The situation between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama attack has been tense. The heat of it, however, did not remain limited to the political scene only and has started to spiral down towards entertainment, sports, and primarily most trade and communication channels between the two arch-rivals.
On the entertainment front, the cinema industry of Pakistan is expected to bear the biggest brunt, and we are not the only ones saying this. Nadeem Mandviwalla, the owner of Atrium and Centaurus cinemas, expressed this worry in a post-Pulwama attack talk to Galaxy Lollywood, and said that “We (the cinema industry) have become collateral damage and these coming four-five months we are doomed.”
Pakistan has roughly 180 cinema screens at the moment, a significant share of them is owned by some three to four multiplex chains that have invested a tremendous amount of money but, without any promise of a steady influx of content every other week, especially in a situation like this. This stability is crucial if these cinemas are to perform in the long-run.
Ideally, most of this need should have been covered by local films that; when done right, do pique the interest of the audience. But, Pakistani cinema is still at the stage of revival at this moment and hardly produces some 25 films a year, that too are mostly cluttered around festival holidays.
A One-Sided Loss?
While there was already a rising voice on the other side of the border for banning Indian films from releasing in Pakistan, it was Ajay Devgan who took the first step in this regard by stopping the release of his upcoming film, Total Dhamaal, here.
This was soon followed by Dinesh Vijan (producer, Luka Chuppi), who also stalled the release of his film on Pakistani cinemas. This, of course, wouldn’t end here and both the decisions will have their trickle-down effect, and many other Indian films will expectedly get banned in coming days.
But the question here is that who actually is at the fault and loss here? The cinemas who will be deprived of Indian content now and will be in a much better position as the influx of Pakistani content starts happening from late-March onwards, or the Indian producers who must show their nationalism at the cost of losing business from one of their biggest overseas markets? The answer is both. Perhaps one more than the other, but loss for both nonetheless.
Indians need to realise that the earnings Bollywood films make in Pakistan not only go in the Pakistani pockets but also earn India a lot of foreign exchange. Cinemas, on the other hand, need to rethink their strategy and work out a stable model in order to withstand a pressure time like this.
With the local industry still in the revival mode, perhaps an aggressive effort should be made in promoting content from other parts of the world, including from Iran and Egypt, alongside growing the one that exists for Hollywood content.
Not the First Time
This is not a new dilemma for Pakistani cinemas. With the remarkably fluid nature of Indo-Pak relations, situations like these are common occurrence after every couple of years. In 2016, for instance, when Indian films were banned post-Uri attack, our movies faced the consequences despite having good to average content.
This was because the cinema-going culture; that is still pretty nascent for a large section of people in Pakistan, had stopped. Eid or any other festivities do drive the people to cinemas during times like these, but otherwise, the collections remain low as a cinema outing is no more on the audience’s radar. Even the superstar Humayun Saeed felt this and expressed it to us.
Back then, it took cinemas a good four months to come out of that self-imposed ban on Indian films. Moreover, it took a biggie like the Shahrukh Khan starrer Jab Harry Met Sejal to bring people back to cinemas in large numbers.
Similarly, in 2008, when the Mumbai attacks had happened, the release of another SRK starrer, Rab Nai Bana Di Jodi, was stalled in Pakistan due to the cross-border tensions. A month later, Amir Khan starrer Ghajini did release, but a week after its release in India.
This shows that unfortunately, whenever relations get strained between the two countries a bit more than normal, the cinema industry faces a definite consequence of it. By now, one would have expected that the industry would have learned from the lessons of the past and would have erected a parallel structure for itself in times like these.