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The strange politics of Pakistani cinemas

Written by Omair Alavi

He came, he cast a spell and he conquered, that’s the best way to describe the arrival of Hollywood blockbuster Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. 

He came, he cast a spell and he conquered, that’s the best way to describe the arrival of Hollywood blockbuster Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The film has set new records around the world and is all set to enter the list of highest-grossing films in the coming weeks. However, the kind of ‘reception’ the good doctor got from Pakistani filmmakers wasn’t something he was expecting, since most of the film producers who released their films on Eid took an unnecessary stand against its screening, after their plan to delay its release backfired.

As Saba Qamar’s character said in Ghabrana Nahi Hai, ‘let’s start from the beginning’.

Muslims all around the world were extremely excited to celebrate the Eid ul Fitr as it was the first festival with relaxed COVID-19 restrictions – Dining out was allowed as was full capacity in cinemas, besides shopping late at night. It is said about Pakistanis that no one celebrates as they do so they were too over the moon during the last ten days of Ramadan and had planned their Eid just as they used to before the pandemic.

However, the release of Pakistani films might have been excited but the news also came as a shock to the cinemagoers when they got to know that as many as five Pakistani films – 4 Urdu and 1 Punjabi – were poised for a simultaneous release in cinemas, and none of the producers were willing to back out from the race. In a country where Eid ul Adha releases have dominated the box office, releasing Ghabrana Nahi Hai, Chakkar, Dum Mastam, and Parde Mein Rene Do alongside Syed Noor’s Tere Bajre Di Rakhi was always going to be disastrous, but the producers were either overconfident or too blind when it came to the fate of their films.

In Pakistan, there are less than 150 active screens at the moment which is far less than the ideal cinema count. In such a scenario, releasing two Pakistani films would have been the best way forward, because these films would have shared the box office collection, depending on the audience’s demand. However, bringing five locally produced films was always going to divide the box office, resulting in the failures of most films, irrespective of their language and genre.

They also didn’t take into account the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness which is a sort of sequel to both Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man: No Way Home. Anyone with an iota of business sense would have predicted how suicidal five Pakistani film releases would have been in front of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness because ever since the release of Spider-Man was delayed last year, the audience has been anxiously waiting for Benedict Cumberbatch’s arrival in cinema.

Had the distributors briefed their clients properly about the issues facing the cinema industry, about the arrival of a potential blockbuster after Eid, about the disaster in the making scenario, things might have been different. Not only would the smarter producers have moved their films away from Eid, but they would also have waited for a better window where their films could have been properly marketed, promoted, and exhibited.

About the author

Omair Alavi