The once booming Pakistani film industry known as Lollywood—a term coined by Glamour magazine in 1989—is on its last legs. The Karachi-based magazine that created the neologism is defunct.
The industry survived many setbacks. After its most successful era, spanning the 1960s and 1970s, it suffered a huge blow after Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s military coup in 1977. Haq’s Islamization of the country led to the forcible closure of many theatres and stringent censor laws forced film-makers to abandon popular themes of love and jealousy.
Click here to view a slideshow on Lahore’s film industry, Lollywood
The industry saw some resurgence when Gen. Pervez Musharraf served as president (2001-2008). Seen by many as a patron of the arts, even he couldn’t reverse the downward spiral the industry had fallen into. Cable television and pirated DVDs of local and international cinema had their own roles to play in strangling what was once a cultural institution.
The most potent enemy of all, however, has been cinema from India. With the ban on the screening of Indian films lifted a couple of years ago, Bollywood has fast-tracked what was already doomed. And a huge and growing fan base of the likes of actors Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Akshay Kumar will soon ensure that Pakistan’s greying heroes and heroines are a fading past.
Lollywood once produced several hundred movies a year. Each year now sees a handful of low-budget films. Production costs have been slashed by up to 90% in recent years, according to Mohan Bhatt, manager at Evernew Studios in Lahore, once the country’s most successful production house. Bhatt says both government and private funding is scarce.
In 2007, Pakistani director Shoaib Mansoor released Khuda Kay Liye. The film released in around 100 cinemas in 20 cities in India. But this was a flash in the pan at best.
Ironically, most productions from Pashto-language cinema (predominantly spoken in north Pakistan and Afghanistan) have been forced to relocate from Peshawar to Lahore as a result of the troubles ravaging the country’s restive North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Pashto cinema is known for its feudal themes involving tribal honour. Many Pashtun directors and actors have come under direct threat from the Taliban. Bombings have deterred the public from visiting theatres and cinemas that screen these movies in the NWFP region.
A visit to the set of a Pashto-language film will reveal makeshift props and technical equipment. Directors wield handwritten scripts and actors who starred in the Pashto cinema of the 1970s still play lead roles. With not much to compete with, they are still free to produce their fabled low-budget movies with ketchup-for-blood effects, dwarf comedians and explosive action scenes. These anachronistic films find a safe haven in Lahore under the crumbling auspices of Lollywood.
Niklas Halle’n is a Swedish-born photographer who is presently based in New Delhi, covering news and features from around Asia. These pictures were shot on location at Evernew and Bari Studios in Lahore, Pakistan.