Cinemas in the doldrums

16 Nov 2016

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THE current low point in Pakistan-India relations has not just been damaging in terms of diplomacy. The fallout is also evident in cultural ties. While Indian producers refused to have Pakistanis work in their films, the fledgling cinema industry here has also felt the impact. Nearly a month ago, the cinema owners’ association decided to halt the screening of all Indian films. Whether this was an independent decision or influenced in part by those eager to beat the drums of war in the country remains a moot point. The reality is that as a result of this decision by stakeholders, cinema houses in major Pakistani cities are losing money. Several cineplexes that were a short while ago doing booming business have had to shut screens down because of the lack of footfall. Certainly, domestically made films and those from abroad are being screened, and there are proposals to, for example, bring in Iranian or Turkish films. But in terms of being crowd-pullers on a large scale, nothing beats the content being generated by the mammoth industry next door.

It is unfortunate that the thrust against Indian content on Pakistani screens was given added momentum by leading lights of the culture industry here in the misplaced assumption that this would create space for Pakistan’s own cinematic productions to flourish. Such cultural protectionism vis-à-vis India has been tried before, and failed in rather spectacular fashion — Indian films were formally banned here for years, which is arguably what led to the demise of the cinema-going culture in the first place. It is only recently that cinemas have become decent investment, and the culture of going out to watch a movie has shown revival. Unfortunate as it is, the Pakistani cinema industry is not yet in a position to support the film business as a whole. Political concerns are indeed genuine, but they should not come at the cost of cultural exchanges that bring benefits to both sides of the border.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2016