Oscar entry movie to headline Pakistani film festival

Zinda Bhaag (Run For Your Life, 2013), the first Pakistani film to be submitted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, headlines the inaugural Pakistani Film Festival here that runs from Friday to Sunday.

Spearheaded by the Singapore Pakistani Association, the festival aims to turn the spotlight on the recent revival of the country's cinema industry.

Mrs Sophie Shaikh, president of the association, tells Life!: "Of late, Pakistani films have been getting recognition and acclaim worldwide. These films tell our stories. Zinda Bhaag, set in the historic city of Lahore, is an Oscar entry. It tells the story about the grim realities of immigration."

Overshadowed by the more global Bollywood from India, Pakistani cinema, or Lollywood as it is often called, faltered and slipped off the film map for nearly 30 years.

Things started changing around five years ago as film-makers took on edgier and more indie subjects, often making films on extremely tight budgets.

While exact figures of the industry's worth are not available, these films, such as Zinda Bhaag, are slowly pulling in crowds in the domestic market, picking up awards internationally as well as being screened at leading film festivals around the world.

Within Pakistan, a commercially successful film such as Waar (Strike, 2013), an Urdu and English- language thriller inspired by the 2009 Taleban attack on a police training centre near Lahore, grossed US$1.9 million.

In 2012, director Sharmeen Chinoy's documentary Saving Face, about victims of acid attacks in Pakistan, earned Pakistan its first Academy Award in the best short documentary category.

Critics say Pakistani film-makers are finally offering much-needed and "nuanced portraits" of their own country.

This is evident in the other two films to be screened at the festival in Singapore: Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (I Am Shahid Afridi), a story of a small-time cricket league team, and the critically acclaimed Lamha (Seedlings), a story of grief and compassion in the wake of an accidental death.

The festival is deliberately kept small to showcase the best. Last year, more than 20 films were released in Pakistan.

Mrs Shaikh, 61, believes there are several reasons that have resulted in the recent film boom.

"What we are seeing today are young educated people entering the industry with fresh ideas. Pakistan has cineplexes now, which did not exist before," she says.

"Significantly, I think Pakistanis are fed up with stereotypical depiction of themselves in the Western media and want to tell the world who we really are. What we are seeing are films telling our stories the way we want to tell them."

Indeed, Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, directors of Zinda Bhaag, state their intention was to tell an everyday story set in the streets of Lahore.

"We always found a tiresome and cliched representation of Lahore and Pakistan in films and wanted to change that image to one that we ourselves related to," says Gaur, who is in her 30s, in an e-mail about her debut feature film.

Her Lahore-set film about illegal migrants desperately trying to get to the West is based on real stories narrated to her and Nabi by friends and relatives.

Made on a budget of US$320,000 (S$406,000), a modest amount by blockbuster Bollywood standards, it has resonated with audiences beyond Pakistan, along with other films.

Zinda Bhaag has been screened at film festivals around the world and secured distribution in Canada, the United Kingdom and the Middle East.

When asked what makes such films click with moviegoers, Gaur responds: "I had heard someone say before that the more local your film is, the more universal it is likely to be.

"I guess what that means is that the truer you are to your story, the more authentic and genuine it is, the more it will resonate beyond the barriers of language, form and borders."

Book it


When: Friday to Sunday

Where: Golden Village, Great World City

Admission: $15 from www.gv.com.sg

Info: www.singaporepakistaniassociation.com

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