From Golden Age to Struggle: The Journey of Pakistani Cinema

Pakistani cinema has witness its own rise and its downfall as well. With more and more filmmakers coming out of the bushes, maybe it's on the rise once more.

There is no doubt that we are all tired of Pakistani entertainment, with the constant family feuds in its fiction and the same actors used everywhere. The people yearn for something new, something different, but every time something new or something different appears in our cinemas, something that transcends the barriers we put in front of our cinemas, it’s either never as good in the box office, has a lot of outrage against it, or people just find reasons to hate it because of its attempts to try something different and break the pre-existing tropes.


However, there is no doubt that Pakistan had its own golden age of cinema, when Pakistan was willing to experiment with its entertainment, and provide a quality of entertainment unlike anything had seen before. If we go really back into the start of Pakistani entertainment, we can trace its roots back to 1929 when Abdur Rashid Kardar started a production company near the famous tombs of Mughal Emperor Jahangir and his wife Nur Jahan, which eventually resulted in Husn ka Daku being released, Pakistan’s first silent film, in Lahore. Eventually Kardar released a few more films until Pakistan finally achieved independence in 1947, and with this independence, the country finally got more of a freer hand in their film industry and further attempted to experiment with the start of an informational film, with commercial films, including Pakistan’s singers started appearing in 1948. Soon enough, film journalist, Ilyas Raishidi started an annual awarding event in 1957 called the Nigar Awards, and since then it has become the premier awards event celebrating outstanding performance in various categories of filmmaking.

Soon the 1960’s started creeping in, with the apparent golden age of Pakistani entertainment starting from 1959, with color films being more in demand rather than black-and-white films, as well as more actors started emerging with amazing talent and amazing production designs, crafting cinema and stories unlike anything Pakistanis had seen before, with talent such as Waheed Murad, a famous method actor, joining the growing roster of Pakistan’s entertainment industry. Waheed Murad’s persona led people to call him “the chocolate hero”, and in essence, he became the Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley of Pakistan. However the seeds of dissent had been planted, as many riots also occurred in this period alongside all the awards that were being handed out, which started the slow downfall of our entertainment industry and eventually led about the slow downfall from 1977.


As Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime ended and Zia Ul Haq got power, new rules were imposed and his Islamization process spread across the entire country, films came under a far more censorious position then even before independence and the increased taxes also decreased cinema attendance. The gandasa culture came to light through the cult classic Maula Jatt. The once romantic and lovable image of Pakistani cinema in the 1960s and 1970s had transformed into a culture of violence and vulgarity by the 1980s and this image ironically came while the government under Zia Ul Haq’s regime was attempting to Islamize the country.

Nevertheless, the influx of refugees from Afghanistan, who were denied entertainment in their own country, kept Pashto cinema alive. In 1983, Waheed Murad died, which was another blow to the cinema industry, while some claimed he committed suicide while the media attributed his death to his disheartened view of Pakistan’s film industry. As the 1990s came along, the Pakistani film industry was full of imminent collapse as it was left in shambles and films were losing audiences and interest as well while, a famous Pakistani-British film by the name of “Jinnah” went through a lot of outrage as Pakistani audiences were angered by the appearance of Archangel Gabriel.


As Pakistani cinema collapsed, it wasn’t until 2003, when cinema began to grow once more as younger filmmakers started to experiment with film and released low budget films to demonstrate that high quality content could be produced in Pakistan using limited resources. Television stations started privatizing and content started to be more apparent and new. From 2011 onwards, Pakistani cinema had turned into a landscape of change and different genres, with movies like Moor, Laal Kabootar and Joyland standing right alongside movies like Janaan and Actor in Law. The film industry in Pakistan is currently expanding as we speak with new indie directors coming out with spectacular films, such as John, and Madaari, speaking about the true harshness of living in Pakistan.

As our film industry continues to expand, it’s nothing short of exciting to witness where our films go, and how Lollywood cements its place in the world.