Ayub Khan and the Pakistani film industry

Published: August 24, 2013

Film-making, on many levels, is inherently progressive because for art to thrive, it has to reject blanket forms of authoritarianism. DESIGN: IMAAN SHEIKH

A leading film-maker once asserted to me that Pakistani cinema had actually thrived through the advent of Ayub Khan’s military rule. This thought is part of the broader belief amongst some quarters that the dictatorship eras have provided a certain amount of socio-economic growth and development for Pakistan.

Interestingly, for film, this has never been the case. In fact, Pakistani cinema has always been built through the efforts of dedicated individuals who, despite the lack of structured support and resources, developed methods through which some sort of a film culture could develop. This culture was, in fact, undermined by the first dictator, Ayub Khan, who had viewed films as an important mass-medium, which needed to be exploited by the state.

Film-making, on many levels, is inherently progressive because for art to thrive, it has to reject blanket forms of authoritarianism. This period bred the death of Pakistani cinema. Major film-makers, who refused to give up their independence either left willingly or were systematically kicked out, over the long-term, through the advent of the government’s biggest intervention, television.

The Ayub era had long-standing structural and cultural impacts. It was met with increased amounts of subversiveness when it tried to influence the industry by placing controls on distribution and promoting state propaganda. The main agenda was to promote the regime’s own point of view. This was a period when around 50 propaganda films, such as the famed Nai Kiran were made, with the theme that politicians were corrupt, democracy had failed and that military rule had saved the country.

Nai Kiran, which was the field marshal’s gift to the country, was completed in nearly 10 weeks and producers had the freedom to hire whomever they desired. It is said that Noor Jehan acted in the film against her will after law-enforcement agencies started to harass her after her initial refusal to be a part of it.

There were several other quite notorious incidents of harassment and abuse that took place after artists refused to adhere to the dictates of the then government. The incidents of this era would not only have a lasting impact, shaping the societal outlook towards film, but would also mean that the basis of the Pakistani film would be clouded by a new environment — one in which alternative thought and film-making would not be allowed for a long time.


Sher Khan

A Lahore based reporter for The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Baig

    Someone once remarked that,had the great actor Prithviraj Kapoor ,father of Raj Kapoor,stayed back in Peshawar instead of moving to bombay,he wouldn’t have been the patriarch of the famous multigenerational kapoor family of superstars.He would’ve fared badly as a minority in northern pakistan.
    It’s not just enough to be talented…you need an environment that nutures talent as well.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Absolutely right. The manipulation of institutions such as the arts, education and later religious forums in order to forceably promote a certain idealogy that was inconsistant with our natural tendancies, not only backfired but has proved difficult now to control.

  • optimist

    Pakistanis are so in love with dictators that hardly anyone notices the harm done by them. Here is a small list of crimes of Ayub Khan:
    1. He gave control of 3 rivers to India.
    2. He started destroying standard of education in Pakistan. In 1961 and 1962 Education conferences, pass marks were made 33% brought down from 50%, thus making it lowest in the world. Syllabus was also made easier. Before Shakespear was part of class 8 English syllabus, now even graduates haven’t read anything on that.
    3. Too many loans were taken from different countries, thus giving a begging bowl. While in India, Nehru was focusing on self sufficiency.
    4. Corruption and political corruption (lota style) was introduced by Ayub Khan.
    5. His son took revenge from people of Karachi for voting Fatima Jinnah. He took 2000 truck driver procession to celebrate Ayub Khan’s victory and burned down Mohajir Bastis. Current day Karachi problems were first started in 1960s. Ayub knew the repurcussions of his plans and that is why he made Islamabad Capital to avoid people of Karachi.
    6. His actions also gave birth to Bangladesh. Yehya Khan gets unnecessary blame for that brief period!!
    There is a long list but I think it will be quite obvious to see what he was sowing, we are reaping today!!!Recommend

  • http://www.cbs.com raekerq34

    Military dictators’ legacy is used and abused by opinion makers who have nothing better to do. Collectively the films that were made in the reign of Ayub Khan are more compared to all of the jaagirdar jamhuriyat [landlords’ democracy] years put together. And yeah this was also not due to Ayub Khan’s reign of rapid development but due to the environment and the people that existed in that era. Today whatever the situation is not only due to the current political setup but also thankfully due to the society especially the naysayers like this author who are making money by criticising whatever is left instead of adding any value to it.Recommend

  • vande mataram

    most important point for the indian cinema success is that every politician in india watch every good aur meaningful movie such as shashi tharoor, l k advani , sushma swaraj laud the movies like bhaag milka bhaag , a wednesday , lootera several more , indian politician respects artist whether they are indians, pakis aur african , pakistan recently produce movie like MAIN HOO SHAHID AFRIDI how many politician of pakistan see or praises the movies , i am hopeful that they have atleast 3hrs free time for seeing the pakistan building process in field of cinemaRecommend

  • Rumormonger

    You forgot the 1965 war and the 22 families ruling Pakistan bit. They are part of the usual blames put on dictators but people know what was the real cause.Recommend

  • littlegiant

    We find irrelevant connections and present them in a twisted fashion to imprint our own bias beliefs. So what, ayub was there ten years. What about the rest of time? and don’t give me those excuses about building foundation etc we have actors in dramas and the related artists – why can’t they make movies? you cannot lay everything at the feet of society – it’s a failure of Pakistani film-makers period.Recommend

  • Idiot

    I think that fauji-pitoos, have to grow up and look at the reality. There has never been support for different points of views. The decline of cinema occurred because it never existed to begin with. Good write-up.Recommend

  • Hero worship

    @ raekerq34

    Only a pakistani would sympathize with and defend his dictators.Kiss the combat boots that kick you.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com Anoop

    The Arts are never about Economics and Technology. Its always about Society.

    Pakistan did not become Pakistan overnight on Aug 14th 1947. It gradually went on from being India to becoming Pakistan. As a consequence the movie industry, of which Lahore was actually a Capital, died out.

    It has nothing to do with any single dictator or lack of Technological expertise(a shocking reason in this day and age) or low budget movies.

    In India there are dozens of movie Industries because we love our culture; we can’t wait to break out in song and dance and have fun. Our movies reflect that. In the dozen or so movie Industries India has, all of them have song and dance sequences.

    You only have to come to an Indian wedding to realize this.

    Pakistan is not India, can never be. Blaming it on a dictator for lack of movies is highly naive.

    Can a Shahrukh Khan come on Film and sing and dance with a Whiskey bottle in his hand, like he did in Devdas, in Pakistan? Recommend

  • time

    Do Pakistan really need a film industry? Recommend