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13 Pakistani Films You Need To Watch at Least Once in Your Lifetime

A cinema in Lahore, Pakistan, attracts a daytime crowd
A cinema in Lahore, Pakistan, attracts a daytime crowd | © Maciej Dakowicz / Alamy Stock Photo
Pakistani cinema has had its ups and downs. The Golden Era of the late 1950s through ’70s gave way to stark decline and it wasn’t until the new millennium that the country found its filmmaking feet again. These must-see classics and modern films present Pakistan on film.

‘Anarkali’ (1958)

This movie is a timeless classic, and arguably the most famous film ever produced in Pakistan. It tells the story of a slave girl, Anarkali, falling hopelessly in love with Prince Salim, who ascends to the throne of the Mughal Empire with the regal moniker Jahangir. Theirs is a love story that has been retold countless times in countless mediums.

‘Umrao Jaan’ (1972)

Umrao Jaan is a real heartbreaker. It follows the life of a young girl with the soul of a poet who is forced into the cruel world of prostitution. The movie exposes the harsh reality of sexual exploitation, an exploration made all the more painful by its contrast with Umrao Jaan’s fragile soul and her ardent desire for true love.

‘Maula Jut’ (1979)

The success and significance of Maula Jutt is comparable with that of The Godfather (1972). The story revolves around a Punjabi community, exposing its flaws, eccentricities and glorious traits all at the same time. The central character, known as Maula Jutt, has captivated the hearts and minds of audiences for the past 40 years.

‘Jinnah’ (1998)

A dense biopic of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the so-called Father of the Nation, Jinnah recounts the events leading up to the creation of Pakistan in 1947. With inspiring cinematography and intense dialogue, the film does an excellent job of conveying the reality of the turmoil during the Partition of India and Pakistan.

‘Khuda Kay Liye’ (2007)

A huge blockbuster hit, Khuda Kay Liye tackles the subject of terrorism and its effects on Pakistanis around the world. An intriguing plot and multi-dimensional characters take the viewer inside fundamentalism and the lives of those who oppose it. It is a holistic and unique representation of how terrorism has divided society and infiltrated all aspects of life.

‘Bol’ (2011)

Bol shines a light on the figure of the quintessential religious preacher and the problems faced by the families of these men. To do this, it focusses on the life of one family. Three daughters struggle against their father’s radical nature, his distorted religious beliefs and the unreasonable restrictions he puts on them. It also explores themes pertinent to present-day Pakistan: economic inequality, social injustice and fundamentalism.

‘Main Hoon Shahid Afridi’ (2013)

Main Hoon Shahid Afridi is a must-watch for anyone who has any interest in cricket. It magnificently portrays the dream of thousands of young boys in Pakistan, of all classes, who aspire to pursue a career in cricket, in the process managing to explain the complex emotions Pakistanis associate with cricket and why cricket legends such as Shahid Afridi are the nation’s go-to role models.

‘Waar’ (2013)

Waar is a fast-paced thriller that emulates a Hollywood blockbuster full of guns, action sequences and a central theme of terrorism. If you are interested in experiencing a thriller from the perspective of a Pakistani filmmaker, and exploring terrorist and counter-terrorist units through a Pakistani lens, this movie should not be missed.

‘Shah’ (2015)

Shah is a biopic that follows the legendary boxer Syed Hussain Shah, who received a bronze medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. The film portrays the reality of Pakistani slums such as Liyari, and the momentous struggle required to break out of poverty, even if you possess immense talent. It feature interviews with Shah, and adds in thrilling boxing sequences to bring his story to life.

‘Moor’ (2015)

Moor is an aesthetic masterpiece. There are so many unexplored regions and subcultures in Pakistan, and the focus of this film is the Pakistani desert. It is about the country’s railways and the people who work on them, and touches on subjects such as exploitation and corruption.

‘Manto’ (2015)

Manto, a biopic about Saadat Hasan Manto, one of Pakistan’s most prolific writers, is a good example of why Pakistani films were once highly regarded around the world. With a script filled with the philosophical truths of life, this movie uses Manto’s often controversial short stories to expose the hidden and dark realities at play in the newly emerging state of Pakistan.

‘Jawani Phir Nahi Ani’ (2016)

This blockbuster comedy entertains and engages with its lighthearted portrayal of Pakistani society and the stereotypes that run rampant in it. It’s about four friends who decide to take the trip of a lifetime to Bangkok. All the paradoxes and ironies of Pakistan’s supposed conservative culture are challenged by the progressive, rebellious youths.

‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’ (2017)

Punjabi Nahi Jaungi plays on the culture clash between Pakistan’s rural and urban communities. Although it’s a comedy, the central character of which is an archetypical feudal lord besotted with a city girl, it is also an important commentary on the inequalities that exist between social classes, and on how difficult it can be for people on either side of this divide to understand one another.

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