FINALLY, the big screen is in the picture again. Prime Minister Imran Khan is seeking to revive the local film industry. Special Assistant retired Lt-Gen Asim Bajwa has been working towards this goal for a while. The first emerging details speak of attempts to restore a situation where stakeholders do not have to wait for long to get their share of revenue from the business. The new plan puts emphasis on building new cinema houses in the country after the winds of change swept most of them away. The effects of the nightmare that reduced the number of good old ‘picture houses’ from more than 1,100 at one time to around 30 by the dawn of the 21st century persist in so many ways . Ultimately, these are just a few signs of the demise of an industry that had given people employment and entertainment in an era when cultural expressions were worth investing in, there being always much room for improvement. These old-mould cinema halls are very much a part of the Pakistani romance with film as it once unfolded on the screen. Similarly, low-income audiences who once thronged the most colourfully adorned theatres in the city are integral to the local film nostalgia. The wish for the return of this winning combination of yore, which appears to be part of the cinema revival dream, will have to stand the test of today’s economic realities.
In recent years, multiplexes have tried to woo back and compensate for the old audience as a commercially viable alternative, with crucial conditions attached. These multiplexes are an expensive entertainment option and the screening of Indian films was vital to their business. Covid-19 has dealt another blow to the multiplexes and some of them are said to be on the verge of closing down. If we can’t allow the Indians in, how fast can we produce our own films, of high quality, and have people trickle back to the cinema halls? This is just one of the many issues indicating how tricky this road is. Cinema in the country can only be revived and prosper in conditions that are conducive to creative thinking. Ensuring these conditions will require much more than government support for a few selected ventures. Essentially, we are talking of eliminating taboos that prevent an exploration of the cinema as one of the most powerful and globally popular means of communication.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2020