Pakistan is a country where people usually crave for entertainment, and there is a huge demand for dramas and movies as the primary source of entertainment. The country has seen significant increase in the number of cinemas during the last 10 years after former president Pervaiz Musharraf lifted the four decade old screening ban on Bollywood movies in the local cinemas in February 2008.
Several multiplexes have opened in recent times where only traditional single-screen cinemas thrived for decades, and the reason for the emergence of these attractive multiplexes is the never-ending thirst for Bollywood movies.
These multiplexes attract a large number of audiences, and the number of cinemagoers increased, at least if not more, five times after the return of Bollywood movies in the Pakistani cinemas. The recent ban on Indian movies in the country; following the escalation in tensions between the Asian neighbours, concerned the local cinema owners of the potential revenue loss they would incur.
The people of Pakistan had always loved the Bollywood movies since partition, and preferred Indian movies over locals. Although local movies had seen a golden era, but things have changed now. In the 60’s and 70’s, Pakistan had superstars like Muhammad Ali, Nadeem, and Waheed Murad, who were admired not only nationally, but internationally, too. Following the 1965 Indo-Pak war, the then-president Muhammad Ayub Khan ordered complete ban on screening of Bollywood movies and this proved to be the most fruitful era for the local movies because the people flooded cinemas to enjoy local films.
This era produced evergreen hits, including Armaan, Dewar Bhabi, Aag Ka Darya, Chakori, Dil Mera Dhadkan Teri, Andaleeb, Anjuman, Mastana Mahi, Naukar, Phool Merey Gulshan Ka, Anaari, Aaina, Bandish, Insan aur Aadmi and Insan aur Gadha, to name a few.
With the advent of VCRs in the country, Bollywood movies once again found their way into the homes across Pakistan through piracy, and with better content at cheaper price. This proved fatal for the local cinemas and the number of cinemagoers started declining in the 80’s and 90’s, subsequently Pakistan lost quality local movies.
Pakistan had more than hundred cinemas in Karachi alone in the golden era of 1960’s, and had the total number of around 250 active cinema halls in the early 2000.
The return of Bollywood movies in late 2000 proved lucrative business and many businessmen invest in bringing digital cinemas in the country, resulting in huge profits and emergence of more multiplexes. Singh is King, Ghajini, My name is Khan, 3 Idiots, Ready, Sultan, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and Sanju are a few of the Bollywood movies that flourished at the Pakistan box office, outrunning the local films with ease. Atrium cinemas, Cinepax, Neuplex, Universal Cinemas, DHA Cinema and CineGold Plex are the most popular cinemas in the country, and these cinemas generate massive revenues annually, but whenever tensions escalate between Pakistan and India, it is usually the entertainment industry, which suffers the most in Pakistan.
The digital cinema owners in the country were always concerned about the loss of profit that may occur whenever ban was imposed on the screening of the much-loved Bollywood content in the local cinemas, and this is where the government and local film producers should ensure good and sufficient local content is released every year, so that we do not need to rely on Bollywood movies to generate revenues for the cinema owners, and to maintain the cinematic culture in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s film industry is going through an experimental period, and during the last 10 to 12 years, some excellent local movies have been produced for the revival of the local film industry. Shoaib Mansoor’s “Khuda Kay Liye”, a film released in 2007 became a massive hit, not just in Pakistan, but in other countries, as well, including India, the US, and the UK; followed by a few other hits, including Bol, Waar, Na Maloom Afraad, Jawani Phir Nahin Ani, Actor in Law, Punjab Nahin Jaungi, Na Maloom Afraad 2, and Jawani Phir Nahin Ani 2.
All these movies did an excellent business at the box office, despite stiff competition with the Bollywood movies, which indicates that if good movies are made in Pakistan on a regular basis, then we will be in no need of Bollywood movies or any other foreign content to maintain and run local cinemas. Our young generation also expressed the need to stop relying on Bollywood movies and to constantly make good local movies to draw more audience to local cinemas.
Faizan Durrani, a movie enthusiast said, “I think for our industry to rise, we need to ban Indian content completely, firstly, because most of the movies are not only substandard, but they also show vulgarity that is inappropriate for the young audience; secondly, most of our audience watch Bollywood content because of their chronic love of cross-border traditions, which subsequently makes it difficult for Pakistani movies to succeed at the domestic box office.
Another freelance writer Azadar Kazmi said: “For now, it was the only option left for us, they were not giving us their films so it was better to boycott them with dignity, and in the future, the sensor board should come up with a plan to allow release of maximum two Bollywood movies in a month so that exhibitors and distributors could help local producers provide more content throughout the year.”
“At the moment, we cannot afford to completely ban the Bollywood content, but we also should not allow the influx of Bollywood movies to corner our local movies just to festivals.”
This year, we have so many potential blockbusters already lined up for release, including Sherdil, Project Ghazi, The Legend of Maula Jatt, Wrong Number 2, Parey Hut Love, Alif Noon, and Zarrar. Pakistan film industry has many heartthrobs and talented actors, including Superstar Shaan Shahid, Fawad Khan, Humayun Saeed, Mikaal Zulfikar, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Ahsan Khan, and Ali Zafar. These actors are capable of drawing huge audience to the cinema houses through their powerful performances. The local film producers should be confident enough about the success of their movies by having powerful scripts and good direction, and they should consider releasing these movies at different times of the year, and not specifically on public holidays and festivals.
In the past, local film industry produced more than 100 Urdu films annually, but now we are struggling to produce even 20 each year. The government should also invest in the entertainment industry to give the producers the opportunities to make movies of the highest standard not just in Urdu language, but other regional languages, as well to emulate Bollywood movies.