The fierce rivalry between neighbors India and Pakistan is well known. Putting aside political disagreements, the passion with which cricket fans from each country follow their respective teams is internationally acknowledged. For years, however, India’s film industry has been seen as the only one worth taking seriously in the region, but have outsiders unfairly overlooked the lesser known competitor?
The term Bollywood is derived from its more famous American cousin, but what most people don’t know is that it was actually Tollywood (the film industry based in the Tollygunge, in and around the West Bengal region) that came first.
Bollywood has become a catch-all term to cover all Indian cinema, although many independent filmmakers in the country detest being part of the industry. India produces more films than Hollywood, but there is rarely any exposure to films made outside of the studio system. In particular, the formula of overly-sentimental romance stories that drag on for hours on end, punctuated by numerous song and dance numbers that are undoubtedly popular, hamper any concept of originality.
The silent era of Indian cinema in the 1930s was quickly followed by the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of Bollywood. Indian films were regularly in competition at Cannes, with the social realism of Neecha Nagar actually winning the grand prize at the first ever incarnation of the celebrated film festival in the south of France.
Guru Dutt (overlooked in his own lifetime) and Satyajit Ray are two pioneers of the early era who rose to international acclaim. What followed, however, was a more populist brand of filmmaking which has seen Bollywood grow rapidly, but also seen a clear decline in quality. Film from the major Indian studios is rarely taken seriously, even at home, let alone internationally.
Although some of the stars have managed to break-out globally, they have had to head to America to gain true recognition.
Following on from the previously established naming scheme, Lollywood is the term for the far smaller Pakistani Urdu-language film industry – based in Lahore and on the rise.
The number of films produced in Pakistan is dwarfed by the output of their neighbor, which is now well ahead of Hollywood in terms of films produced and released every year. Although there was a successful silent era, similar to that of India, the post-independence output was almost non-existent at first due to a lack of funds. A small number of hits in the 1950s and 60s kept the industry afloat, with Armaan (1966) cited as one of the most popular films ever in Pakistan.
The decline of Pakistani cinema was far more dramatic than that of Bollywood. Not only was there are lack of quality, there was a general lack of films. The political landscape, with a more conservative government in place, meant it was almost impossible to make and release films locally. Video piracy also played a part in the rapid disintegration of Lollywood, with cinema attendances at record lows in the 80s and early 90s. At one point, there were only two films produced a year in Lahore.
The resurgence in Pakistani cinema, and why it now rivals Bollywood in terms of quality, is due to two main factors. Firstly, a much needed move from Lahore to Karachi which saw more money as well as creative freedom in place, and more significantly – the huge impact of the superior Pakistani TV dramas that were the first to outshine Indian productions.
TV serials in Pakistan, like their bigger screen counterparts, are more tightly scripted than the never-ending sagas on Indian TV. There is also a focus on social realism, harking back to the golden age of Bollywood and Lollywood, and the performances are generally considered to be of a higher standard.
Bollywood is in a rut. The success of their films is also their single biggest drawback. Fans of the traditional cliché-ridden plots are vocal in objecting to anything that strays from the norm. There is very little risk, and censorship laws only add to the stale nature of the industry.
Lollywood feels like it is starting afresh. There are still censorship issues to contend with, but given that there are few expectations on what audiences are expecting (other than the far-out idea of great scripts and believable performances), Pakistani films are following TV serials and opting for realism. Religion takes a backseat for the most part, but women’s issues are at the forefront of a number of films and TV shows.
One industry feels more progressive than the other, and it’s time we all took Lollywood more seriously because of it.