Pakistani Cinema In 2023: A Year Of Triumphs, Surprises, And International Recognition

As 2023 concludes, we are left with a notable lot of artistry provided to Pakistani television and cinema territories. We might not want to recollect some of the disastrous happenings in the entertainment industry. However, we have been served reasons to celebrate the victorious progress of Pakistani Cinema which can confidently called the ‘revival of Lollywood’.

What we can take away from analyzing the film industry is the evident decline of commercialism, quality content, and of course, quantity of content, following the rise of other industries including Bollywood and regional cinemas right from the beginning of the 2000s. 

While there are multiple reasons for the demotion of the field, there have been risk-takers and passionate strugglers who finally brought Pakistani cinema to a position where filmmakers are less afraid and more confident about bringing their stories to life, as we witnessed throughout the year.

Delightful and Courageous Releases of 2023

Daadal‘, ‘Money Back Guarantee‘, and ‘Huey Tum Ajnabi‘ to begin with, were the door openers for local cinemas. Even though, there were some releases earlier in the year too, such as Abu Aleeha’s ‘Shotcut’ and the Punjabi film ‘Super Punjabi’. The former titles managed to grab attention for several reasons more than the latter. Film buffs; both viewers and critics were served with diverse content on Eid with a period piece based on 1971’s Dhaka Fall ‘Huey Tum Ajnabi’, a non-run-of-the-mil woman-centric thriller ‘Daadal’ and a smart satirical social commentary ‘Money Back Guarantee’.

However, what works for some, might not work for others. And this is what we observed during the beginning of this cinematic rise in 2023. Despite Fawad Khan’s return after ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’, the release of ‘Money Back Guarantee’ could not prove itself to be a blockbuster or even near to the massive success of Khan’s TLoMJ. Viewers and critics disliked the less cohesive flow of the film, which turned out to be the biggest reason for its failure. Yet ‘Huey Tum Ajnabi’ and ‘Daadal’ did justice within the mediocre numbers due to their lesser commercial nature of storylines and promotional values.

Later in June, Abu Aleeha’smuch-talked-about ‘Kukri: An Untold Story of Serial Killer Javed Iqbal’ finally made its way to the local cinemas post a series of barriers and controversies. The film is supposedly one of the most courageous attempts to talk about a real-life serial killer and sex offender who terrorized Lahore in the 1990s. The film has the privilege of gathering decent reviews along with awards of Best Director in the UK Film Festival before its release in Pakistan. ‘Kukri’ gained a satisfactory collection at the box office on its local release on 2 June 2023. 

There has been an unsaid rule which had become quite a norm, that either local commercial films will get released on Eid, or simply not get released at all. Fortunately, we are now seeing a positive change as filmmakers are daring to release films on non-festive days too. But this Eid-ul-Azha was no different too. We had a good number of six films released and most viewers and critics were simply not buying the thought process behind this decision by filmmakers.

Wahaj Ali starrer anthology ‘Teri Meri Kahaaniyan’, Syra and Shehroz’s ‘Babylicious’, and animated film ‘Allahyar and the 100 Flowers of God’ were the big titles along with ‘VIP’, ‘Madaari’, and ‘Aar Paar’. It indeed looked like a festival for cinema lovers as there was a flood of content that too from our very own creators. While TMK did a decent job at the theatres, others also gathered average numbers at the box office. These releases had to compete with Hollywood franchises like ‘Barbie’, ‘Mission Impossible‘, and Christopher Nolen’s ‘Oppenheimer‘ which were simultaneous releases till the end of July.

Year-End Surprises at The Local Cinemas

As if there was a lack of films this year, the audience and critics are now being presented with some interesting films at theatres across the country. Including Humayoun Ashraf, Shamoon Abbasi and Ayesha Omer starrer ‘Dhai Chal‘ released earlier this month. The movie revolves around Balochistan and the struggles faced by its local population to keep peace and harmony. Another release was Ahmed Ali Akbar and Resham’s ‘Gunjal’, which is a brave attempt to showcase the tragic story of young activist Iqbal Masih who voiced against child labour in the country.  The film became quite relevant as Pakistan witnessed the case of child maid Rizwana in the recent month.

Another recent release is Usman Mukhtar and Ushna Shah’s ‘Chikkar’. The layered story of ‘Chikkar’ promises to delve deeper into the unsettling realities of society and the dirt (as the name suggests) of misuse of power and protocols.

Bollywood vs Pakistani Cinema: A Threat or Healthy Competition

While we certainly appreciate and celebrate the rise in content and presentation of all kinds of narratives on the big screen, there still a concern arises about whether should Bollywood movies be shown in Pakistani cinemas.

As India lives through the era of four big films of Shahrukh Khan released in the same year, SRK fans in Pakistan rightfully feel deprived of these mega eventful surprises of ‘Pathaan’, ‘Jawaan’, ‘Tiger 3’, and ‘Dunki’. Right from the beginning of the year till the end, it has been a major part of debates about whether Indian films should be shown at Pakistani cinemas or not. Well, there are different opinions on this, but true movie buffs would certainly agree to erase the boundaries when it comes to art.

Indian films might be a threat to our local content in cinemas, but if it is considered to be a healthy competition, filmmakers and most importantly, the government might use it as a catalyst to perform well in terms of budgeting and storytelling.

International Honors for Pakistani Films in 2023

Lollywood’s big and small titles have been winning big and making us proud with good content in the international market. Our films have been presented to several film festivals which not only got applauded but also won numerous awards in different categories.

Zarrar Kahn’s ‘In Flames’ was presented at the prestigious event of the International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg (IFFMH) where the film bagged the International Newcomer Award. While Sarmad Khoosat’s 2022 film ‘Kamli’ achieved a milestone at the Minsk International Film Festival where Saba Qamar secured the Best Actor Award, Khoosat earned the Best Director Award and the film received the Viewers’ Choice award at the renowned Listapad festival, the largest film festival in Belarus.  Along with these, Sarwat Gillani and Omair Rana’s ‘Noor’ and Mohammed Ahsan’s ‘Pehchaan’ are selected for the Cannes Film Festival 2023 for the categories of Best Health Film and Best Human Rights Film respectively.

Summing Up

There has been an appreciable effort and effort to bring out the best of content to the theatres this year which not only was visible to the masses, and critics but also in the international markets where quality content is applauded. With a limited number of resources, an overly critical and sometimes unfair censor board, and all the flaws and shortcomings, our uber-talented filmmakers are trying their best to keep the film business and Lollywood charm alive. This year was full of such efforts that indeed can not go unnoticed. With all the hope and goodwill we are now heading toward the new year anticipating films better than ever and discussions about our films more than ever.


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