If one enters a regular DVD store in Pakistan with the intention of buying some Lollywood flicks, there will be disappointment. Try it out, and you will realise that there is a relatively small collection to choose from.
The combination of piracy issues, lack of intellectual property rights and the attitudes of film-makers in the industry has left the public deprived of Pakistani cinema. The circumstances are such that films rarely even make it to DVD stores, and the ones that are released on DVD take painfully long to physically appear on racks.
For instance, films such as Bhai Log or Love Mein Ghum which were released a year ago are still waiting to enter most retail outlets, while many films rarely get the chance to make it to a store at all. The Express Tribune talks to some film distributors who know the market to explain this peculiarity. If one goes into the dingy confines of Hall Road Plaza in Lahore, it will be seen that one of the biggest film distributors in the city, Okay CD, has now switched businesses and become Okay Computers.
The owner of the store, Maqbool, seems more than disenchanted with the Pakistani film industry and described it as the Wild West, devoid of any laws or regulations to ensure fair competition to sellers. He added that having recognised this, “Producers don’t like to sell films in the first place. By showing films in the cinema they recoup most of the funds,” says Maqbool.
When the producers sell rights to film, distributors make numerous copies and sell those across the city making profits which do not land in the film-maker’s pocket. However, by running the film in the cinemas more than once, they end up making more money. “What we would do is mainly buy the older films which are cheaper than the newer films, which producers always try to hold for themselves,” Maqbool adds, explaining that this keeps new releases away from the market.
Typically, the rights for new films are sold for around Rs500,000 to retail distributors, who then make copies of a film for about Rs70 and sell authenticated copies in the market for Rs100. However, Maqbool explains that the problem is the weak regulations. “Films were easily pirated by smaller shop owners who could sell the same Lollywood or Indian film for Rs25, because there is no law to prevent this.”
Meanwhile, Muhammad Imran from Eros Entertain-ment, another distributor, explains that piracy issues really harm the business for retailers and that the costs don’t seem attractive for retailers to pursue Pakistani films anymore, even if the producer is willing to sell. “If a film-maker or producer is offering Rs200,000 for a film, no one in Lahore will buy it nowadays, so that’s another reason why films are not reaching the market on time.” Fixing these issues seems like a lost cause to Imran who had once prided himself on selling genuine films.
Others, such as actor Ghulam Muhyuddin feel that it is more than just piracy issues which prevent films from reaching the retail market. He believes that whether a film reaches a retail market or not depends on the producer who determines the feasibility of selling the rights of the film.
“I think it has always varied because ultimately, the film is the property of the producer, who is always going to think of ways to maximise profit,” says Muhuyuddin. “If the demand is there, they will always hold the film for a second or third run in the cinemas.”
Furthermore, well-known producer and film veteran Aslam Dar explains that since the ban was lifted on Indian films, Pakistani cinema has been in troubled waters. He explains that a certain environment has to be created for Pakistani films to be commercially successful in the market.
Pakistan is starved for entertainment. If one looks at the sheer number of cinema-goers, it is evident that films are a popular avenue of entertainment. Our industry and government should milk this opportunity instead of letting it die out.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2012.