The age of soft power and Pakistani cinema

The worsening condition of Pakistani cinema has given an edge to Indian soft power in the form of "patriotic" movies.

Asadullah Raisani June 04, 2024

The current era is an era of soft power. The number of social media users and those who love watching movies and web series is far greater than those who genuinely read books and prefer books over the former for information. Many people rely on X, formerly Twitter, rather than newspapers for daily news for multiple reasons. Cinema is one of the aspects of soft power that Pakistan miserably lacks vis-a-vis its arch-rival India. This article analyses only this aspect, discussing how India actively uses its cinema to portray Pakistan as an evil state and the nation as the land of terrorists and recommends a future course of action.

As per the most recent data, the number of films released in India annually is 2,000, the highest in the world. Indian movies sell 3.6 billion tickets worldwide, nine times the number sold by Hollywood. The highest-grossing Indian film is "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion," which earned over $260 million globally. The Indian film industry is estimated to produce 27,000 jobs every year, the total number of people directly/ indirectly depending on the industry for their livelihoods is over a million. The films made in India are exported to some 90 countries globally, contributing two per cent to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The total revenue of the Indian Film Industry in 2020 was INR183 billion.

In contrast, the number of movies produced in Pakistan yearly is not even 20. No proper industry record is available online to get any idea of the status of this sector in the country. Only eight movies were produced in the country in 2019. These movies have such low budgets and lack substance that hardly any of them have the fortune to be exported abroad or dubbed in any language other than Urdu. Unlike Indian Cinema, there are case studies of movie producers in the country who were compelled to sell their properties to survive. Thanks to the changing trend on private news channels that have started offering jobs and some amount to artists who are often part of the shows aired between 11:00 to 11:55 pm.

This continuous worsening condition of Pakistani cinema has given a marginal edge to Indian soft power, which does not miss any chance to defame Pakistan and its nationals. Even in comedy movies that have no political theme, certain Indian filmmakers leave no opportunity to taunt the nation and use sarcastic, even insulting, tones and dialogues against Pakistan. For instance, “Guest in London” is a sequel to a comedy movie in which, in one scene, Paresh Rawal, a member of Modi’s BJP and a seasoned actor, taunts a neighbour by asking if he is a Pakistani as he tries to enter Rawal’s relative's house by jumping a wall, implying that Pakistanis have this immoral conduct of spying and intruding. While playing such roles, a learned politician like Rawal should consider that Kulbhushan Yadav was not on a picnic in Pakistan, and the fantastic tea served to Abhinandan tells a different story.

The Khans of the industry are no exception, as like many Muslim Indians, they keep trying to prove their patriotism through different means. Whether it is Salman Khan’s ‘Tiger’ sequels, Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Pathan,’ or Aamir Khan’s ‘Laal Singh Chadda,’ Indian filmmakers have managed to portray Pakistanis as evil and dangerous to global peace. Even Indian comedy shows like the famous “Comedy Nights with Kapil” cannot be run solely on comedy and have proudly featured the famously known Khan Sir’s statement, “We will call someone living in Pakistan a terrorist,” followed by laughter, which is ironic.

Moreover, Indian cinema has a history of producing movies that portray Pakistan in a negative light, often depicting the country as a hotbed of terrorism and hostility. Films like "Mission Majnu" and "Gadar: Ek Prem Katha" alongside its sequel, revolve around themes of espionage and cross-border conflict, frequently casting Pakistani characters as antagonists. Veer-Zaara, although a romantic drama, subtly underscores political tensions between the two nations. Action-packed thrillers like Sooryavanshi, Phantom, and Baby further reinforce these stereotypes by focusing on counter-terrorism plots where Pakistani operatives or terrorists are the primary villains. These portrayals contribute to the demonisation of Pakistan in popular culture, impacting public perception and bilateral relations between the two countries.

Indian cinema has also produced numerous films that depict Muslims in a negative light, portraying them as cowards, warmongers, and disloyal individuals, often through heavily distorted historical narratives. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Panipat" and "Bajirao Mastani" are prime examples, where historical events are dramatized to portray Muslim characters in a negative manner. The Kashmir Files" and "The Kerala Story" delve into communal conflicts, often depicting Muslims as the primary instigators of violence and upheaval. "Article 370" touches upon the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, again presenting a skewed perspective that demonises the local Muslim population. These films contribute to a broader narrative within Indian cinema that vilifies Muslims and distorts historical facts, fostering communal discord and prejudice.

However, the entire Indian nation or the film industry cannot be blamed for such prejudice and ill-conceived ideas about Pakistan and Muslims, there are individuals like Rajkumar Hirani who create rich content films that do not rely on hatred to earn more. For instance, his 3 Idiots, PK, and Dunki are masterpieces that carry messages of compassion, friendship, and personal growth. Nandita Das’ Firaaq, Aamir Khan’s Dangal and Taare Zameen Par, Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Nitesh Tiwari’s Chichhore, and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar are other examples of films based on rich quality content instead of hatred and stereotypes against a certain group of people. And they are equally admired in Pakistan.

Authorities in Pakistan should make efforts to revive the film industry in the country. This segment cannot be taken for granted in an age of soft power competition. Pakistani artists are already producing masterpiece drama serials that are loved around the globe, demonstrating their ability to create high-quality content. However, they lack the financial support that confines them to drama serials. The success of the Pakistani film, The Legend of Maula Jatt, exemplifies the talent and potential content this country can produce. A minimum target of 50 films per year should be set. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should form a committee including seasoned artists and filmmakers like Anwar Maqsood, Ali Zafar, Atif Aslam, Mahira Khan, Fawad Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Bilal Lashari, and Sohail Ahmed Azizi, to identify what is needed to revive this sector.

The recent incentives, such as extensive tax exemptions for the film sector, zero income tax for individuals and production houses, tax-free import of production equipment, a Film Finance Fund of Rs2 billion, and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) tax credits to encourage film production, along with tax-exempt cinema income for the first 10 years, are praiseworthy and a good start. Still, only the results will validate these efforts.

Asadullah Raisani

The writer is a Research Fellow Balochistan Think Tank Network, Quetta.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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