when even the father of our nation, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, started off his professional life aspiring to be an actor.

I have a fantasy. I want to see co-productions open up with India that enable our youth to learn and grow technically, allowing us to add value to our product and showcase our own talents which include writers, actors, lyricists and brilliant independent filmmakers who are working in the right direction. Eventually we will see people looking at Pakistani cinema as a good financial investment and have everyone from multinationals to the banking industry eager to inject money into the system to help it come alive again. Maybe one could even revive the tourism industry through cinema by highlighting the country's beautiful areas that go unnoticed due to mismanaged publicity. This can only be achieved by a long-term vision on a state level. We must realize that Bollywood could have been another Lollywood without state support.

This is a very exciting but trying time for us and we must pass the tests with flying colours. Missed opportunities are not an option for us anymore!

Posted 12 Sep 2004

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