Pakistani Cinema has seen a variety of ups and downs since the country began exploring the art medium of film. The period known as the ‘Golden Era’ of Pakistani cinema lasted from the late 1950s until the late 1970s, while at the beginning of the millennium, with the rapid advancement of technology and the eagerness of Pakistani youth to revive arts and culture, there was a reinvention of film-making. This era was bold and extremely exciting and resulted in some great movies that challenged social norms and cultural values. Here are our picks of must-see classic and modern films that present Pakistan through an array of lenses.
This movie is a timeless classic and one of the most famous films ever produced by Pakistan. It is the story of slave girl Anarkali, who falls hopelessly in love with Prince Salim, who later ascends the throne as Emperor Jahangir, one of the most famous kings of the Mughal era.
Umrao Jaan (1972)
Umrao Jaan will go down in history as one of the most emotionally moving classics to have ever been produced by Pakistan. It is a heartbreaking story that follows the life of a young girl who had the soul of a poet but was forced into the cruel world of prostitution. The movie exposes the crass realities of the world of sex and exploitation, which is in stark contrast to the fragility of Umrao Jaan’s poetic soul and ardent desire for true love.
Maula Jut (1979)
Maula Jutt is an iconic Pakistani film. One could equate its success with that of The Godfather in the West. It revolves around a Punjabi community, exposing their 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 fifty years.
Jinnah is based on the historical events that resulted in the creation of Pakistan in 1947. It is an emotionally dense autobiographical account of Jinnah, who is known as the ‘father of the nation’. With inspiring cinematography and intense dialogue, the film does an excellent job of exposing the grass roots reality of the turmoil of the Partition in 1947.
Khuda Kay Liye (2007)
Khuda Kay Liye was a huge blockbuster hit and was loved by audiences all over the world. The theme is terrorism and its ripple effects on Pakistanis around the world. The film has an intriguing plot as well as multi-dimensional characters that expose the rise of fundamentalism in the country, as well as characters that oppose it. It is a holistic and unique representation of how terrorism has divided society and infiltrated all aspects of life, including human relationships.
Bol boldly exposes the quintessential religious preacher and the problems faced by the families of such figures. The film focuses on the life of a particular family with three daughters who struggle against the radical nature of their father, who holds distorted religious beliefs and puts unreasonable restrictions on them. Through the lens of a family, the film also explores crucial themes in present-day Pakistan, such as economic discrepancies between social classes. It is a heart-wrenching film that forces viewers to think about social injustice, and sheds light on the destructive powers of fundamentalism.
Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (2013)
This is a must-watch for anyone who has any interest in cricket! It is emotionally intense and rich in dialogue, and magnificently portrays the dream of thousands of young boys in Pakistan of all classes who aspire to pursue a career in cricket. This movie accurately explains the heartfelt emotions that Pakistani people associate with cricket, and identifies why cricket legends like Shahid Afridi are the greatest role models for young boys across the country.
Waar is an action-thriller that emulates a Hollywood blockbuster full of fanfare and guns, with a central theme of terrorism and plenty of action sequences. It’s fast-paced and full of intense plot twists and turns that keep the audience engaged and confused at the same time. If you are interested in experiencing a thriller from the perspective of a Pakistani film-maker and exploring terrorist and counter-terrorist units through a Pakistani lens, this movie should not be missed.
Shah is a biopic that follows the legendary boxer Syed Hussain Shah, who received a bronze medal at the Olympics. The film is an intense portrayal of the reality that lies behind slums like Liyari in Pakistan, and the momentous struggle required to break out of poverty, even if one possesses immense talent. It uses real life interviews with Shah, and adds thrilling boxing sequences to bring his story to life. If you are interested in the life stories of local heroes, you should definitely watch this film.
Moor is an aesthetic masterpiece. There are so many unexplored regions and sub-cultures in Pakistan, and the focus of this film is the Pakistani desert. It is about the railways of Pakistan and those that work in them, and is interspersed with themes such as exploitation and corruption in the railway industry. As well as gripping human stories, Moor uses the railways as a symbol to highlight the social and political issues that plague the country at large.
Manto is a unique film and a good example of why Pakistani films were once highly regarded around the world. It is a biopic about Saadat Hasan Manto, one of the most prolific writers to come from Pakistan, and is an awe-inspiring film, with a script filled with the philosophical truths of life. This movie is brilliant in its execution and uses the infamous and often controversial short stories of Manto to expose the hidden and dark realities that are at play in the newly emerging state of Pakistan.
Jawani Phir Nahi Ani (2016)
This comedy was a massive blockbuster, and entertains and engages with its humor and portrayal of Pakistani culture. It’s about four Pakistani 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 through the progressive yet rebellious youth. This film is a lighthearted and funny portrayal of the lighter side of stereotypes that run rampant in Pakistani society.
Punjab Nahi Jaungi (2017)
Punjabi Nahi Jaungi is a must-watch for anyone interested in the cultural clashes between rural and urban Pakistan. Although it’s a comedy with the central character being an archetypical feudal lord who falls in love with a city girl, it is also an important commentary on the discrepancies between different social classes in Pakistan, and how radical differences make it extremely difficult for people from different social backgrounds to understand one another.