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Burning down the house

August 18, 2013

Nadeem H. Mandivwalla, the owner and managing director of Mandivwalla Entertainmant, Pakistan’s largest film distributors and owner of several cinema houses across the country, talks about the importance of cinemas, the changing shape of the film industry, the evils of piracy and the potential for local films to go global

Q. Last year, violent mobs set six cinema houses in Karachi and Peshawar on fire. Why do you think films are seen as an evil in society and why do people take their anger out on them?

N. Mandviwalla: It’s not just cinemas, art is seen that way. Why cinemas? Because films are the strongest medium of storytelling through which you can communicate an idea, a message. Have you ever seen people take out their aggression on cable?

For 30 years, Indian movies have been shown in this country through video, dvds, cds etc. The entire country has not objected to it. But before 2007, whenever we asked anyone whether Indian films should be shown in cinemas in Pakistan, they always said they shouldn’t be.

We have a national problem: we like to do things illegally, but not legally. When you do things illegally, it damages yourself, not anyone else. As long as these films were coming in illegally they were destroying our industry, now they are coming legally and you can see the result. You have been able to build cinemas and show people the films they want to see.

And the public sees Indian films because they share a language in these films. If the public was speaking Chinese, we’d bring in Chinese films. Foreign films have become a great source now and you can see that in the rebuilding of cinemas.

Production of local films finished because you finished your cinemas. Cinemas are the shop through which you show your films.

Q. Do we have enough cinema houses for the film industry to really revive itself?

N. Mandviwalla: No, we don’t. For that we need a minimum base of a $2m market. We have reached up to $1m. That requires a 100pc improvement. That means a very big film has to gross a minimum of Rs20 crore in Pakistan.

Q. Compared to foreign films, are local films doing as much business in Pakistan or running for as long?

N. Mandviwalla: Local films have one major advantage: they are not pirated as long as they are running in Pakistan. The moment they go abroad, they are pirated. It always happens from abroad even though this is the biggest market for pirated films.

We’re advising every Pakistani production not to release their films simultaneously in local cinemas and abroad. Bol (2011) released in Pakistan eight weeks ahead of its release in India. The minute it released in India, the film came on YouTube.

Q. There is a newer trend of building cinema halls in shopping malls in Pakistan. Some get it right; others get it wrong, what is your opinion on this approach?

N. Mandviwalla: It’s just the Atrium cinemas that are properly designed. While building the mall, they had pre-designed the space for the cinema and automatically kept all of the provisions that were needed. Every other new mall you see nowadays has a cinema as an afterthought. Because Atrium has become a success, every mall feels the pressure to complete the package. That’s not the right thing to do when building a cinema. They will automatically feel the effects of that in the longer run.

You are getting more and more competition. The standard set by the Atrium is very high. The public has a lot of choice now. They will make the journey anywhere where they get their money’s worth.

Some of the malls have gone back to the drawing board. That is the right way to go. They are considering how to put up cinemas in the proper manner and when these cinemas come up, you will see the difference.

Q. Now that newer filmmakers are entering the industry and there is an increasing trend of making films, how do you see the industry shaping up?

N. Mandviwalla: I would just like to see Pakistanis making films. It doesn’t matter to me what kind of films. The quality of cinema being made in Pakistan has been high, so the production of films has to go up. You are now aligned for that kind of cinema.

This automatically gives you access to the world, when you make the kind of films that can be shown anywhere in the world. People aren’t going to see anything substandard now.

Newer filmmakers are very conscious and know how to deliver quality. Now the question is whether as directors, they are able to deliver strong content. You can’t keep asking for exceptions like Shoaib Mansoor.

You have to come into the flow and start making films. You will get it wrong the first time but the second time you won’t. Whether good or bad, just make films.

Q. Is there enough of an audience to come to these cinemas?

N. Mandviwalla: On the contrary, we have too many films coming in and we don’t have the space. We don’t have enough cinemas to cater to them. We have to make more cinemas.

Films have to make money and that money comes through the cinema. That’s the channel. There were many films that came out in the last 30 years we never thought we could show but today we can, because now we have an audience for them.

I could never imagine we’d have an audience for animated films. Today those animated films are doing a business of $100,000 to $200,000 here. That clearly means the audience is there.

Q. India has been doing away with their old cinemas and have been building newer cinemas in their place…

N. Mandviwalla: And you can see the result, they have come up to a Rs200 crore market. At the moment, Pakistan’s target is just 10pc of that. If you go up to 20pc, you will become the biggest market after India for Bollywood. That can work vice versa as well.

If they have a market of Rs20 crore here, we we have a potential market of Rs200 crore there. That will only happen once you make good quality films, the kind of which they are coming up with. You will start penetrating their market and that is where the real trouble will start.

Q. How so?

N. Mandivwalla: Because even Hollywood hasn’t been able to penetrate their market the way we potentially can. And they know that. And Pakistan, can for the same reason their films can penetrate our market: you are making films in the same language that is spoken in both countries.

If the industry continues to grow at this rate, 10 years down the line, I would like to see how Bollywood reacts. We have been very liberal when showing their films and we have a big heart. Let’s see if they will respond with the same.

Q. What do you consider as one of the major deterrents in the development of our local film industry?

N. Mandviwalla: That would be irregularity. The day any government can start controlling that your market can jump up to Rs50 crore. That’s the kind of difference it will make.

I remember going to Dubai in the 1980s, there were only two English cinema houses there and they used to show films that were six months old. Nobody used to go there because the hub of pirated videos was Dubai at that time. After about 10 years the Dubai government decided this was a business of theft and it had to be stopped and regulated.

Today, Dubai has 100 screens alone and their population, tourists included, is just that of a small locality in Karachi. If they can have that, imagine the kind of growth you can have in this country.

Irregularity is damaging our own country. It’s not damaging anyone else. It didn’t stop Bollywood or Hollywood from progressing because there is rampant piracy here, it damaged us.