It’s a love-hate relationship that could rival any that we see on screen.
Bollywood films have long enjoyed a fan following in Pakistan. But they have also run into trouble across the border from time to time.
On the one hand, audiences in Pakistan can relate to Bollywood films. In fact, when films from India were finally allowed to be screened across the border under General Pervez Musharraf’s regime, it revived the movie watching culture in Pakistan, which had nearly died out under the tough censorship laws passed by General Zia Ul Haq.
While Bollywood films regularly do good business in Pakistan (Race 2 was the first Hindi film to cross the Rs 10 crore mark there; the cross border version of our ‘100-crore club’), there’s a fear as well that they may eat into the business of Lollywood films (so called for the industry based in Lahore, which is now experiencing a renaissance). Moreover, Bollywood films that are deemed to have sensitive content (read: allusions to terrorism, anti-Pak sentiment etc) do not receive permission to be screened — the latest instance being that of Sonam Kapoor-starrer Neeerja.
When Bajrangi Bhaijaan released in 2015 in Pakistani theatres, there was a lot of fear that local films like Bin Roye (the Mahira Khan starrer) and Wrong No. would suffer as a result. For quite a while in fact, whether or not Bajrangi Bhaijaan would even be screened in Pakistan remained in doubt.
Unlike in India, the screen count in Pakistan is not very high; some reports peg it around 70-80. Moreover, around 70 per cent of any film’s revenues are believed to be generated from the Karachi centre alone. This means there’s a limited space for screening films, and Lollywood must vie with Bollywood for access to those spaces.
This week, a fresh development emerged in Pakistan’s relationship with Bollywood films.
A group of local film producers and distributors filed a petition in the Lahore High Court, seeking a complete ban on the exhibition of all Indian films.
They invoked the Motion Pictures Ordinance Law of 1979, which states that the screening of Indian moves in Pakistan is against the law, Dunya News reported.
The petitioners also said that the screening of Bollywood films was against Pakistan’s import policy of 2013, and asked the courts to prevent Indian films from being screened in Pakistani theatres.
This is not the first time a move of this sort has been mooted.
In February, The Express Tribune reports, the Pakistani film fraternity decided to take a “breather” from Bollywood films so that local movies would have some space to flourish.
The Pakistan Film Distributors Group (PFDG) and Film Producers and Directors Association (FPDA) unanimously agreed to “give preference to Pakistani films”.
The decision was taken as Lollywood had a string of releases planned over February and March, including Urdu films like Bachaana, Salute, Hijrat, Fiker Naat and Blind Love, as well as Aashqi, Lewouny Pakhtoun, Parrang and Jashan in Pashto.
The agenda of the meeting, however, was not to restrict Indian films, but to ensure that cinema owners offered priority slots to these local movies.
In addition to promoting homegrown cinema, the group also had another objective: To promote quality films from Turkey and Iran in their country and work towards importing them.
It was also decided that IGMC Entertainment, Pakistan’s prime distributor for Bollywood films, would focus on local productions as well.
Just a year ago, comedian Iftikhar Ahmad Thakur had sought a “permanent ban” on Indian films. The Lahore Court had dismissed the petition at the time, asking Ahmed to take up the matter with the Ministry of Culture.
While the court is still to rule on the latest petition, one thing seems clear — the Bollywood-Lollywood saga isn’t about to end anytime soon.