Let us show Bollywood films: Pakistani cinema owners

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS
4/28/2004 12:00:00 AM
As India and Pakistan move rapidly to improve ties, cinema owners here have pleaded for lifting the ban on Bollywood films, saying it's the only way they can remain in business.

It could also be the biggest confidence building measure (CBM) between the two countries, theatre owners say.

"We will have to close down our cinema houses if the government didn't allow the screening of Indian films," Zoraiz Lashari, chairman of Pakistan Film Exhibitors Association (PFEA), told IANS.

According to him, Pakistani films are "too few and too poor" to make the cinema houses sustainable.

"We have approached the ministry of culture for permission to (initially) screen those Indian films we had imported before the ban was imposed (in 1965)," he said, adding if new films were allowed, this would give new life to Pakistani theatre owners.

Ironically, even as the screening of Indian films has been banned for close to 40 years, there is a thriving grey market in this that the government has been unable to control.

But, then, this is not the only paradox about Bollywood films. Indian artistes and musicians are freely allowed to perform here and attract huge audiences but the films they feature in can't be officially screened.

On the flip side, Pakistani producers insist the ban on Indian movies should continue, contending it's the only way to ensure the survival of the Urdu film industry.

Bollywood movies were banned by then president Ayub Khan after the 1965 India-Pakistan war. Lashari pointed to the lack of sync in government policy that bans Bollywood films but permits Indian artistes to perform.

"If Indian artistes can come to Pakistan and perform and if Pakistani artistes can work in Indian films, why can't we screen the latest Indian films?" Lashari questioned, contending the atmosphere in the sub-continent is changing and "we are talking of peace and friendship".

In his view, allowing the screening of Indian movies can prove to be a "big CBM" and bring the people of the two countries closer.

"This would also give Pakistani producers a chance to screen their movies in India," he maintained.

Lashari said if the government remained silent on the issue, theatre owners would have to down shutters. Pakistani cinemas currently show locally produced and select English movies.

There is a major problem with both categories. A mere 113 Urdu feature films were produced in the past six years for an average of 19 films a year.

Cable TV, coupled with pirated versions of English films, means that cinema halls exhibiting Western movies have very few takers.

A combination of these two factors has seen the number of cinema halls in Pakistan dwindle from 1,500 in the 1980s to 270 now.

Amjad Farzand, chairman of the Pakistan Film Producers Association, says this is because of free availability of the Indian movies in the grey market.

"The massive piracy of Indian films has ruined the Pakistani film industry. We will resist Indian films, they are a big threat to Pakistani morality.

"There is a big difference between their culture and ours. Indian movies shown on satellite and cable television and hired out by video shops have already damaged the moral fabric of our society," Farzand maintained.