190429 Amna Ilyas and Meera in ‘Baaji’.
Amna Ilyas and Meera in ‘Baaji’. Image Credit: Supplied

Pre-Ramadan is the time of year when the film fraternity in Pakistan kicks into gear in earnest.

Every filmmaker wants the best box office numbers for their movies. Eid Al Fitr is one occasion to ensure that, thanks to a three-day weekend where new releases make profits because the public turns out in big numbers. So, the build up to Eid is of great significance.

However, unlike previous Eids, where everyone from trade pundits to exhibitors and distributors had their bets placed on the one Bollywood blockbuster that would typically star one of the three Khans of Hindi cinema and devour local competition, 2019 might tell a different story. There will be no Bollywood this Eid.

For the uninitiated, Hindi films have always enjoyed unparalleled popularity across the border. In fact, whatever revival Pakistani cinema has seen over the past decade or so is thanks primarily to movies imported from the neighbouring country that not only brought in crowds but also helped boost local fare.

Bollywood movies were removed from cinemas after relations between India and Pakistan soured early this year. Given this context, Eid 2019 (due in the first week of June) shall test the true mettle of the so-called ‘New-age Pakistani Cinema.’ It will be interesting to see if the country’s still-fledgling movie industry has enough pull for audiences.

Luckily, the entire ‘Bollywood versus Pakistani cinema’ scenario served to filter in a fresh pool of filmmakers who studied film at school and/or possessed credible work experience on television and ad films.

Remember film graduate Farjad Nabi’s critically acclaimed ‘Zinda Bhaag’ (2013), starring Naseeruddin Shah, that dealt with the issue of illegal human trafficking? It became Pakistan’s first motion picture in decades to make it to the Oscars’ longlist in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Or, Bilal Lashari’s epic thriller ‘Waar’ (2013), which remains the country’s highest money-maker of all time. Even the romantic drama ‘Bin Roye’ (2015), featuring Mahira Khan in the lead, is credited for braving competition from Salman Khan’s ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ and ruling the box office on Eid day.

But this year might be different. The only local film that was expected to fill the void on Eid was Lashari’s hotly anticipated ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’, with a stellar cast that includes Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Humaima Malick and Hamza Ali Abbasi. Sadly, the makers decided to push the film’s release to Eid Al Adha (in August), which means another few months’ wait.

The other film that was also being looked forward to — the Mahira Khan and Sheheryar Munawwar-led ‘Parey Hut Love’ — has also pulled out of the Eid race.

In other words, the cinema during the coming Eid doesn’t look exciting enough, except maybe for Saqib Malik’s debut feature, ‘Baaji’, which marks veteran actress Meera’s second coming. The makers have started campaigning for the film’s publicity and a teaser of the film was recently released.

While it is full of glamour and gloss, the film doesn’t seem to be telling a fresh story. Here we have an ageing actress (played by Meera), who feels threatened by the younger guard, represented by Amna Ilyas. Add to it a few relationships gone wrong, oodles of songs and dances, and a few corny lines, and it all appears all too familiar. ‘Dirty Picture’, anyone?

‘Karachi Se Lahore’-famed director Wajahat Rauf’s comedy, ‘Chhalawa’, is also part of the Eid line-up, and it too doesn’t seem to be showing anything we haven’t seen in Pakistani films recently. Consider the funny intonation of the Punjabi-speaking characters that almost borders on caricature, or the cliche-ridden wedding sequences. Besides, Mehwish Hayat and Azfar Rehman don’t necessarily make the best onscreen pair. The real-life couple, Zara Noor Abbas and Yasir Siddiqi, on the other hand, bring in a certain freshness.

TV director Yasir Nawaz’s sequel to ‘Wrong No’ is another Eid contender whose publicity has been started full-throttle, except that the film’s trailer is as blase as anything. There is little novelty value in the trailer, despite a new star cast — Danish Taimoor is out, and Sami Khan is in; also, Neelam Muneer replaces Sohai Abro.