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Monday, March 19, 2012

Pushto telefilms: Back from the brink

Swat, the land of colour, roses and flowing rivers was once synonymous with love, peace, and hospitality. How this paradise on earth became a valley of death and destruction still sends shivers down the spine. The transformation not only saw loss of lives, but also loss of an economy, culture, arts and films.
Ravaged by terrorism and militancy, artists (especially females) were severely punished and killed while many of the DVD shops were either torched or blown up. After the mayhem, many artists gave up their professions and many even left the area and moved to other parts of the country. However, after many long and painful years, the collapsed and deserted Pashto telefilm industry has once again started picking up momentum as the scenic valley is again swarmed with local and national movie and drama artists.
Coming back to life
With visible signs of revival of the industry, local artists can finally breathe a sigh of relief. “We feel no fear and do our work peacefully. The situation is back to normal and renowned Pashto film and drama artists have started coming to Swat for filming,” Usman Ghani, a famous film and drama artist, told The Express Tribune during shooting a scene for his new telefilm.
The revival of the industry has not only rejuvenated hope of local artists, cameramen, editors, writers, singers and poets but it has also relieved DVD shop owners to a great extent. “I had a very good business before the chaos. Two or three telefilms and music albums would be released from my production house every year but when militancy took over the region and we had to give up this profession,” said Bacha Rehman, owner of the Shalimar Video Recording Centre in Mingora. However, he added that after five years of waiting, his business has started flourishing once again as new Pashto dramas and films are being produced locally.
Mehr Ali Shah, a movie editor who had a flourishing video studio, also saw a hard time after he was threatened by the militants asking him to close his studio. “I had to shut my studio in compulsion after which the dark days of my life began as I did not know any other profession. I had to take a loan in order to carry on with life. Now, although, we have returned to our old profession, I am still in debt,” he said. However, Shah says he is content with the present pace of his work as he has three plays lined up which have to be edited.
Meanwhile, famous Pashto comedian Fazal Rehman, alias Silai, is also busy shooting his new telefilm Abai Mey Ministera Shwa and is hopeful that it will do good business and break all previous records set by his plays and telefilms.
Apart from dramas and telefilms, three musical shows were also staged successfully in recent days in which renowned Pashto singers, dancers and stage artists performed.
Let down by the government
Although, the recovery of the entertainment industry in Swat is bringing the businesses and jobs of hundreds of people back on track, they still feel a sense of betrayal by the government and NGOs. “It is very strange that our sector was completely destroyed by terrorists. Our shops were bombed or torched and we were persistently punished but neither the government nor the NGOs came to help us,” said Fazal Wahab, Senior Vice president of All Swat Video Shop Association. “Even the hotel industry was assisted by USAID but we were completely ignored. For more than five years, we paid our shops rent from our own pockets and had to resort to borrowing money to feed our families,” Wahab said, adding that their children were forced to drop out of school because they couldn’t afford it.
Wahab stated that their valuable equipments, DVDs, CDs, video cameras and other accessories were destroyed but no organisation bothered lending a hand. “We have purchased all equipment with borrowed money and resumed our business once again but we still have a long way to go before we reach our previous position,” he said.
Therefore, he, on behalf of his Association appealed to the government, UNESCO, USAID and other non-government organisations to help them financially so that they could recover from the five years of financial flux.
The end of entertainment Song and dance
The Swat valley, once a famous site for shooting local Pashto songs and videos, was left crippled after the Taliban burned down music and CD shops, closed cinemas and killed and threatened dancers. In 2007, unidentified people blew up six CD shops in Ishaq Market and partially damaged 20 nearby shops, according to Daily Times. The owners of CD shops received threatening letters asking them to close their entertainment centres within 15 days and several shops at the market were blown up after this.
Even local actors and singers were threatened and harassed. Umar Rahman, a local artist from the Hazara area of Kabal Tehsil, who performs in the video market said, “I am really fond of acting; it was miserable when the Taliban took control of the region, our other friends migrated to Mansehra and Abbottabad. The actor said that even after the ban was put, actors used to shoot dramas secretly, which they released on both Eids in the Kabal area, reportedThe Express Tribune.
Leisure activities
In late June 2008, the Malam Jabba Ski Resort located in Swat valley was set on fire and destroyed. According to sources, the centre was reduced to ashes and its facilities such as chairlifts and sight-seeing towers were also torched. All of this marked the aftermath of the Swat valley between government security forces and Taliban militants. However, the ski slope at the resort was rebuilt in 2009 when the government regained control over the hill station. The hotel has undergone reconstruction and rehabilitation and is gradually returning to its former glory, according to


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