‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.’ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
2016 certainly was an odd year. It’s a year in which fashion and film waded through murky waters and television turned a very dull head. Fashion turned to celebrity for life support and cinema as well as celebrity turned to India. It’s a year that hit one low after the other, crawling through unfortunate assassinations and untimely deaths, films that just wouldn’t take off and collections that were pedestrian at best. 2016 seemed longer than it actually was. It just wouldn’t end.
One must not transition from one year into the other on a pessimistic note and I’d like to think of the past year as a period of creative gestation, a year that will hopefully now graciously make way for a revived and refreshed wave of creativity. The low we experienced in 2016 will invariably turn to a high in 2017. The wheels for that have been set in motion.
There were no eureka moments for cinema this year, no commercial sweepstake as high as Jawani Phir Nahin Aani and no critical movies as intense as Manto. Cinematography romanced the big screen but nothing was as visually spectacular as Moor. Over two dozen films released in 2016, beginning with Ho Mann Jahan on January 1 and prominently ending with 3 Bahadur: The Revenge of Baba Balaam in December, both being high notes. Actor in Law was possibly the most successful film of the year and offerings like Janaan, Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai, Lahore Se Aagey and Dobara Phir Se kept this boat afloat but they created ripples instead of forceful waves that this nascent new age of cinema could ride on. But the tempo did start building up.
Cinema grew up a little in 2015. Not too much, but enough to show the same kind of awkward, gawky confidence that a young lad displays at puberty. It was enough to catch the eye of investors and subsequently, finances started coming in with the tide. Making a film – after the success of JPNA – was suddenly being considered a lucrative proposition again. A multiplex became hot property. Unfortunately the last four months of the year undid a lot of that confidence; with the suspension of Indian films in Pakistani cinemas, this newly built and not yet concrete structure began to plummet like a house of cards. Investment, jobs and revenue related to the movie business began to quiver and shake like a shot of jello. Thankfully, things appear to be returning to normalcy as we speak. Recovery may be slow but unless another spanner is thrown in the works, it should be steady.
Another thing that happened, ironically in the absence of any mega films, was the introduction and rise of new and young stars. Sheheryar Munawar and Adeel Husain impressed in Ho Mann Jahan; Mahira sparkled a little more. Feroze Khan and Sajal Aly (Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai) rose with other newcomers like Mehwish Hayat (Actor in Law), Armeena Rana Khan, Bilal Ashraf, Ali Rehman Khan (Janaan), then Yasir Husain and Saba Qamar (Lahore Se Aagey), Hareem Farooq, Shaz Khan and Ali Kazmi (Dobara Phir Se). Sanam Saeed appeared in three films while Fahad Mustafa became a bigger star. The galaxy was sparkling, even if the ground reality was a bit dim.
And the highlight of the year, as far as films are concerned, would have to be Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy winning her second Academy Award, an Oscar for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness in February. “This is what happens when determined women get together,” she said in her acceptance speech; these were words that resonated on a higher, government level and were monumental in catching the Prime Minister’s eye. This was undoubtedly the proudest moment for Pakistan in film in 2016. Sharmeen closed the year equally effectively with her animated feature film, that is entertaining children and adults alike these days.
Fashion sadly went into commercial overdrive in 2016. Designers took a backseat and allowed businessmen behind the wheels of their brands. It was all about higher production and more sales and the integral element of design suffered in the process. We saw print after print after print, until it all became a blur of birds and flora and fauna. And then we saw bridal after bridal after bridal, without much aesthetic distinction. There were, however and as always, some game changers.
Khadijah Shah hosted her first and self financed solo show for Élan’s Autumn/Winter bridal couture 2016 collection. Palais Indochine, with the Sachal Orchestra playing through the evening, was a hit. It reminded one of the power couturiers had before fashion weeks kicked in, fueling the business of fashion but somewhat compromising all exclusivity in the process. Élan’s solo show encouraged other designers to think on the same lines. One can expect to see several more solo shows in 2017.
Generation was a game changer and redefined high street clothing from the commonplace printed kurti to shapes and silhouettes that pushed creative boundaries. The Dot that Walked the Line did not toe any predestined line of control and blew ideas out of the box. It continues to impress, thanks to the direction of Creative Director Khadija Rehman. Generation did for the high street what Élan did for high-end fashion.
The one-man brand, HSY achieved some new heights of success in 2016. Not only did he open a store at the Dolmen Mall in Karachi but he also became the first designer from Lahore to open an elaborate studio space in Karachi, that too in the cradle of the majestic Mohatta Palace. The HSY Mansion landed in Karachi as ‘haute’ property, especially as it was launched with one of the best parties of the year. Beyond Karachi and even Pakistan, HSY was covered in international publications and found himself dressing Hollywood actress Brooke Shields for the American Ballet Theatre’s 2016 Fall Gala. While most of the fashion industry was forever on a plane, flying out for free trips to foreign shows and exhibitions, this was the one truly international moment of fame for Pakistani fashion.
Back in Karachi the brain behind Khaadi, Shamoon Sultan opened the massive Khaadi megastore at Dolmen Mall. Celebrating his 18th year in the business, the brand expanded into huge spaces dedicated to apparel and lifestyle and later in the year celebrated with the All Girl Band, hinting at future collaborations with young, upcoming artists. There’s something big in the pipeline for Khaadi in 2017 – should we say something bigger – but that’ll have to wait for its time of disclosure.
Television, Pakistan’s creative forte, pride and joy, experienced a bit of a lull in 2016. Humayun Saeed and Mehwish Hayat’s chemistry was recreated for Dillagi and it was good as well as popular but it fell short of being a Humsafar. Mann Mayal, drawing upon the massive star power of Hamza Ali Abbasi, Maya Ali and Aisha Khan, began with hope but then fell from grace as it regressed into gender stereotypes and a clichéd story line. Mor Mahal, with its powerful women, stellar cast and strong direction had the potential for being a game changer but perhaps it was too experimental for acceptance. Several plays went down successfully but there was no cult serial that demanded obsessive, crazy following. Except one.
Udaari. The one truly inspirational TV drama serial in 2016 would have to be Udaari, which sensitively tackled the issue of child abuse while spinning the narrative in context of music. The star of the show was Ahsan Khan, who was amazing in his negative character. Udaari set off a trend for social drama and it led way to the ongoing Khuda Mera Bhi Hai, the story of a young, emancipated woman who decides on raising her intersex child instead of giving it up to the transgender community as is common practice.
2016 was, most definitely, a difficult year but the heartbreak of losing icons like Amjad Sabri and Junaid Jamshed led to the need to appreciate talent while it is alive. Hardships that the industry experienced in the absence of Indian films were a reminder of the desperate need to strengthen our industry more vigilantly. The need and urgency of this came together at FocusPK, the first united film and entertainment forum addressing relevant issues threatening development and how to overcome them. There were problems in 2016 and recovering from them won’t be child’s play but then growing up comes with maturity and one is hopeful that the maturity acquired in this past one year will ascertain a better year up ahead.
– This article was first published in Instep on Sunday, Dec 25 2016