Films

Luck still favors the brave!

Written by Omair Alavi

Three Pakistani and one Hollywood film will grace the cinemas this Eid,
and the result might not be different from the last one!

Despite the chaos of Last Eid, where three out of four Urdu films were unable to recover their finances, Pakistani producers are back to square one this Eid ul Azha. As many as three Urdu films – London Nahi Jaunga, Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad and Lafangey will be released simultaneously this Eid ul Azha and will have to battle it out with many international flicks, including Minions – The Rise of Gru and Thor: Love and Thunder which would also be running in cinemas.

If this scenario doesn’t seem alien to you, then it’s because a similar thing happened a couple of months back when the producers of Chakkar, Parde Mein Rehne Do, and Dum Mastam blamed the exhibitors (cinema people) for not giving importance to their films, and instead opting for Doctor Strange that released on what went onto become the fourth day of Eid. The makers of the fourth film Ghabrana Nahi Hai didn’t opt for the blame game because one of the cinemas was behind it as the financer recently crossed 15 crore rupees at the box office, and showed to the rest that blaming others for your failure isn’t always the best idea.

So how will the film industry and the cinema industry in Pakistan (both are separate entities) fare during what is usually the most profitable period of the year for filmmakers? Will they go boom, or bust, depends on how smartly they play the game. Whoever doesn’t take the audience for the ride, doesn’t blame the exhibitors, and keeps making timely decisions will win the race, and no one (not even the God of Thunder) would be able to stop them from doing well at the box office.

Why is this Eid ul Azha important for local films?

If you look at the highest-grossing films Pakistan has produced since its inception, four out of the top five films were released on Eid ul Azha. Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 1 & 2 were released in 2015, and 2018 while Punjab Nahi Jaungi came in 2017. While JPNA 1 nearly missed the 50-crore mark by a little margin, JPNA 2 earned Rs. 70 crores worldwide, followed by PNJ at nearly Rs. 52 crores. Parwaaz Hai Junoon which was also released alongside JPNA 2 managed Rs. 43 crores while Teefa inTrouble remains the only non-Eid film to cross Rs. 50 crores. It would be interesting to know that TIT was also released a couple of weeks before Eid ul Azha and benefitted from being in the cinemas during the festive season.

Hence proven, this period is without any doubt the most successful period for both the film and the cinema industry in Pakistan. The film industry represents the producers, the directors, the actors, and the crew that complete the film without any government support, while the cinema industry represents the film distributors, the exhibitors, and the many people associated with the working of the cinemas. But recently, the film industry people haven’t been as smart as the cinema folks, and in the last five years before the pandemic, they have released multiple films in cinemas without realizing that it will not do any favors to anyone. The more films, the less the business, and the fewer the business, the bigger the trouble for cinema and its survival in the country.

Is this year’s Eid ul Azha going to be different than the earlier Eid ul Fitr?

During the last 70-odd years, Pakistani cinemas have screened all kinds of films including Urdu films, films made in regional languages, and the savior of Pakistani cinema – films from Hollywood. However, for the first time in seven decades, local filmmakers decided to challenge the supremacy of Hollywood and took the exhibitors to court for giving more shows to the in-demand Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness instead of their own Eid releases. When the cinema owners didn’t budge the filmmakers took them to court and the matter is now being fought in the court of law.

Despite all that off-screen drama, two of the biggest filmmakers in the country (not the ones associated with the case!) Nadeem Baig and Nabeel Qureshi decided to bring their big-budget films London Nahi Jaunga and Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad to the screens and the audience marked their calendars for these potential blockbusters. Enters horror-comedy Lafangey featuring Sami Khan and Nazish Jehangir and the two-film race became a three-film race, limiting the success ratio of all three productions considerably.

The same thing happened in what can now be termed as the last Eid ul Azha before the pandemic where Nadeem Baig’s Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2, Nabeel Qureshi’s Load Wedding, and Haseeb Hasan’s released on the same day. Two of them went onto cross Rs. 40 crores at the box office, while Load Wedding went on to become the first failure of the Nabeel – Fizza team.

