Pakistan bans release of Indian films in the aftermath of Pulwama attack; what are they going to watch now?

Gautam Chintamani

Feb 27, 2019 16:10:34 IST

Keeping in mind the developments of the past few days, Pakistan’s decision to impose a ban on the release of any Indian movie or content in their country was an expected response.

Moreover, with the All India Cine Workers Association banning Pakistani actors and artistes working in the Indian film industry after the 14 February Pulwama attack, it was only a matter of time before such a step was taken. Not that it matters, but one can’t help wonder: what would the average Pakistani get to see in the name of films or entertainment now?

The big misconception doing the rounds for almost four decades is how India and Pakistan are the same when it comes to most things. The hyphenation of India and Pakistan has not been limited to geopolitical or sports events or visiting heads of states from the western hemisphere. Be it films, music, cuisine and/or culture, it’s intriguing to note that just because two countries speak the same language, and have a kind of common lineage, everybody assumes that they are the same.

The ease with which a Fawad Khan or Mahira Khan could be accepted in Hindi films or a Rahat Fateh Ali Khan or Ali Zafar could croon a filmi number has for some reason put the cinema of two countries on a common platform.

Since the advent of the 1980s, the internal debate surrounding Pakistani film industry has been the same — would it be able to survive the onslaught of cinema from across the worlds as well as across the border from India?

Pakistan bans release of Indian films in the aftermath of Pulwama attack; what are they going to watch now?

Pakistani cinema-goers look at photos displayed at a local cinema in Karachi, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

The 1980s were a period where film production in Pakistan was not a viable business proposition and the arrival home video only worsened the scenario. The crisis-prone Pakistani film industry, however, became more susceptible to the blow due to its oft-repeated themes and inferior technical aspects. Although Hindi films have been routinely banned by Pakistan they have been freely available on video cassettes and later the arrival of satellite television only increased the penetration. Overnight cinema houses in Pakistan were rendered unprofitable and it was almost a foregone conclusion that the industry might not be able to absorb the body blow as it had barely recovered from the attack of the VCR.

The 1980s were also the era of General Zia-ul Haq, the military dictator, who unleashed an open religious propagation that also contributed to the fall of Pakistani cinema. The time when Pakistan’s cinema and television industry were going under was the same period where the Indian entertainment industry was coming into its own. It was perhaps the only industry in the world after Hong Kong that managed to withstand Hollywood and became a global power.

The recent popularity of Zee’s Zindagi Channel that showed content produced in Pakistan and other countries such as Turkey, Greece amongst others dubbed in Hindi, might have made Mahira Khan and Fawad Khan into ‘Indian’ superstars but it also revealed Pakistan’s paucity of entertainment in the larger context of things. For this writer, a big reason for the soaring popularity of shows on Zindagi was also to do with the Urdu language, which made the same soap opera that Indians were used to, sound slightly different (read: cultured).

In the late 1970s, the Pakistani film industry was still producing about 80 films a year but by the mid-2000s this number had dropped to two or three a year.

The year 2011 saw the release of 10 Urdu films, the highest ever in more than three decades was seen as the once-withering Pakistani film industry’s renaissance of sorts.  It was also the year of the release of Manto, Pakistan’s first biopic that featured Sarmad Sultan Khoosat as Saadat Hasan Manto, and also Bin Roye, Pakistan’s most expensive film featuring television actors Humayun Saeed and Mahira Khan.

But with a little more than 70 screens across the entire country, the revival was always going to be an uphill task. What made the revival a bigger struggle was the invasion of Hindi films, the ban on which had been revoked by Pervez Musharraf in early 2000s to help avoid the closure of the few cinemas left in the country.

Pakistan might want to deny this, but the fact remains a lot of its popular entertainment is based on Bollywood and Indian television. Had its homegrown industry been robust, there would not have been such dependency on material from across the border or the Middle East. It might still continue to access Indian shows and cinema via the Internet but in the regular scheme of things, there’s not going to be much on the telly.

Updated Date: Feb 27, 2019 16:10:34 IST

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