KARACHI: Pakistani cinema owners and film distributors say Pakistan needs to produce more local content to fill the void created by the ban on Indian movies and ensure the country’s film industry recovers from its slump.
Pakistan’s film industry and cinema theatres across the country are finally limping back to normalcy post coronavirus as films slated for release a couple of years earlier are finally seeing the light of day.
While the hustle and bustle of crowds have indeed returned to Pakistani cinemas and crowds once again queue in line to watch their favorite stars on the silver screen, box office reports haven’t been as promising.
Two of the most anticipated films released on Eid ul Adha 2022, ‘London Nahi Jaunga’ and ‘Quaid e Azam Zindabad’ failed to surpass previous records. Movie buffs are now keenly awaiting the release of ‘The Legend of Maula Jatt’ which is said to be Pakistan’s most expensive film to date. It is scheduled to be released on October 13.
Movie distributor and cinema owner Nadeem Mandviwalla told Arab News movies that have hit theatres recently had “piled up because of COVID-19”, adding that Pakistan cannot make more than 15-16 movies a year.
“Cinema needs content. We need to fill the void created by the ban on Indian films,” Mandviwalla said. “The industry was running well for 12 years when 100 films [a year] came from India, 100 came from Hollywood and 15-20 used to be Pakistani,” he added.
“The total requirement was 215 but the number has shrunk to 115 due to the ban on Indian films,” he said. “We either need to bring Indian films back to Pakistani cinemas or produce additional 50-60 local films each year to fill the gap.”
Following heightened tensions with India, Pakistan banned the screening of Bollywood films in February 2019. After over a decade since Pakistan witnessed the revival of cinema, thanks mainly to the critically acclaimed 2007 film ‘Khuda Kay Liye’, Pakistan’s film industry was thriving till 2018.
Then came the ban in 2019 and cinema business in the South Asian country witnessed a drop of over 50% in sales.
Mandviwalla said the government restricted Indian films hence it should come up with a solution to the declining cinema business. “They should offer grants to make films. If the government does not have the strength to offer grants to filmmakers, then [it] stop crying,” he added.
Over 30 Pakistani films were scheduled to release in 2020, which would have made up for the losses suffered by the cinema industry due to the Bollywood ban. However, the advent of the coronavirus pandemic meant cinemas in Pakistan were robbed of life and films meant to enthrall audiences were shelved till 2022.
Four films released on Eid ul Fitr 2022, namely ‘Ghabrana Nahi Hai’, ‘Dam Mastam’, ‘Chakkar’ and ‘Parde Mein Rehne Do’ were unable to earn profit. The movies’ shows were reduced after a week while Marvel’s blockbuster Dr Strange was released in cinemas across Pakistan on the first weekend after Eid ul Fitr.
“A lot of money is going to waste because the 25-30 films made each year are not fit for cinema,” Irfan Malik, a filmmaker and distributor, told Arab News. “The cost of these films is going down the drain which, in turn, discourages a first-time investor to make more films. All of the money is misguided.”
He said Pakistan’s film industry does not have enough writers and that the entire pool of talent comes from the TV industry. Malik said there is a dire need to have an authority or organization, comprising members from the private sector and the film industry.
This authority or organization should provide guidance in terms of investment, scripts and filmmaking, he said. “The industry needs 15-20 filmmakers to stand on its feet. The day we do that, it will be a total restructuring for the industry,” he added.
“If 15 filmmakers make one film each, the industry needs 15 hit films a year to survive.”
A panel discussion on the topic ‘Restructuring Pakistani Film Industry’ which was part of a two-day film festival, was held at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in Karachi on September 24 and 25.
Pakistani filmmaker Sabiha Sumar—known for her independent documentary films in Pakistan and abroad—spoke during the panel discussion, saying that filmmakers should focus on digital platforms to open their movies to wider audiences.
“Now we need to take the control into our hands instead of asking the state to support us, which they should have in 75 years,” Sumar said.
“We have YouTube and other digital platforms so we should make content and upload whatever we like,” she added. “One does not need to learn or see anything to become a filmmaker anymore, you learn by doing.”
Actor and director Mohammed Ehteshamuddin said the industry needed to take ownership of its films collectively. “In our industry, channel rivalry hinders the promotion of films after one channel acquires the rights,” he added.
He said ticket prices should be discounted, particularly for students and the youth, to less than 50% of their current prices. “If they watch stories, only then they will be able to tell stories in the future. Cinema is a powerful tool and the process needs to go on,” he added.