Films

Self-inflicted wounds take time to heal

Written by Omair Alavi

By: Omair Alavi Some called me traitor, others called me pro-Indian but the fact remains that self-imposing a ban on Bollywood films is killing our cinema industry. If you ask me, this was bound to happen as we are way behind Indian films and the sooner we realize that, the better. It is because of…

SAMAA | Omair Alavi – Posted: Dec 13, 2016 | Last Updated: 5 years ago

By: Omair Alavi

Some called me traitor, others called me pro-Indian but the fact remains that self-imposing a ban on Bollywood films is killing our cinema industry. If you ask me, this was bound to happen as we are way behind Indian films and the sooner we realize that, the better. It is because of this insane ban that cinema owners are now considering to lay off employees and even consider closing their halls in weekdays as business is as good as gone from their multiplexes.
Don’t believe me, believe the figures! So far more than 1500 cinema employees have been ‘fired’ from their jobs. I would term this firing to be close to the ones at the LoC, one that instigated the ban as due to this lay-off, 25,000 families are now at risk. Cinemas that were asked to stop screening Bollywood films at first thought they were being patriotic but in less than 2 months they found out that they were being stupid. Now, most of them aren’t able to pay rent and utilities whereas 40% multiplex screens have been shut down – oh and I forgot to mention that 33% shows a day have also been reduced, making it a Rs. 600m loss per month to the cinema industry. We shouldn’t be worried because we did it for the love of Pakistan, right?
For a journalist who has been around for nearly 2 decades and has watched Pakistani films (read crap) of the late 90s for professional reasons, the arrival of Bollywood films in 2006 was like a breath of fresh air. From 2010 onwards, Bollywood films were a regular feature of the Pakistani cinema and investors were thinking of expanding their business but then suddenly, the jingoist in the cinema owners woke up and put a ban on their most successful import because of tensions at the border. Did those in power place a ban on wheat products from India? No. Was there a ban put in place for any stuff (other than films) from across the Wagah border? No. Then why the recovering film industry was singled out remains a mystery considering there were bad films more in number than good ones produced in Pakistan this year.
Everyone in Pakistan has seen Amitabh Bachchan’s Shahenshah; Shah Rukh Khan’s Darr remains a crowd favourite and Andaz Apna Apna is considered a cult in Pakistan. None of these films were released in the country but their popularity exceeds that of the Pakistani films of that era. They are still etched into the memory of the audience but that’s because of pirated copies of Indian films that are easily available in the market. They used to be shown on cable TV regularly until the PEMRA ban last month while those with access to Dish can watch these films easily. So who does the ban effect the most – the cinema owners and their employees.
The cinema owners are to be blamed for the ban because it was their collective decision; they must have thought that after the 10 days of Moharram, they would be able to unban the films and come out as heroes who stood for their soldiers rather than for Bollywood. What happened was that the very Bollywood they were making a stand against didn’t let them screen a film featuring Fawad Khan and Imran Abbas and since then, audience is waiting for the revocation of ban, just like the cinema owners who by now have realized that they made a shocking error. We always say that Sports and Arts should be kept away from politics but here, we didn’t listen to our minds and took a hearty decision that didn’t go down well.

When 2016 started, Pakistan was on its way to become an industry that could produce 150 films annually in a handful of years; with the year coming to an end, we can expect the number to be less than 18 in 2017. Top media houses who had allocated Rs. 130 crore to making Pakistani films will demand their money back; major exhibitors who had announced film funds to invest in 2-3 Pakistani movies a year have also gone silent. Is this what we wanted? Veteran actor Iftikhar Thakur was heard talking to media one day that if we want our children to become obedient, we should ban Indian films. Sorry to say, but if we ban the type of comedy Mr. Thakur does, we might be doing the upcoming generation a favour as he was below average in Sawaal 700 Crore Dollar Ka. There was also a community that believed that Bollywood films were the reason why we had gone soft on Kashmir issue and that the money they were collecting from Pakistan was going to Kashmir. All I can say to them is that they are the ones responsible for the loss of jobs in the cinema industry and the next time they open their mouths, they should also be ready to take the blame for the disaster they have helped create.
Most of the films released during this ‘Say No To Bollywood’ period have had disastrous results and that’s why the Rs, 22 billion investment in the sector has come to a stop. When expected hits like Abdullah (Box office figures Rs. 2 million), Lahore Se Aagay (Rs. 70 million) and Dobara Phir Se (Rs. 65 million) faltered at the box office – they would have made much much more had Bollywood films been screened – people will stop making films let alone coming to cinema. The footfall has already been down by 60% and it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that patriotism kills the cinema industry again. If you ask the distributors, they are all ready to release Indian flicks and if you ask cinema officials, they are desperate. However, it’s those who we have either elected or who have become officials through corruption are against the resumption. Don’t know why but may be the involvement Pervez Musharraf – nemesis of the current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – may have something to do with it. In his last 2 terms, PML N did nothing for cinema and to expect them to do something now would be like expecting a horse to lay an egg.
There might be many who still believe that Pakistan’s film industry will stage a comeback but sadly, they are living in a paradise that doesn’t have sensible people. This year alone 18 films have been released which is a landmark as the last time so many flicks were released in a calendar year was 1970 – however, most of these films pushed the audience away from the cinemas as they were worse than the worst. The cine-goers don’t want to waste their hard-earned money on a product that may or may not fulfill their expectations. With Indian films, they get their money’s worth but when you produce trash like Hijrat, Hotal, Sawaal 700 Crore Dollar Ka and Ishq Positive, no one in his right mind would think of visiting the multiplex and waste their money. They would rather wait for the pirated print and enjoy a high-quality movie from India in the comfort of their homes than go out and be duped by their countrymen in the name of Support Pakistani Cinema.

About the author

Omair Alavi