The past few weeks have seen Pakistani cinema enter some turbulence. While one film, Maalik, is fighting for survival, another release, Hijrat, is on the verge of having its life cut short after disappointing on the box office.
Directed by Farooq Mengal, the film has managed to earn only a meagre Rs6 million across cinemas in Pakistan over the course of one week. The low returns have already prompted many exhibitors to either take down the movie or reduce its daily number of shows.
Even officials of the film’s distribution company were at a loss for words and were unable to pinpoint the exact reason behind Hijrat’s lackluster performance. “We never expected it to do this badly in cinemas. It was always going to be tough but it is very hard to point out what exactly went wrong,” an official of Hum Films, requesting anonymity, told The Express Tribune.
Although the film has recorded a low turnout during its opening weekend, some cinema owners and exhibitors still went ahead with screening it, hoping things might improve. “The figures that we received were just abysmal. The movie was running at 20% and below occupancy. Still we continued to screen the movie out of support for Pakistani cinema for as long as we could. We took it down after we saw that only four to five people attended the weekend shows,” stated a cinema official from Lahore.
Response to the film has been pretty much the same in the Karachi circuit as well, with one of the city’s most popular multiplexes, Nueplex, also recording unimpressive box office returns for the movie. A representative of Nueplex Cinemas, requesting anonymity, said that while Hijrat’s performance was amongst the worst, the facility has seen even bigger failures. “Halla Gulla had an even more disappointing run at our cinemas.”
While many attribute Hijrat’s below-par performance to the competition it received from Bollywood films such as Fan, some exhibitors were not of the same opinion. “Maalik was also screening at the same time and that movie managed to outpace Shah Rukh Khan’s Fan in terms of occupancy at our cinemas during the weekdays,” said Super Cinemas General Manager Khorem Gultasab.
Surprisingly, the film has not just underperformed at multiplexes but has also had a torrid time at single-screen cinemas across the country. Farrukh Rauf, director of Capri Cinemas, said that a major reason behind this worrying trend was the nature of the movie.
“Hijrat was not a film for the masses. At best it was running at 20% occupancy. It wasn’t a bad film; instead it was more of a multiplex film,” reasoned Rauf. Citing the success of Baaghi, he explained that single-screen cinema audiences turn up in large numbers for movies high on the entertainment quotient which was found to be missing with Hijrat.
Although this is not the first (or last) time that a Pakistani film has underperformed, the last local release to have such disappointing returns was Dekh Magar Pyaar Se (DMPS).
Released on the Independence Day weekend — alongside Brothers, Moor and Shah — DMPS too endured a difficult time in local cinemas. Nevertheless, the film had still managed to earn Rs8 million during its extended opening weekend in comparison to Hijrat’s Rs6 million.
With Meera’s Hotal expected to release in the next few days, there are cinema owners who feel the film star’s fan base might work in her favour. “Hotal is a Meera film so it may do much better because of the amount of publicity the movie received after it got embroiled in different controversies,” Rauf added.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2016.