Indian Films Back On Pakistan’s Big Screens
KARACHI, Mar 26 (IPS) – Domestic worker Naziran Begum has only one passion in life — watching Indian films. After a hard day’s work, she settles down before her cheap 14-inch TV set to flick through a myriad of movie channels for a mere 150 rupees (3.75 US dollars) per month.
But now, she looks forward to enjoying Indian films on the big screen. “That would be some treat!” says the movie buff ecstatically.
The reason? The 40-year-old ban on ‘Bollywood’ flicks in Pakistan was officially lifted on Feb. 8, when Firoz Nadiadwala’s film ‘Welcome’ was screened to packed theatres across this South Asian country. The film reportedly has already netted 70 million rupees (1.75 million dollars)
“This is great news,” says Hoori Noorani, also a movie buff and a leading publisher. “It will give a much-needed boost to the entertainment industry and help revive the cine-going culture as well as stop the rapid closure of cinema houses.”
The Pakistan film industry “died of a terminal disease of our own making,” explains Salima Hashmi, dean of the School of Visual Arts at the Beaconhouse National University in the northern city of Lahore. “The reasoning behind this ban was, first, they (India) were the ‘enemy’. Secondly, the need to protect our own film industry. Neither reason seems to hold good any more,” said Hashmi, who did a memorable TV satire show in the 70s.
Film critic Aijaz Gul says that the release of Indian films in Pakistan has been a “tricky issue” from the outset. He said that after 15 years of banishment due to the Indo-Pakistan war when the two countries fought over Kashmir for the second time since 1947, military general Zia ul Haq allowed the showing of the films ‘Kashish’ and Noorjehan’ in 1980. In 2006, Gul added, President Pervez Musharraf allowed ‘Taj Mahal’ and ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, followed by ‘Awarapan’,’Welcome’, ‘Sajna-o-Sajna’, ‘Goal’ and ‘Gangster’ in 2007-2008.
According to Gul, there are 450 Indian film prints from the 40s, 50s, and 60s that were kept in Pakistan. Among these were classics such as ‘Daagh’, ‘Deedar’, ‘Awara’, ‘Barsaat’ and ‘Aan’.
Some producers and actors oppose the lifting of the ban of Indian films. But exhibitors and some distributors support it because they say the open and unlimited importation of Indian films is one way of preventing local cinemas from closing down. According to Gul, Pakistan now has just 200 cinemas, down from 700 in 1977.
“The film trade is at its lowest. Import would help give a new lease of life to cinemas that are breathing their last,” says Gul.
“I wouldn’t watch an Indian film just because it’s Indian. A good film will be watched whether it’s Urdu, English, Hindi or Punjabi, if cinemas were clean and safe venues,” adds journalist Fouzia Mapara.
Bollywood superstars like Aishwarya Rai and Shahrukh Khan are household names in Pakistan, thanks to cable operators who have been openly flouting copyright laws by showing the latest smuggled and uncensored videos.
A portmanteau formed of Bombay (as Mumbai was formerly known) and Hollywood, the term Bollywood refers to the huge Indian movie industry based in the western city of Mumbai, the largest city in India.
But given the religious extremist climate in some parts of the Pakistan, many look upon the recent lifting of ban with scepticism. Fundamentalists within Pakistan society are known to be opposed to ‘Indian culture’ and to scenes depicting the free intermingling of the genders that spice Bollywood productions.
Explains Faisal Qureshi, editor of a TV and film magazine: “Under the present circumstances, renting out a DVD is much safer than ending up plastered on a theatre ceiling in wake of a bomb blast,” he says, referring to the high incidence of suicide bombings in the country.
Pirated DVD copies of the latest films are available for not more than 150 rupees (3.75 dollars), while slightly older ones sell for just 100 rupees (2.50 dollars).
But Gul sees this as a “minor issue”, because not one cinema has been closed in the ultra-conservative North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan. Of the many CD shops that have been forced to close, he says: “They were selling porn.”
Although opposed to imports of Indian films, former Pakistan Television managing director Agha Nasir is ready to concede that room should be made for them. “For the survival of Pakistani cinema, we should allow the import of Indian films,” says Nasir, former director of the Nation Film Development Corp (NAFDEC).
In order to provide a level playing field to the floundering Pakistan film industry — also known as Lollywood, an amalgamation of Lahore and Hollywood — Nasir said that locally made films should be exported to India as well.
The Pakistani hit, ‘Khuda Ke Liye’, starring seasoned Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah and released in June 2007, will also be officially released in India on Mar. 28 for the first time.
Gul believes the next step should be removing restrictions on co-productions between the two countries, but says film exchanges between the two countries should be left to the viewers. “The government should stay out of it,” he says.