The owner of the AMC cinema group, Adam Aron, said earlier in March, “movie theatres need government assistance to weather the financial storm brought by the coronavirus.” AMC operates 634 locations across the U.S and Canada, and it still needed help. Pakistani cinemas, since the ban of international content from across the border in February 2019, have been in dire need of help as it is only the big local releases that come out on Eid which have kept the cinemas running.
On the 14th March 2020, considering the rising cases of coronavirus cases in the country, Pakistani cinemas shut their doors as the country went into lockdown. There are roughly around 75 cinemas in Pakistan with around 160 screens. In figures, these are small numbers but considering the jobs created through this stream, and with zero business coming through, these are difficult to sustain. In March, Nadeem Mandviwaala owner of Atrium Cinemas pointed out that the business in 2019 saw a drop of 50% in sales. By March 2020 the business was at the rock bottom. Corona hit the cinema industry while it was at that rock bottom so one can only imagine the kind of state the cinema business is in now.
Delay in re-opening
It was initially announced that cinemas in Pakistan will open from the 11th of September with Mulan, and Tenet was supposed to release on the 18th of September. The list of SOPs to be followed by cinemas due to corona restrictions kept on seeing a back and forth before getting finalized.
Initially, there was a restriction on the use of carpets inside the halls as bacteria stays in the carpet for a longer period. Removing carpets was not possible for cinemas as the Dolby sound is linked with the structure and carpet is important for the halls’ structure. The length of movies that can be played inside cinemas was also asked to be kept minimal, but again that is not something which the cinema owners can control.
The current state of the cinemas
On 18th September cinemas in Pakistan reopened but in a very limited number. There have been two new Hollywood releases, Mulan and Tenet to grace the screens. The cinemas that have reopened are Cinestar, Cinepax, Cinegold, Universal Cinemas, and Capri Cinema. Mainly cinemas in Karachi have not opened yet. One reason for all cinemas not re-opening at once can be that both these films do not seem likely to bring in too much business.
Mulan has been already released online on Disney+ in many countries, which has led to its pirated version being available online for all to watch. This reduces the urge among audiences to go to cinemas considering the fear of the virus is also still there. For Tenet, the film is a Christopher Nolan directorial so carries a good amount of hype among his loyal fans. Tenet has done business in the excess of 200million worldwide, but it is not a film that would appeal to the masses in Pakistan.
What the near future holds
In the coming months Hollywood films like Death on the Nile, No Time to Die, and Wonder Women are expected to release. On the local front, the Fahad Mustafa-Mahira Khan starrer Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad will be the first Pakistani film to release at cinemas post-lockdown. To release a major Pakistani film at a time when cinema owners are skeptical about re-opening cinemas on a large scale without having a sizable amount of content is indeed a risky move.
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Aaj ke din – say it loud & clear ! Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad Pakistan Paindabad ❤️ Here Comes our Teaser Posters 🙂 @mahirahkhan 🎖️ #QAZ #quaideazamzindabad #IndependenceDay #MahiraKhan #FahadMustafa #FilmwalaPictures #VidlyTv #Eveready #HappyFilms #ELEPHONE @elephone.pk #PakistaniCinema #NabeelQureshi #FizzaAliMeerza #AzadiMubarak #14thAug Photography Kashif Rashid Poster Design Shaikh Danial
When Galaxy Lollywood reached out to Nabeel Qureshi to know about this decision, all Nabeel had to say was, “Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad will Inshallah release this year.” Considering how Na Maloom Afraad was released to very limited screens in 2014 and managed to do big business, it looks like Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza know what they are doing with this move.
There are a number of Pakistani productions that have or are near to wrapping up their production. But most of them are waiting for the situation with the cinema halls to be more stable before they get released. We sincerely hope that cinemas in Pakistan can sustain through this period and this entertainment medium does not die down.