The words “deteriorating”, “declining” and “dismal” have often been employed to describe our film industry. To be fair, Lollywood never really made a mark internationally in terms of presence, popularity or an intense fan following. But for the first time, a Lollywood production is being premiered internationally, with Ishq Khuda slated for screening at the Punjabi International Film Festival (PIFF) 2013 in Toronto on May 18. Is this, we wonder, the beginning of a new era for the industry? Are things finally looking up?
“The demand for a Pakistani film in Canada is rock solid,” director Shahzad Rafique tells The Express Tribune from India, where he is currently working. He says that festival organiser Sunny Gill was “very eager to play a quality Pakistani film.”
Adding that the release of Bol is a reflection of this demand, he says, “Bol did better than any Bollywood film which was released around the same time – if we want to make space for our movies in the global market, we need to tackle subjects which have international relevance. Otherwise the vision of our cinema will remain limited [to just Pakistan].”
The film’s cast includes Ahsan Khan, Meera, Shaan and Moroccan actor Wiam Dhamani. Meera and Wiam are currently in Toronto to promote the movie at PIFF – an annual event which aims to bring Punjabi culture into the spotlight.
Ishq Khuda experiments with the themes of sufism and spirituality. Rafique explains that the project was an attempt to raise the question of “higher love” in comparison to the pursuit of relatively selfish worldly desires. The soundtrack, which has already received rave reviews since its release last month, has been composed by Wajahat Attray and includes the strong vocals of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Sanam Marvi. It also features the return of renowned playback singer Shazia Manzoor.
“Film is a powerful medium of communication and representation. It’s very important for Pakistani films to have a global market,” continues Rafique. “We need to show the world who we are as a nation and clear all misunderstandings about us.” He feels local producers haven’t been able to take advantage of the growing international market due to the lack of quality output.
The director admits that it was the global value he added to Ishq Khuda which helped promote a softer image of the film. He has also produced films such as Salakhain (2004) and Mohabbataan Sachiyaan (2007) which did well internationally despite non-conducive conditions – they were also released in India and were rated 2.5 and 3.5 out of five, respectively, by the Times of India.
Although Rafique is unsure of how the film will be received by the audience, he remains positive that they will appreciate the final product. “I really can’t say anything about how it will do at the box office but I have said everything I wanted to through this film,” he continues. “I am satisfied with the end result and now it’s really just up to the viewers.”
At the end, the director says he is screening the film abroad to inspire young film-makers. “I’m trying to form pathways for them which will open up avenues for the exhibition of their work internationally.”
After its first screening in Toronto, the film is expected to be released in Pakistan on Eidul Fitr.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2013.