Film industry: a soft determinant of economic growth

The downfall of Pakistan’s film industry is a result of ill-conceived dubious national visions

Dr Muhammad Babar Chohan March 27, 2021
The writer is a civil servant holding a PhD

The 15th death anniversary of the legendary filmstar Muhammad Ali was observed on March 19. He acted in over 250 movies and was one of Asia’s 25 greatest actors. How could the accolades of a filmstar or industry be related with economic growth, is a rudimentary question underpinning the revival of Pakistan film industry. Its answer can be found by analysing the film industry as an economic institution.

Economic growth is a context-dependent phenomenon. Prof Jüri Sepp, in his paper, "Soft Factors of Economic Development: Human Capital and Institutions", notes that economic theory has always been struggling to answer what determines a country's economic growth. It is because most countries underestimate the challenges between ambition and reality enshrined in their policy visions. The same is the case with Pakistan. The downfall of Pakistan’s film industry is a result of ill-conceived dubious national visions. In recent past, the country produced didactic documents on long-term vision to galvanise economic growth including Vision 2025, Vision 2030, and the Framework for Economic Growth (FEG).

Similar to Jüri's arguments, the FEG came up with two categories of growth parameters. One is termed as 'software' such as management and productivity while the other is 'hardware' like physical infrastructure. Film industry is primarily a part of the software category. Historically, Pakistan's primary focus has been on the hardware, such as roads and infrastructure, and not software such as culture, art, people and values. Denigrating collision between the culture and religion has also created several impediments in making quality films. As a result, the film industry was not recognised as a vibrant determinant of economic growth. The same approach prevailed globally till 1978 when Thomus Guback wrote "Are We Looking at the Right Things in Film?" He noted that film studies neglected rational analysis of cinema as an economic institution.

Pakistan needs to rely more on soft factors of economic growth, like the United States. Hollywood is an example of how a film industry can act as an economic institution. Most American movies dominate international film markets. A political economist of media, Prof Janet Wasko, emphasises that a film needs to be placed within an entire economic, social and political context for maintaining and reproducing structures of power. Many movies, such as True Lies, were meant at achieving geopolitical objectives by justifying American military operations worldwide. Following Janet's argument, the topics of Pakistan’s film industry must have economic, social and political context. Choorian is a good example of the social context in which a love story and village culture were highlighted. In terms of economics, the director, Syed Noor, and actors such as Saima, Moammar and Nargis, are rich human capital for the industry. Their experience needs to be utilised for similar movies.

On the politico-economic front, the emergence of China as an economic giant has changed power structures globally. Pakistan's close alignment with China and CPEC has created new power structures in South Asia. Pakistan’s film industry, as an economic institution, can play a pivotal role in bolstering economic growth and strengthening new geostrategic power relations. Many intelligence operations, in the country's defense, can be performed through quality films. The documents relating to Pakistan's policy vision must, therefore, define the micro-level processes which, among other factors, need to treat the film industry as a determinant of economic growth. Accordingly, the awards won by actors and films are a commodity and need to be seen as a tangible product and intangible service. This could be a great objective to be achieved on the 15th death anniversary of actor Muhammad Ali.



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