Ah, 2021. Looking back at the year, one would hope that the worst of the pandemic-induced movie industry crisis is over and done with. While the previous year ended with some optimism and hope for a rapid return to normal for the film business in 2020, the current year saw all those hopes dashed with the catastrophic spread of the delta-variant worldwide during the first half. The rapid revival of the exhibition circuit was thus not to be, and movie-going audiences had to wait until the latter part of the year across most of the world to frequent movie theaters. This was true for Pakistan, as well.
Around mid-October, movie theaters were greenlit by the Federal Government to be fully operational. The business picked up gradually with each passing week, even if some theaters only partially opened. The uncertainty notwithstanding, some brave filmmakers decided to take the plunge and release their films during this period. Nabeel Qureishi and Fizza Ali Meerza brought ‘Khel Khel Mein’ to screens across the nation on November 19. The 1971-conflict themed drama was always expected to rely on word-of-mouth for a healthy box office tally, and reports for the film were generally on the positive side. It opened to about 1.3 cores during its opening weekend and is still running in theaters, with a final haul expected to be near the 5 crore mark.
Following KKM, the box office didn’t witness new releases barring Abu Aleeha’s two films ‘Sheenogai’ and ‘Udham Patakh,’ which were released on November 29 and December 10, respectively.
The last Pakistani release of the year ‘Kahay Dil Jidhar’ came out on December 17. The Junaid Khan and Mansha Pasha starrer arrived with minimal pre-release promotion and little buzz, puzzling since the movie had a decent cast and was backed by a foot-tapping score. Reports soon surfaced that first weekend onwards, cash-strapped exhibitors had decided to allocate nearly all screens to Hollywood’s box-office hurricane ‘Spiderman: No Way Home’, which had generated crazy footfalls in Pakistan, too. As things stand today, figures for KDJ at under 1 crore don’t look too rosy. As a result, quite a few filmmakers have decided to delay their projects until the ‘Spiderman’ hysteria dies down. That includes the upcoming Yasir Hussain starrer ‘Javed Iqbal: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer,’ which was scheduled for a December release but has now been announced for January 28 next year.
The year was also a good one for Pakistani animated films, two of which ‘The Donkey King’ and ‘Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor’ opened in China. TDK earned $856,237 on last count while Allahyaar earned $101,000 over its opening weekend.
Shorts and Telefilms galore
With the lull prevailing in the movie industry, 2021 saw quite a few short films starring major actors, amongst which ‘Bench’ (starring Usman Mukhtar and Rubya Chaudhry), ‘Daffa Ho Jaao Tum’ (with Resham, Abdullah Ejaz, directed by Fasih Bari Khan) and ‘Prince Charming’ (with Mahira Khan, Zahid Ahmed, directed by Seheryar Munawar) were notable. Mahira Khan also co-produced and starred in ‘Aik Hai Nigar,’ a telefilm that featured Bilal Ashraf in a major role. ‘Hangor,’ another telefilm, was headlined by names such as Zahid Ahmed and Affan Waheed, among others, in its cast. The ‘Parey Hut Love’ diva Maya Ali too acted in a miniseries titled ‘Jo Bichar Gaye.’
Major writers pass away
Quite a few major film luminaries departed for the heavenly abode, leaving behind a void that will never be filled. They included Haseena Moin, the legendary television playwright who also wrote two Pakistani films ‘Kahin Pyar Na Hojaye’ and ‘Sacch.’ Another celebrated writer Farooq Qaiser, who scripted ‘Very Good Dunya Very Bad Loag,’ passed away in May. Writer and producer Asma Nabeel, the woman behind ‘Maan Jao Naa’ lost her battle with cancer in July after a courageous fight.
Optimism for the coming year
After all the pandemic-induced disruption in the movie business, there is hope that the worst is finally behind us. “We are all excited to release our films in 2022 after a good 2 year hiatus due to Covid. Hope to bring audiences back to cinemas!,” said Director Wajahat Rauf, who will be releasing ‘Pardey Mein Rehne Do’ in the coming year. Director Azfar Jafri, who is leading the animation of ‘Allahyaar and the 100 Flowers of God’ sounded upbeat as well. “I am quite hopeful that the industry will resurface eventually since it is the only form of entertainment in Pakistan apart from food,” he opined when asked about prospects for the coming year. He underscored that it will be important to release the large backlog of films “strategically” over the year, which we wholeheartedly endorse. The film-business stakeholders would hopefully have enough sense to avoid clustering all the films at or around the two Eids, as that is only going to end in disaster for everyone.
If there’s one thing that the pandemic has highlighted is that there’s simply no substitute for watching a film on the big screen. We hope that the resumption of theater operations is not further disrupted, and that movie audiences throng to support and watch the excellent lineup of movies Pakistani cinema has in store once they start to release over the coming year. Here’s to hope!