Tracing Pakistani Cinema from before partition to the present - Pakistan Today

Tracing Pakistani Cinema from before partition to the present

– Book Review: “Pakistani Cinema 1947-1997” by Mushtaq Gazdar

Producing an average of 60 films per year, the cinema in Pakistan holds a place amongst the top twenty film-producing countries in the world–however, there is little authorship on the tumultuous yet vibrant history of the cinema itself. There exists no one cinema in Pakistan that can be credited for the variety of films produced annually, but a number of them–including the Punjabi Cinema, the Pushto Cinema, the Sindhi Cinema, the Balochi Cinema, and finally the Urdu Cinema, all of which contribute to the growing film industry. In his book, “Pakistani Cinema, 1947-1997”, filmmaker and author Mushtaq Gazdar traces the history of the cinema that holds its roots in a pre-partition subcontinent, all the way down to 1997. The book is an intriguing read, especially for readers entirely new to the subject of Pakistani Cinema, due to its comprehensive yet detailed approach towards covering the history of film in the country.

Perhaps one of the reasons that the book is able to cover so much in that comprehensive a manner is due to the way it is divided into six sections, preceded by a preface by the author, and a detailed introduction by I.A Rehman. The six sections are divided into decades, each of which is defined by an overarching, defining quality of that decade for the cinema in Pakistan. The book ends with a large section dedicated to filmography-detailing the name, production and cast of every movie produced in Pakistan from 1947 onwards. This is a brilliant addition, as the only other extensive record of films produced in Pakistan exists online, on a website called

Gazdar traces the history of cinema in Pakistan as one that did not exist in a vacuum–but like most cinemas, was impacted heavily by changing the socio-political climate of the country, affected by the slowly revolving cultural trends. It would have been incomplete to have started with the history of Pakistani Cinema post-partition, hence Gazdar starts from the introduction of cinema in the subcontinent, outlining the slow move into locally produced films such as Alam Ara (which Muhammad Ali Jinnah played a role in releasing!). Alongside noting down important filmmakers and their productions, Gazdar also provides the reader with a glimpse into how music, dance and song being an essential component of films produced in the subcontinent.

The poster for Alam-Ara

Hence, the book cannot be termed purely a book on film–it is a book on history, culture, politics and art; fittingly so, as cinema combines all of these. He then moves on to the next six sections, starting in detail with the setting up of film in Pakistan post partition, before moving onto the decades after, which are heavily saturated with how the turbulent political climate in the country impacted cinema. Gazdar does not shy away from letting his emotions seep into his writing. For example, when talking about cinema under Zia’s government, the author blames Zia for taking steps that negatively impacted film. Through censorship and alteration of historical facts, Zia’s regime was able to use cinema as a tool of distortion–an example being the government’s plan to fund a film on the Quaid-i-Azam that misrepresented Jinnah’s beliefs.

Gazdar also looks at the film market and production alongside, enriching the text with statistics and figures. When looking at individual films, Gazdar delves into plots just enough to give the reader an idea of what the movie is about, and instead of detailed summaries he picks out intriguing incidents that stand out from the movie’s production or the actor’s lives. Side by side, he also introduces and draws short biographies of notable personalities involved in filmmaking within the specified periods. Within those biographies are details that a reader would not expect to find–motivations behind productions of films, turbulent personal lives of the actors, occurrences that contributed to/hindered projects. The author’s ability to wisely pick and add these fascinating details (that almost seem necessary)  is what allows the book to be comprehensive while not becoming tedious–a huge feat for a text that attempts to take on almost all of Pakistan’s cinematic history til date.

The writer, Mushtaq Guzdar

“Pakistani Cinema 1947-1997” is the first of its kind. Not only does Gazdar take on and brilliantly finish a work that covers in extensive detail the most important decades of cinema in Pakistan, but he also manages to do so with as little personal judgement on the films produced. His critique filters in only when he talks about the effects of the political climate on cinema in the country; for the films, he leaves the role of critiquing films to the audience. Oxford University Press’s latest edition of the book is replete with colored pictures of important movie scenes, posters, actors, directors and producers that make the experience of reading the book even more fulfilling. One is able to truly live through the decades that Gazdar outlines–one of the many ways the book is an informative read is because of Gazdar’s dedication towards not just making it a book on film, but one that covers the history of Pakistan through the lens of cinema.  

Nida Hassan

Nida Hassan is a Junior at LUMS, majoring in English.