Indian movies a prohibitive business in NWFP
By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR: Heavy local taxes and easy availability of cable TV and pirated versions of films have made screening of Indian movies prohibitive for cinema owners in the NWFP.
“We pay more than Rs100,000 entertainment tax every month while the Punjab government has done away with the same tax, enabling the cinema houses to earn more through screening of foreign movies,” said Khushnood Ali, a local filmmaker.
According to him, owing to tax exemption, the cinema halls in Punjab and Sindh are earning huge money by showing Indian blockbusters.
“The number of cinema halls in NWFP has dwindled from 60 in 1980s to only 25 now due to these factors,” he added. About nine cinema halls in the province have been converted into shopping centres during the last three years.
Pashto films, which are the mainstay of cinema halls in Frontier, have lost their steam due to lack of storyline, dialogues, scripts and songs besides an increasing element of vulgarity in the form of dances by non-Pakhtun girls.
The seven financially-stricken cinema halls in Peshawar Cantonment are paying Rs28,000 per month as entertainment tax.
“Our cinema halls with a seating capacity of 600 have only 25 to 30 people during the show. We run two shows instead of four due to lack of film-watchers,” said a manager of the cinema house, located in Cantonment.
Also, dilapidated and dirty condition of cinema halls keep the families away from films in NWFP, unlike Lahore and Karachi where the cinema houses survive on families.
Pakistan banned Bollywood movies after the 1965 war with India. In 2008, the government lifted the ban and allowed the films that were starred or directed by Pakistani directors in collaboration with their Indian counterparts.
Since lifting of ban on screening India films, Pakistani cinema houses had showed 16 Indian movies including Taaray Zameen Par, Singh is King, Kismat Konnection, Three Idiots, My Name is Khan, Hi Baby and others.
Nasim Khan, another filmmaker, said that release of Indian films in the province would revive the flagging fortune not only of cinemas but also of the entire film industry. “But the government should quash entertainment and other taxes,” he added. He said that 55 per cent of the price of a cinema ticket went to government in the shape of taxes.
The Peshawar-based film exhibitors and distributors say they cannot not screen Indian films because these are available for Rs200,000 a week and they cannot generate income due to shortage of viewers. “Most of the people watch India movies on cable TV and pirated DVDs then why they should come to cinema houses,” Mr Khan said.
On the other hand, cinema houses in Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi and Sargodha are increasing exhibiting Indian films.
Film star Arbaz Khan says that people in NWFP are buying tickets within a range of Rs30 to Rs50 while in Punjab cine-goers are ready to pay Rs100 and even Rs200. He said that cinemas there were also clean as compared to NWFP due to which the people enjoyed watching movies.
“We have been requesting the government to abolish entertainment tax but none of our requests have found receptive ears,” said a manger at a Cantonment cinema house.