As goes the popular cliché – controversy, quite literally, sells. Be it the business of getting eyeballs for a television show or grabbing the readers’ attention with an article, controversy is part and parcel of the world of media.
In the movie business, upcoming ventures are always looking for ways to create a splash and sometimes controversy is the best way to do that. Some films also get tangled into certification issues with the local film censors, which work towards creating some hype around their provocative content. The resulting controversy can work both in favor of the film, and if it fails to live up to the hype, against it too.
The Case of Durj
Recently, Shamoon Abbasi’s debut directorial venture Durj-The Casket hit the theaters and is now on way to completing its theatrical run. The film ran into trouble with the Central Board of Film Censors earlier last month, with the board declining to issue certification a few weeks prior to its release. Shamoon Abbasi was understandably furious and expressed his concern over social media. He later went on to formally request the CBFC to review their decision.
Consequently, Durj had to be postponed from its original release date of October 18, and for a few weeks, the news about its ‘ban’ captured the headlines in the entertainment sections of local dailies and across social media.
Following some significant cuts, the film eventually made its way to the theaters on October 25. While its content suffered to a certain extent, it was also able to create some buzz around its provocative theme dwelling on real-life cases of cannibalism. For an indie-venture, this publicity push was a mixed blessing. Pushing the film’s dark content into the spotlight would work well with the film’s target audience of horror fans, but it could also have the effect of putting off a certain segment of the audience that prefers the usual commercial content.
When it came to the bottom-line – public response at the ticket counters, the whole brouhaha didn’t seem to do much. Durj opened to middling numbers over the weekend, grossing 0.35 crores per estimates, and did not quite pick up steam from there. After its third weekend, the film is estimated to have grossed 0.60 crores, according to EPK.
Did Verna benefit?
And this has been the case with most films in Pakistan that have gone through a release cycle similar to Durj. The most well-known case has to be that of Shoaib Mansoor’s Verna. The CBFC refused to give the film a clean chit when it was reviewed on November 14 prior to its release on November 17, 2017. This resulted in an unprecedented reaction over the social media, with most crying foul over the ban of the much anticipated Mahira Khan starrer. Resultantly, the film received a marketing push that its trailer and other promos had not been able to create. However, the controversy also gave away the main theme of the film – rape and abuse of power by the elite.
When following an arduous review process the film finally did make it to most theaters on its original release date, family audiences that drive the multiplex business generally chose to stay away. Despite that, the film scored strong numbers of about 2.5 crores over its opening weekend, much more than had been expected – but the content received a mixed word of mouth and the film could not sustain there onwards.
Maalik went through the grind, too
However, where the content has clicked with the audience, film ‘bans’ have also worked in favor of a film. Such was the case with Maalik, the Ashir Azeem directed political drama that ran afoul with the censors after running for 18 days following its release in April 2016. The film, which had received a decent response, and had grossed over 2 crores, was banned in late April by the Sindh Censor Board and the CBFC. When the Lahore High Court later overturned the ban in September of that year, Maalik was able to capitalize on its controversy. The film turned out to be a sleeper hit, eventually grossing close to 7 crores.
Besides these films, there have also been lesser known cases like that of Resham starrer Swaarangi which was banned by the CBFC in September 2015. The film did eventually make it to the theaters, to a muted response. Other projects, such as Abdullah: The Final Witness were also reported to be facing censor issues and also failed to make any impact at the ticket counters.
Controversy is a great attention grabber since it allows for heightened media coverage with focus on a film’s provocative theme, however, this is a double-edged sword. While attracting a segment of the audience towards the film, it can also keep certain viewers away. When it comes to film, they say ‘Content is king’ – and this seems to apply to controversial films as well. While film bans can attract attention towards a film, its eventual box office outcome is determined by the strength of its content.
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