As Bollywood films continue to provide a lease of life to cinema owners and the entertainment-starved people of Pakistan, some domestic producers have stepped up efforts to impose restrictions on their import.
Sixteen Bollywood movies were widely screened in Pakistan last year, marking a high after a four-decade ban on Indian films. “Dhoom 3” starring Aamir Khan has done roaring business and is still pulling people in droves to cinemas across the country.
“It is because of Indian movies that new cinemas are being built in Lahore,” Ramzan Shiekh, the owner of two state-of-the-art theatres, told PTI.
“I am going to build another one in the city. Both my existing halls were booked for four daily shows of ‘Dhoom 3’ and still people kept coming to watch the movie.”
The box office receipts for “Dhoom 3” from 56 screens on its opening day was around Rs 20 million, almost double the record set by the Pakistani film “Waar” with grosses of Rs 11.4 million. “Ram-Leela”, “Aashiqui 2” and “Chennai Express” too did good business at the Pakistani box-office.
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However, critics of Indian movies have opposed their exhibition and moved courts for a ban.
Film producer Syed Noor, who has for long campaigned against Bollywood products, claimed: “Some people with vested interests don’t want our industry to flourish. In the presence of multi-billion budget Indian flicks, ours can’t compete.
“I am not anti-Indian films. But being a patriotic Pakistani, I am trying to save the national cinema.” Noor said a Memorandum of Understanding signed between Pakistani producers and exhibitors promises “50 per cent adjustment”, meaning theatres have to screen a fixed quota of Pakistani films.
The issue raised by Noor has its roots in an order issued by former dictator Pervez Musharraf’s regime in 2006 that opened the door for importing Bollywood fare. The order sought to camouflage the move by setting certain conditions for imports, experts said.
“In essence, the origins of the product had to be faked,” said an expert who did not want to be named. The order allowed the import of films shot outside India but these rules have rarely been enforced.
Indian films were banned in Pakistan in 1965, following the war between the two countries. However, Bollywood films were widely screened on cable networks and pirated videotapes and DVDs were available across the country.
Those favouring the import of Indian films argue that the trend has led to a “few positives” for Pakistan cinema. Hasan Zaidi, the director of Kara-Film Festival, said the Bollywood formula is bringing audiences back to theatres.
“We would say that there will be a shock initially but then Pakistan cinema will benefit from the Indian imports,” he said.
Zaidi recalled the grim times when cinemas were being razed in most Pakistan cities to build commercial plazas and said there had been an increase in the number of theatres since the entry of Indian films.
A case is currently pending in the Lahore High Court over the alleged “illegal” screening of Indian movies. In an interim order, the court has ordered the Censor Board not to issue clearance certificates to Indian movies imported “illegally”.
While those like Noor are hoping for a permanent ban on the screening of Indian movies, some like Zaidi are optimistic that the High Court will see the ground reality before giving its final judgement.