Uri, and its aftermath, has taken a toll on the cultural exchange between India and Pakistan. Post September 18 India stopped all Pakistani programs that were being aired on the Zee Zindagi channel. Fawad, Mahira Khan and all artistes working in India became targets of the Indian media and the MNS (Maharashtra Navirman Sena). Bans were inflicted upon filmmakers, Karan Johar especially, as the release of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was around the corner and Fawad Khan was an integral part of it. Despite reiterating that “love conquers all and art shouldn’t get in the middle of politics,” Johar had to concede to the MNS and ended up cutting not only Fawad Khan’s role in the film but the characters, who were all supposed to be from Lahore Pakistan, ended up being from Luknow instead.
In retaliation Pakistan banned all Bollywood movies from screening in the country. Cinema went back to the basics.
The question that arises now is whether Pakistani cinema, still in its infancy, can survive without Bollywood, which was the bread and butter of theatre owners. Only three Pakistani movies did well at the box office this year: Janaan, Actor in Law and Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai. All three were Eid releases. Since then, Lahore Se Aagey released in early November and after the first couple of days, completely tanked. Currently the only new Pakistani release is Mehreen Jabbar’s Dobara Phir Se but the Bollywood ban has already affected DPS.
The impact on all of this? Some cinema owners announced that they would only be open three days a week, as the overheads of screening a film to an empty theatre were too high. Industrialists investing in new cinema screens pulled out. The decision to screen Turkish and Iranian films was taken, but not without knowing that it could not rake in the numbers the way a Bajrangi Bhaijaan did. According to reports, cinema in Pakistan – collectively – is losing approximately a crore a day since the ban.
We got in touch with a few stakeholders from the film industry to get their take on where all this was leading us…
Films: Wrong Number (2015), Mehrunisa V Lub U (in production)
Yasir Nawaz’s ribald comedy, Wrong Number, was a hit and did good business alongside Bajrangi Bhaijan, released at the same time.
“I’m actually conflicted,” he says. “There is a business point from where I can say that, yes, we need Bollywood, as our industry is not at a point where we can stand on our two feet. But then there is the love for my country and the happenings going on at LOC. When I think about that I feel that the ban is right and InshaAllah we will be okay. If it is a good movie it will survive. We are still learning but we will survive. There was a time when Indian soap operas were dominating our screens, but then Sarmad Khoosat, Mehreen Jabbar, Baber Javaid and myself started to revive our dramas and look where we are now. We won’t always need Bollywood and it will get better InshAllah.”
Films: Jawani Phir Nahi Aani (2015), Punjab Nahi Jaungi (in production)
Jawani Phir Nahi Ayegi was a massive hit, encouraging Baig to direct the popular drama serial Dillagi and now he is currently filming PNJ, again with hit pair Humayun Saeed and Mehwish Hayat.
“The Bollywood ban is a setback for the film industry as we had just started making good films,” he says. “Due to Bollywood films, we had a lot more screens, now that is no longer the case. If we don’t screen those films, theatres will close and we will no longer be able to invest in our films.” He recalls the last time Pakistan banned Bollywood films and adds, “In 1965 the same thing happened and while their film industry grew, ours sunk. Even though we are screening Turkish and Iranian films, that entertainment package is very different than ours and the audience is not responding due to that. The government knows this and exhibitors want this ban to be lifted as it is in the best interest of our film industry.”
Humayun Saeed echos Nadeem Baig’s thoughts. “Due to all of this,” he says, “we are seeing Dobara Phir Se being affected. We need Bollywood films to sustain our film industry as they make a lot more movies in a year than we do.”
Films: Ramchand Pakistani (2008), Dobara Phir Se (2016)
“I think what has happened in both countries is very unfortunate,” Jabbar says. “Banning doesn’t solve anything and the only casualty in preventing cultural and artistic exchange is peace and understanding. The initial decision to ban Pakistani actors in India was totally wrong as was the media frenzy and whipping up of anti-Pakistan sentiment on the airwaves. While trade and flights continued between the two countries, the entire focus and onus fell on cinema and television and the artists which I think was unfair.”
Film: Parwaaz Hai Junoon (in production)
Hassan (of Diyar e Dil fame) is working on his first directorial venture, Parwaaz Hai Junoon. “We always ban art and sports while other trades always remain accessible, which is unfair and morally wrong,” he says. “Cinema owners decided to stop Indian movies in our cinemas, but the consequences are very high. I live just opposite largest cinema of Karachi and these days all the lights are dim due to lack of content. We should deal with art separately and carefully.”
Film: Balu Mahi (in production)
Hussain’s first directorial venture, Balu Mahi, will release in February. “There really isn’t a simple answer for whether the ban is right or wrong,” he opines. “Bollywood is a huge and successful industry while we are a small one and are just making a comeback after years of artistic hibernation. On the one hand, when better films are screened, from anywhere, more people go to the cinemas and more films get made. It also raises the bar and competition for us.”
He also says that there is a time and place for everything. “It’s good that our public is only being exposed to what we have to offer and cinema is not so diluted right now. It’s great that we are being given the space and time to make our own and different kinds of cinema. It is our time. Bollywood is not going anywhere and sooner or later the ban might be lifted. In the meantime, let’s learn to invest in our own cinema and filmmakers. I’m hoping that our movies are so liked by our public that the demand to open cinemas becomes a huge pressure for more screenings.”
Film: Janaan (2016)
“I don’t think it is right to ban art,” he says. “If you want to ban something, ban the spread of hatred, not art. For example, The USA and Iran don’t get along, but it didn’t stop Iranian films from getting Oscars. Artists should not be banned from going to Bollywood and Bollywood movies shouldn’t be banned here. Pakistani cinemas need to make at least 15-20 movies a year and that will take time as right now we only have a handful. We need Bollywood for our own survival, especially for our screens. We went from 39 screens from a couple years ago, to 89 and it would have increased even more if not for the ban; now even the existing cinema will start to close and we will go back to zero. A film industry is an integral part of any society and it shows a positive image of Pakistan internationally. At the end of the day it is an investment in Pakistani cinema; if we don’t invest in ourselves, who will? Till we can sustain ourselves, we need Bollywood films and it is the only way we will be able to make films and invest in our country.”