Do Pakistani Cinemas need films like ‘Cake’?

Cake Oscars


I’m sure ‘Cake’ is a great film.

If the trailer was anything to go by, then this beautifully shot film with strong performances is definitely one of the better films to have come out of Pakistani Cinema. Add to that the raving reviews it has received at various screenings and no I’m not talking about the spurious twitter reviews by individuals who hailed ‘Verna’ as a masterpiece, but authentic reviews by industry insiders who are genuinely liking the film for its direction, script, and acting.

So let it be clear that this article is not about challenging the quality of the film rather it is about the larger picture and the shaky future of Pakistani Cinema where the audiences are quite simply not buying the ‘Be Pakistani Support Pakistani’ card anymore. This piece is about asking some valid questions about indie/niche-market/art films and their place in the future of Pakistani Cinema.

Let me start by providing a quick summary of changing cinema trends worldwide and then will make my way to the Pakistani market. Okay, so for the past few years, there has been a decline in ticket sales and quite simply people aren’t flocking to the cinemas as they used to. Now while there are many explanations for this change, one that is universally agreed upon and is a hot debate in the cinema industry worldwide is the advent of online streaming services such as Netflix.

These online streaming services are not only producing quality original content in huge numbers but are changing distribution models altogether where films are making their way online a few days after their theatrical release and small budget/indie films which would probably never have had a theatrical release are making their way to such sites for the world to see. So given the huge library, where the viewer gets to chose from dozens of fresh releases, for an economical price it is no surprise that the cinema industry is losing its pull. Add to that the golden age of television and a bombardment of great content, which again mostly available on these streaming services, films aren’t what they used to be.

Also the well-informed cine-goer today carefully selects what he wants to see in the cinema given the ever-increasing ticket prices.The choosy consumer wouldn’t want to waste his money so he makes a decision of whether the price tag is justified or not. If a film provides the complete cinematic experience, that is the movie has a sense of scope and drama which needs to be experienced on the silver screen, he will buy the ticket, or else he can always wait a few days to catch the film on his television screen. Therefore it should come as no surprise that ‘Star Wars’ was the biggest hit of 2017 whereas ‘Black Panther’ has set the box office on fire in 2018, both films provided the cinematic experience.

Let’s move to Pakistan now where the story is pretty much the same, or maybe a bit extreme as compared to the worldwide trend. Cinema attendance is falling, people want to see quality films with cinematic value, with an additional barrier being that the audiences don’t really trust the Pakistani film-makers because of the mediocre content they have been churning out. And another matter of grave concern is our dependence on Bollywood to fill our cinemas.

2017 proved to be a horrible year for Pakistani Cinema which saw a total of sixteen Pakistani releases out of which two were box office hits, seven were colossal washouts, five were flops and two did average. This downhill journey began with the self-imposed ban on Indian content in the last quarter of 2016, which reduced foot-falls to a depressing low and killed the cinema business. The simple fact that everyone came to realize after this episode was that ‘We need Bollywood to bring people to the cinemas’ period! However, this ban broke the momentum which continued in 2017-2018 with major crowd-pullers like Dangal, Raees, Tubelight, Tiger Zinda Hai, Padman and Pari being banned in Pakistan.

In addition to this Bollywood dependence, Pakistani audiences have quite simply just had it with Pakistani films. And why not, for most of these glorified telefilms presented as films and thrown into cinemas for a quick buck have actually been disasters! And the ones which were better weren’t really compelling enough to get the viewer to spend a good 1000 rupees on the ticket and popcorn. So to summarize, the Bollywood restriction reduced the number of cine-goers drastically, and the ones that remain aren’t big fans of Pakistani films.

You may say that ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’ was a hit and yes it was but again it gave the viewer a cinematic experience, something he can not get at his home! The film had naach gaana, larger than life characters, stellar cinematography, flashy wardrobe, picturesque locations which all made for a memorable trip to the cinema and provided value for the ticket. No wonder the film had repeat audience and is still playing in cinemas!

As for the indie/niche-market/art films, why would the viewer go spend on a film which he knows is a risky proposition, given the history of Pakistani films and that he can very well stay at home and watch something far better on Netflix?The makers of such films should realize that the audiences worldwide are moving away from cinemas as they already have a little cinema at home and an impressive list to choose from online and that the audiences in Pakistan are extra cautious.

Therefore the makers should explore other far better-suited avenues which won’t only be profitable for them but will be a win for the audiences involved too. Our cinema needs outright commercial films right now, which won’t only pull people to the cinemas but will also restore their lost confidence in films. So while Cake may be a brilliant film it is not something that our cinemas need right now.


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