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Pakistani Cinema – The Way Forward

Written by Omair Alavi

As the entertainment industry moves in the new year, let’s revisit upcoming films as well as cinema issues

As the entertainment industry moves in the new year, let’s revisit upcoming films as well as cinema issues

As the whole country welcomes the new year 2023, so does the cinema industry which is currently riding high on the success of The Legend of Maula Jatt, which is on a record-breaking box office spree across the world. However, with no big-budget film in sight except maybe Aasmaan Bolay Ga, and Money Back Guarantee, it will be back to square one once the Maula Jatt wave settles down.

One more aspect that not many people are talking about is the lack of under-production films in Pakistan. At the moment, most of the films that are slated for a release in the next 12 months are either films that have been under production for multiple years or those which halted their shoot or production due to COVID. Add to that the lack of big-budget films, the extremely high prices of tickets and refreshments, and the ridiculous decisions to restrict business hours in the evening, and cinema has more negatives than positives to carry forward in the new year.

What steps should the cinema industry take to reclaim its lost glory and how can the exhibitors make cinema accessible again, that remains a million-dollar question for those who want Pakistan to produce more films like The Legend of Maula Jatt and fewer like the ones that came before or after that. Neither the cinemas nor the audience wants to wait for one year to see Humayun Saeed produce a potential blockbuster or Fahad Mustafa herald a new kind of film, others will have to step forward to do their bit. Otherwise, the good work of 2022 will yield no result in the next year, and we might be back to the battle of survival that has become synonymous with the Pakistan film industry.

The Films of 2023

Unlike 2022, when cinemas were on their way back to normalcy, 2023 has more potential, considering Pakistan’s biggest blockbuster The Legend of Maula Jatt is still being screened all across the country. However, the new year doesn’t seem to have an impressive lineup of upcoming films, which makes it difficult to predict how the next 12 months will fare for the cinema and the film industry. Yes, there is veteran director Shoaib Mansoor’s Aasmaan Bolay Ga all set for a release but his last film Verna was nothing short of a disaster and this Indo-Pak love story will have to be a lot better to make the audience pay for the ticket, and watch the film. Maya Ali’s popularity as an actress and handsome Emmad Irfani’s good looks might be able to create some magic but that remains to be seen.

Then there are two Fawad Khan films that the audience is waiting for – his home production Neelofar and director Faisal Qureshi’s Money Back Guarantee. In the former, he will be paired with Mahira Khan who plays a blind girl, whereas, in the latter, he is part of an ensemble cast that also features Mikaal Zulfiqar, Kiran Malik, Wasim Akram and his wife Shaniera, Gohar Rasheed, Marhoom Ahmad Bilal, and Shayan Khan. Considering his last film did the unthinkable and changed the dynamics of the Pakistan film industry, these two films will surely be on top of the cinegoers’ list in the coming days.

And then there are the smaller films that might or might not create any kind of tremor at the box office. There is director Abu Aleeha’s Shot Cut which also features an alumnus of The Legend of Maula Jatt Gohar Rasheed in the lead, alongside regular Punjabi actors like Naseem Vicky and Iftikhar Thakur. The same director has two more films – Daadal and Super Punjabi – slated for a 2023 release. While the former is about the boxing culture in Lyari and features Sonya Hussyn in the lead, the latter has Mohsin Abbas Haider and Saima Baloch playing the lead couple, breaking the tradition of going for tried and tested faces, especially in Punjabi language films.

And then there is Syra Yousuf and Shahroz Sabzwari’s Babylicious, a romantic flick they did when they were married. Even if the film manages to release in February as expected, it will be too odd to see a former couple romancing on the screen, something that hasn’t happened in Pakistani cinema. Since it hasn’t happened yet, it might in fact work for the film which has been shot abroad, in extravagant sets and locations not common for the cinegoers. Also slated for a 2023 release are Shamoon Abbasi starrers Dhai Chaal ­­and Delhi Gate which were also expected to release in 2022. Let’s hope that all these films manage to do well at the box office and save our industry but that seems far-fetched since it looks like the industry doesn’t want to be saved.

Why do Industry veterans believe cinema is at a make-or-break juncture?

Veteran film producer and trade analyst Rashid Khawaja feels that Pakistan’s film industry is at a make-or-break juncture at the moment. It is riding high on the success of films like Ghabrana Nahi Hai, Kamli, The Legend of Maula Jatt, and Joyland which released in 2022, but sadly, no such film is lined up at the moment in the next year, which is nothing short of scary.

Speaking to BOLD, he raised the important point that most of the films set for release in 2023 are either those flicks that were hit by COVID or were incomplete for some reason. After The Legend of Maula Jatt, cinegoers know that Pakistani filmmakers are capable of making a good film, and until and unless they are impressed by a film’s trailer, they will not go to the cinema and spend their money on it. They have enough options to entertain themselves at home, with products that are on a high budget, high quality, and guaranteed to give them what they want.

