Maula Jutt to Manto

By Nadya Chishty-Mujahid | September 2020

Title: Essays on Cinema in Pakistan.
Edited by: Vazira Zamindar and Asad Ali
Publisher: Oxford University Press

Vazira Zamindar and Asad Ali’s book on film, Love, War, and Other Longings, is well worth the modest price of PKR 750. Beautifully illustrated with photographs of movie-shots, old cinemas such as Firdaus in Mirpurkhas, and screen legends such as Naseeruddin Shah, the text is remarkably aesthetically pleasing as well as generally informative. Zamindar and Ali provide a useful introduction to the various essays that are by notable individuals such as Ayesha Jalal, Iftikhar Dadi and Adnan Madani, among others.

Indeed, one of the essays comprises just a set of grey and charcoal burnt reels from the once famous Nishat Cinema (a photo of which is found in another part of the text, capturing its art-deco like exterior). This photo essay by Bani Abidi provides a haunting “intermission” between the academic essays of the book and its more “chatty” pieces. Vazira Zamindar contributes both the former as well as latter type of essay to this volume. One of her chapters is about the remarkable film archive collected passionately and painstakingly over the years by Guddu Khan, while a more scholarly piece deals with Zamindar’s assessment of the nationalistic Pakistani film Waar. A professor at Brown University, Zamindar was instrumental (as her introduction claims) for organizing a couple of notable film festivals, along with Asad Ali, with support provided by Brown as well as Harvard.

The editors have taken care to promote the sheer diversity underlying Pakistani film creation, production and thematics. There is a moving essay by Kamran Asdar Ali on the classic film Saheli, where a wife encourages her best friend to become the second spouse of her own husband. Although Asdar Ali’s tone is slightly patronizing especially when he underscores that he does not want his essay to reinforce patriarchal gender power dynamics (in short, he dictates which way the reader should view his work) the essay itself is important and sincere. Renowned historian, Ayesha Jalal, writes about both the 2015 biopic on Manto, as well as the more recent, celebrated film on the late writer by Nandita Das. Jalal (who is related to Manto) takes issue with the manner in which creative interpretation tends to encroach on factual accuracy insofar as depictions of this complex man are concerned. Given that Jalal’s own field is history not film, this is understandable, but as the editors (and other contributors such as Meena Gaur and Rachel Dwyer) point out, at times it is virtually impossible to separate illusion from reality when it comes to cinema.

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