Fewer films, fewer choices on Eid – who is to blame?
By: Rafay Mahmood
KARACHI: It seems Pakistan’s entertainment-starved public and the flagging movie industry in general received no respite — even on Eid.
Despite attempts, two new Hollywood flicks – slated to be released on Eidul Azha to offer cinemagoers with ample choice of entertainment – were unable to make it to the big screen due to an apparent rift between stakeholders and the censor board.
On the eve of the second day of Eid, Atrium cinemas on their official fan page registered a protest against the Central Board for Film Censorship (CBFC) stating that: “Due to the non-cooperation of the new chairman [of the] CBFC Islamabad, films Cloud Atlas and Stolen were not certified. Thus both films are not running on Eidul Azha. We regret the inconvenience caused to all our cine goers and feel sorry for the immense loss born by the distributor HKC Entertainment.”
However, the censor board rendered these allegations “a fabrication of facts”.
“This is a blatant fabrication,” Iftikhar Durrani, adviser to the minister for national regulation and services who is also a member of the censor board, told The Express Tribune. “We received the films at 1700 hours on Thursday, the last working day before the Eid holidays. One film didn’t have a ‘letter of origination’ (which states which country owns the rights of the film) and the other had a photocopy which is why the films were delayed,” he added.
The two Hollywood movies – Cloud Atlas and Stolen – which were specially arranged to hit nine screens, including all the multiplexes across the country on Eid, were not certified for release — ultimately causing a huge loss to the Pakistani film industry box office.
On the other hand, two Pushto films were screened for and approved by the censor board that very day which, according to the board, were submitted in time with all the paperwork in place.
Hammad Chaudhary, the marketing director of HKC Entertainment, said that such practices were lethal for Pakistan’s image as a potential release territory worldwide.
“It took us years to convince producers in Hollywood to take Pakistan seriously as a territory for releasing their films but when their films are not screened it shows really badly on us,” Chaudhary complained.
“Although Cloud Atlas is slated for a February 2013 release in the UK, I had convinced Focus Features (the company he acquired the rights from) to give us the film because we had four straight public holidays in Pakistan. And they did but unfortunately the film never made it to the screens.”
A member of the censor board rebutted: “Since it takes time to gather the civil serving members of the board, it takes around 72 working hours for any film to be censored and the SOP’s are generally more for foreign films than Pakistani hence local films don’t take that long for approval.”
However, Atrium cinemas Managing Director Nadeem Mandviwala considered the arguments given by the board as baseless. “The censor board always understands the importance of time in the film releasing business but in this case they are deliberately creating obstacles in our way,” he told The Express Tribune.
Referring to the standard practice, he said local distributors are supposed to provide a certificate of origination to the censor board but since the paperwork takes time, the distributor submits an affidavit or a photocopy of the original certificate guaranteeing the arrival of the new one via courier. Even in the case of these two films, the original certificate was on its way and the affidavit had been submitted by HKC Entertainment, one of the oldest distributors in Pakistan.
“By delaying the film they have not only damaged the distributors and exhibitors but have ultimately hurt the Pakistani cinema at large, which is really sad and senseless,” said Mandviwalla.
If the rift between industry stakeholders and the censor board persists, the formation of a consolidated and holistic national film policy, the general public, the box office and the rebirth of Pakistani cinema in general will remain at stake.