Add to that equation the names of worldwide box office leaders Top Gun – Maverick, Jurassic World – Dominion, and Elvis which are still running in cinema and the audience can have a wide range of films to choose from. It might be healthy for the cinema industry but not for the local filmmakers who have to share the 140-odd cinema screens in Pakistan. According to experts, the local filmmakers will continue to face this dilemma until the number of screens is increased considerably, and even though the government has come up with a friendly film policy, it will take time to improve the current situation.

Will this Eid prove to be Clash of the Titans for Pakistani cinema?

Just imagine the scene before going into lamenting mode. Had the number of cinemas all over Pakistan been over 1500, the local filmmakers could have screened three films comfortably without worrying about the Hollywood movies that might also be released around the same time. However, with less than 150 screens across the country (including both malls and single-screen cinemas) the idea of ‘more the merrier’ falls flat when it comes to Pakistan. It’s more like ‘survival of the fittest’ than anything else, and in such a case, films that are well-made, with good songs and feature popular actors in the lead will take the lead.

Both London Nahi Jaunga and Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad comprise well-known actors who have hits to their names, and their promotions are going full throttle. The only thing that gives Lafangey an edge is that their budget is relatively less than these two flicks and they don’t need to make huge amounts of money to recover their costs. Not having a successful film actor in the lead (Sami Khan is a great actor, but he has just a couple of hits to his name in over 18 years!) is their biggest drawback.

On the other hand, both Humayun Saeed and Fahad Mustafa have done well at the box office; they both were a part of the highest-grossing film ever made in Pakistan – JPNA 2 – while the former features in as many as five films (four as a leading man!) amongst the top 10 successful Pakistani films. Even Mehwish Hayat who will be returning to the screen after four years is part of four highest-grossing Pakistani films, playing the main lead in three of them.

Will three Urdu films be able to compete with the God of Thunder?

Instead of thanking Hollywood for churning out hits after hits that run the Pakistani cinema when local films aren’t being screened, our producers choose to blame them for their failures. Yes, they might have a point here because in a few cases, it was learned that cinema owners refunded tickets of a Pakistani film that didn’t have a half-full show and replaced it with a Hollywood flick that would guarantee them a houseful show, hence more money but taking them to court was never going to ease the tension.

Where were the Pakistani filmmakers when Avengers: Endgame was the only film running successfully across the country with tickets being purchased in black? Weren’t they happy when Spider-Man: No Way Home was bringing people back to cinemas after multiple Pakistani films weren’t able to do so? Instead of releasing their films in such a way that a Pakistani film comes out every two weeks, they choose to release multiple films simultaneously and then blame the very people who have a cinema to run, so that their next film can also see the light of the day.

As for the competition with Thor: Love and Thunder, people who love Hollywood flicks and superhero flicks will throng the cinemas for their favorite hero, even if it is competing against a dozen Pakistani films. The target audience of Thor: Love and Thunder are youngsters whereas London Nahi Jaunga and Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad are targeted at mature audiences, who used to be teens a decade back. Yes, some teenagers would love to see Humayun Saeed, Fahad Mustafa, Mehwish Hayat, Kubra Khan, and Mahira Khan in action, but for them, the ‘God of Thunder’ is who they will trust for success, before buying a ticket for a local film.

Is Pakistani cinema still in the revival mode or survival mode?

The million-dollar question that arises in an average Pakistanis mind is – are we still in the revival mode? The answer to that question is negative because we were reviving when Na Maloom Afraad came out eight years back. Back then, filmmakers were not making many local films and cinegoers were preferring Bollywood and Hollywood to Pakistan. The game, however, has changed considerably, first due to the arrival of OTT platforms and secondly due to the pandemic that has made people change their priorities.

Pre-pandemic cinema was considered a necessity while now it is considered a luxury since the cinema owners keep raising prices to maintain their expenses. Back in the day, people accepted a bad film and moved on but today, one bad film will not only be rejected but also stop people from coming to cinemas until they are sure that they will get their money’s worth. From ‘reviving cinemas’, the scenario has changed to ‘surviving pandemic’, with cinema not being the top priority for many. Until and unless the cinema industry realizes that its survival depends on cinegoers rather than making profits, things will not improve. Who knows, it might be on the verge of extinction the next time Eid ul Azha arrives in the country, and everyone would be responsible if God forbid that happens.

Omair Alavi – BOL News

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Omair Alavi