Foreign films have always done huge business at the Pakistani box office. In fact, a number of them hold spots in our Top 10 highest grossing charts, giving tough competition to our local films. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, after a rocky release, finally went nationwide at the end of this last weekend.
What Happened Next
What transpired next was a majority of cinemas cutting down, or in some cases, completely removing shows for local Eid releases to accommodate the Marvel flick. While our local filmmakers were already vocal regarding their contempt for the release of Doctor Strange, this last weekend might have made matters worse. But are local filmmakers and films justified in being angry?
First and foremost, let’s talk about the Scarlet Witch in the room. The Sam Raimi directed sequel to the 2016 film Doctor Strange is the hotly anticipated and latest Marvel film. Coming just five months after Spider-Man: No Way Home broke records at the Pakistani box office, the latest Multiverse event was bound to do huge business in theatres.
The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen as fan favorites: Doctor Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff aka The Scarlet Witch, respectfully. The film also promises the return of other fan favorites such as Professor X and Captain Marvel as their multiverse counterparts. Marvel is a huge brand for our filmgoing audiences, with Spider-Man: No Way Home and Avengers: Endgame among the very few films to cross the 30 crore mark at our all-time box office.
The film being released just days after Eid meant it would seriously undercut local releases at the box office which is what local filmmakers feared would happen.
While local films struggled, Doctor Strange, in just three days, did more business than any of the Eid films did the entire week. The fact that Doctor Strange was delayed during Eid holidays and audiences still decided to wait for the film as a preference over the Eid films is a tell-tale sign. While it can be argued that space and slots were taken up, it is also true that Pakistani films can and have competed with foreign releases on the big screen before.
Too Many Films
On average, even the most avid cinema-going audiences across the globe can only afford to go and see one film a month. So, considering the post-pandemic economic situation, was the to release five films at the same time truly wise?
Even before the pandemic, this has been a topic of contention for many. Film analysts and audiences alike have spoken against the release patterns of our industry, and how multiple releases hurt them all. While on previous Eids, we would see at least one or two films perform well out of the batch, this year saw numbers lower than previous years at the box office. Chalk it up to a post-pandemic return or audience confusion – the numbers are, to a certain extent, quite telling.
Lack Of Big Names And Brands
Normally, on Eid, we have names like Mahira Khan, Humayun Saeed and Fahad Mustafa who have become brands in their own right. This Eid, save Saba Qamar’s attachment, the line-up lacked the magnanimity of huge names. It truly is a shame, because there were a lot of really talented individuals involved in these films, names like Imran Ashraf, Ahsan Khan, Zahid Ahmed, Hania Aamir and many more.
Next Eid will see the return of big names with films like Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad and even though Thor: Love and Thunder will be releasing around the same time, those films have already generated a hype.
The Unfair Release Schedule
The moment Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hit the big screen, we saw theatres giving all the big time slots to the blockbuster and cutting down massively on the slots of local releases. In some cases, films were not given any screens at all to accommodate the Marvel flick – including films that were, previously, going house full, or were at full occupancies.
While this shows that theatre owners, after a rough two years, only care about which film will fill seats, it doesn’t justify not giving our films even a chance to make money – when the initial business seemed promising, to begin with. If it is a competition, then let it be a fair one, with every competitor getting an equal shot at making a mark.
The decision led to people in the industry banding together to speak against this alleged injustice. Besides the press conference held in Karachi, a lot of the local talent went on social media to appeal to the audience to support local cinema.
Amar Khan, star and writer of Dum Mastam, took to Instagram to speak about the hard work and struggles of filmmaking teams, only for a foreign film to hijack screens. She also appealed to the audience to band together as one unit. Adnan Siddiqui, Yasir Nawaz, Nida Yasir, Arslan Naseer, and Dananeer Mobeen also took to social media to appeal to the public to show support for local films.
Some serious course correction is needed here. A review of quality, alongside better screening schedules must be takeaway lessons. While there are numerous factors that must be considered and levels of nuance to this debate, all that is under one’s control must, then, be taken into account. While banning imported products is not the solution and filmmakers did argue that they sought a delay as opposed to a ban, we must remember that our industry is still a struggling one. However, we have had our hits as well, and we can get back on that upward trajectory. Cinema owners must also reflect on the role they wish to play in the revival of local cinema, and give local films a level playing field.
Hopefully, next Eid has some positive developments for our film industry. We have yet to see how all this unfolds and if these filmmakers’ grievances are heard or not, and how that changes the landscape in the coming days. What do you think of this whole situation? Let us know in the comments.