‘If you are an experienced cinegoer, you can predict the box office results of nearly all the films that are slated for a release this year. Some might surprise the audience and do better than expected but not every film has the potential to last beyond 2 weeks. Cinemas need films every other week which is why we need content from all around the world, not just Hollywood, which has its own set audiences. Some might not agree with the release of across-the-border films, but unless and until our producers come up with regular films, there seems to be no other option for the survival of the cinema industry as well as the film industry.’

Rashid Khawaja also lambasted those cinema chains which didn’t screen the biggest Pakistani film of all time The Legend of Maula Jatt during its first month of release, and claims that had they been less rigid and more visionary, things might have been different for the Pakistani cinema industry. He hopes that 2023 turns out to be better than 2022 but at the moment that seems like a tough task, considering films slated for release don’t seem to carry the kind of firepower required to set the box office on fire.

The coming year will be very challenging for film trade in Pakistan

Veteran filmmaker, producer and distributor Satish Anand, who has seen the highs and lows of this industry, feels that 2023 is going to be a tough year for Pakistani cinema, because of not one but many factors. Speaking to BOLD, he said that since it will likely be an election year, things will change drastically in the country, resulting in an increase in everything related to cinema.

‘2023 will likely be the election year in Pakistan, which means that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is likely to invoke what the country is supposed to be doing, resulting in the increase of prices of everything related to cinema, including the ticket, electricity etc. Considering these factors, and the threat of possible layoffs because of these factors, the mood will be challenging, and not very conducive to spending money on entertainment other than food.’

Satish Anand also added that it is time exhibitors should act smart and review their model to keep cinema business running, even if it means inviting the audience by lowering the ticket price for selected films.

‘I respect the cost of operation of modern multiplexes, but the model needs to be redefined and reworked because low-budget films like Joyland and Kamli which don’t have the power to attract large number of crowds, should be treated differently than mainstream cinema films. Audience can pay Rs. 1200 for a mainstream film because of the star power but usually low-budgeted films don’t have that advantage, so why not help them through elasticity of pricing, so that they also have a chance of viewership.’

He claimed that it was an unfair situation out there for all the stakeholders because neither it is fair for cinema owners to cancel their shows for low attendance, nor is it fair for them to not be able to reduce ticket prices to invite the audience. These things should be looked at if things are to improve in the coming years. He added that making a film is now considered a business which is why the quality of films isn’t what it used to be. If the motive is to make money instead of making a good film, it will not help the industry at all.

‘With all this happening, it is not conducive and viable for a filmmaker to engage into a making a feature film because the economics don’t support the filmmaker. It’s still a dysfunctional trade where the model needs revision for viability. In the past producers used to invest money and the director had the list of demands whereas today, the producer has a list of demands and the director has to make sure that they are met. The approach to engage the acumen into a creative venture, the spirit of that is missing which isn’t good for the business.’

He also highlighted the fact that not being able to generate quality content regularly is also one of the reasons why cinema industry in Pakistan isn’t moving forward, and stated that only a handful of films screened in Pakistan since cinema resumption have been post-Covid projects.

‘Other than the backlog that has been carried forward since November last year, not many new products have taken off which is something I have been harping in front of the authorities. In such a scenario, taking films to festivals may be good for the producers but sets a bad precedent for cinema, because first these films will not be released in Pakistan, and when they will eventually get released, it will be a limited release at the most.’

There seems to be nothing positive to come out in the next 12 months!

Leading film distributor and owner of Atrium Cinemas in Karachi and Centaurus Cinema in Islamabad Nadeem Mandviwalla also agree with Satish Anand’s lack of content, which is one of the reasons why the cinema industry in the country isn’t progressing. The man behind the successful formula that ensured that the producers of The Legend of Maula Jatt recovered their money, feels that right now, 2023 is just a change of calendar because there seems to be nothing positive to come out in the next 12 months.

Talking to BOLD, he wanted to highlight the importance of the one factor that’s missing which is the issue of screening Bollywood films in Pakistan. On the eve of The Legend of Maula Jatt’s premiere in the Indian Punjab, he feels that there can be no better time than today to allow films from India to screen in Pakistan, as it will help the local cinemas fill their schedule and survive, instead of waiting for the two Eids for potential hit films.

‘‘Since India has censored and endorsed Maula Jatt, we need to open up Indian Films on this side of the border because that’s the only way we can fulfill the requirements of our cinemas. We need more content – whether it is Pakistani or Indian – but right now we are not coming up with films as regularly as we should. In the absence of Pakistani productions, we need to bend towards the import of Indian Films supply and 2023 can be a game changer if that happens.’

About the author

Omair Alavi

Omair Alavi is a highly regarded journalist, critic, and commentator, specializing in news, sports, showbiz, film, blogs, articles, drama, reviews, and PTV drama. With extensive experience and a keen eye for storytelling, he captivates audiences with his insightful analysis and compelling presentations. His expertise and contributions have made him a prominent figure in the media and entertainment industry.