2019 hasn’t been the best year for Pakistani cinema in terms of collections. Very few films managed to hit the mark for the masses compared to last year. However, the most prominent films that did emerge were nearly all centered on strong female characters.
While strong female characters have been more prominently featured in many films since the revival in 2013 but in 2019 they took center stage and upstaged their male counterparts in almost every commercial hit.
The sequel to Yasir Nawaz’s successful “Wrong No.” struck a chord with audiences. Starring Jawed Sheikh, Sami Khan, Sana and Yasir Nawaz, the film involved a crime caper, a scheming politician, and lots and lots of misunderstanding. However, the breakout performance in the film was that of Neelam Muneer. She completely upstaged Sami Khan with her consistently strong performance. She seemed confident in every scene and there was no amateurish reluctance or lack of finesse. While no award winning performance, she was in her element for the entirety of the film.
Wajahat Rauf’s celebration of love had a notable star cast including Azfar Rehman, Zara Noor Abbas, Asad Siddiqui and Mehmood Aslam. However, the star of the film was undoubtedly Mehwish Hayat. She’s pretty much established herself as the most commercially successful actress in Pakistani cinema right now as she’s been the female lead in two of the three highest grossing films in the history of the country. In “Chhalawa”, she shined brighter than any other actor, and was the main draw for the audiences flocking to theaters.
The captivating music, the beautiful sets and the classic storyline were all lauded. While Nadeem Baig, Jawed Sheikh, Bilal Ashraf, and Ali Kazmi played their roles well, “Superstar” was Mahira Khan’s film through and through. She shone through this film like she hadn’t for a long time; not since “Bin Roye”. She was the reason people flocked to the theaters even in the pouring rain. It was a long awaited return to form that many fans had been waiting for.
While commercially the least successful film on this list, this perhaps created the most buzz because it was Meera’s comeback. The long awaited return to the silver screen for the now iconic heroine worked out quite well for her. “Baaji” was lauded first and foremost for her commanding performance. In every single scene she was in, Meera held your gaze. Yet she was never hogging the limelight. Vulnerable when she needed to be, fierce when it was demanded, she made it all look easy.
Pakistani cinema has had a long tradition of highlighting its female characters as strong, willful, and rebellious. Whether it was Shamim Ara in “Firangi”, Neelo in “Zerqa”, Shabnam in “Aina”, or Musarrat Nazeer in “Shaheed”, they all left an indelible mark. While this revived cinema is not quite there yet, it has thankfully veered far away from showing women as cowering, helpless, and most importantly, as solely objects.
As actresses gain more commercial prominence in local films, there’s hope that they’ll command stronger roles, and thus, bring much needed change into what was once a crucible for expression and experimentation.