A Recipe for making Pushto films

By Zia Ahmad

(courtesy of Friday Times)

Overweight beauties, middle aged gruff leading men, starched hair pieces, logic defying plots, garish costumes, mind boggling dance and fight sequences and pelvic thrusts performed with uncharacteristic gusto, all are hallmarks that define the cornerstone of Pakistani film culture that we know as Pushto films. Over the years Pushto cinema has formed an identity that is utterly unique in offering a brand of entertainment that no self respecting man would want to see with his mum and kids. It didn’t use to be this way though. Earlier Pushto films used to be based around folk tales that paved the way for wholesome family entertainment. Parallel to the rise of Gandasa films in Punjab, during the 80s, Pushto films witnessed a notable dip in quality. Producers and distributors catered their products for the lowest common denominator. That is how Pushto cinema came to be what it is now.

As unfortunate as the scenario turned out like, the downturn in quality is not without its merits. Other than the core audience of Pushto cinema that comprises of the male dominant Pakhtun working class, there exists a potential market out there that values camp sensibilities; a trait Pushto films can boast proudly of. This niche’ market transcends borders and no film is too bad or too low for the purveyors of camp. Therefore, Pushto cinema isn’t something we should be ashamed of, as we are of poor relatives. Rather, the attached value of camp and kitsch elevates this misunderstood strand of Pakistani cinema, which itself can be a genre of its own, to the ranks of cult cinema.

In fact, one can contribute actively to the durability of Pushto cinema and, on the side, cater to this global trend as well as the core audience and make Pushto films of his own. Other than acquiring some measure of budget (lower budget is something that is not scoffed upon in Pustho films) and rudimentary filming and editing equipment, the list of ingredients that go into making such films is basic enough.

First and foremost, you have to cast a “healthy” heroine for your film that should fall short a notch or two below of being obese. The beauty with bovine qualities should be a good dancer and be courageous enough to offend commonly agreed upon notions of decency and aesthetics with raunchy, earth shaking thumkas and gyrations. The male cast, including the hero, must be middle aged men who personify sleaze. Special attention should be paid in turning the villain and his cronies into subhuman annoyances. A pertinent feature of Pushto films is not to leave anything to the imagination. Garnish your villains with every possible vice known to man in the form of hideous make up (with a generous helping of shoe polish), bizarre caveman outfit and lots of drool. Additionally, you have to shoot the villains from a tilted camera angle so that nothing remains implied. Rules for casting the hero are fairly simple. You have to cast someone who is utterly unable to emote and have no facial expressions of any kind at all.

The key words that you should bear in mind when procuring costumes and props are ghastly, loud, shocking and abominable. Hair pieces for men must resemble something made out of wood and for females you will have to be imaginative.

You will also need an exceptionally brave cameraman who not only has a strong stomach but is also able to shoot dance sequences from alarmingly intimate angles. Don’t hire a set designer. Salvaged cardboard sets from school plays would do just as well.

You shouldn’t worry about the Pushto speaking prowess of your cast. Already, virtually the all of female actresses of Pushto cinema are from Punjabi and Seraiki speaking areas and their lines are overdubbed in Pushto later. Having taken care of that problem, don’t feel obliged to hire a scriptwriter. You can do it yourself without losing any sleep over the literary merits of your story. When it comes to the plot of the film, you don’t have to burn any excessive brain cells. One word should suffice for Pushto film storylines: Vengeance. Without let, there’s always some sort of injustice, personal score or assuaged family honour that is to be avenged by the bulky hero/heroine. The physical size of the protagonist in such films is a measure of his/her character; the bigger, the better. Even the mandatory subplots, that have very little to with the main plot, revolve around some sort of revenge, with its own set of side hero/heroines. The chain of events of the film must be kept as flimsy as possible. Don’t worry about cause and effect and continuity; it wouldn’t be a Pushto film if you keep all of that in account.

Now that you have started shooting you must, and absolutely must, abide by the one golden rule: Never keep it subtle. As hard as it may seem, you have to remove the concept or even meaning of anything that is subtle and restrained. Always remember, in Pushto film, it always pays to be louder. Whenever any character is faced with a dilemma, inject a cutaway shot of a lightning bolt with the obligatory deafening sound of thunder. Similarly, the dance sequences should be generously punctuated with cutaway shots of erupting volcanoes. 

You should also be generous with close-ups. Extreme close-ups are immensely popular with Pushto film going audiences. So whenever you, as a director, want to make a point of some sort in the film go for an extreme close up of the eyes, the moustache, lips, pinky finger or left nostril of the character. In dance sequences you get plenty of more options to explore.

Pakistani film censor board is at its uncharacteristic most lenient with Pushto films. All sorts of sexual innuendo and double meanings are transmitted through Fa Fa Waje Wai Wai song and dance sequence in such films. In other films, be it Pakistani or not, suggestion of such sort in such fashion would never be tolerated by the custodians of our cultural values at the censor board. So you can run scot free away with the sort of things you thought weren’t possible in Pakistani filmmaking. On another level, if you do happen to be a connoisseur of bad taste and cinema it’s a good way to challenge yourself. Always trust Pushto films to channel enough clothed smut and sleaze to shake your aesthetic foundation for a very long time.

Fight sequences should be choreographed at the same pace as their dancing counterpart: full of frenzy and mayhem. Make special note of showing a punch, blow or a kick hitting its target in rapid succession. It adds assurance to that particular punch, blow or kick. The sound levels should be turned all the way up to 11. Not to mention gore and blood should be copiously depicted. You get extra brownie points for bringing down your celluloid proceedings to the lower depths of crudeness and vulgarity. You have got to make a mark in the realm of bad taste when venturing out on a Pushto film. For inspiration you can start viewing such monumental Pushto films as, Adam Khor, Haseena Atom Bomb, Da Khwar Lasme Spogmey, Charsee, Goorkund and Kacha Ghotay.

Now that you know all there is to make a successful, smarmy Pushto film, go out there with that ramshackle camera and pair of scissors and shoot one. The hall of camp and bad taste awaits you.

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