In an almost piecemeal fashion, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a package for the revival of the Pakistani film industry and the welfare of artists this week. While the package is indeed a sign of encouragement to an industry that contributes significantly to the economy and acts as a major platform for cultural export, there are more than a few troubling questions that it has sparked.
For a number of years, the film industry had been longing for government attention. And now when the authorities have finally given it some of their attention, there is a feeling that it might have come a bit too late. With barely a year to go before the next general election, the package is unlikely to have much impact on the film industry on the whole. Also there is no guarantee that the film industry will receive a similar package in subsequent years or not. At this point it would appear that the government is merely content with currying favour with the industry, and not resuscitating it. Instead of a short-sighted approach, a long-term framework is needed for the film industry’s patronage.
With the aim of portraying a softer image of Pakistan, the government plans to establish a National Film and Broadcasting Commission, National Film Institute and an Academy with a fully equipped studio as per modern standards. Apart from that a Film Finance Fund will be created to facilitate film production and an Artist Welfare Fund to safeguard and protect the dignity of artists.
Beyond all these fancy words and plans lie some critical questions about the practicality of the package. For instance, if a film doesn’t glorify a softer image of Pakistan or looks visually or thematically similar to Bollywood films, will it also be eligible for funding? Who is going to make all those decisions for the artist community? Any form of state involvement in the process will incentivise pro-state propaganda and not prop up the fortunes of the film industry.
Cinema needs sustainability more than ‘revival’ or rebranding for that matter. By the time this plan is actually implemented, the PML–N will be running for office again and the package much like the industry will be in the doldrums again.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2017.