The last 24 hours have given Pakistani film enthusiasts some good and some bad news. While Bodchitta Filmworks’s Seedlings made us proud by winning two awards at the New York Film Festival, Ek Tha Tiger — the most anticipated Indian film of the season — has been officially banned in Pakistan.
Muhammed Ashraf Gondal, the vice-chairman of the Central Board of Film Censors, told The Express Tribune that the Salman Khan-Katrina Kaif starrer had hit at Pakistan’s security agencies and was problematic for public screening in Pakistan.
According to Indian news reports, Katrina Kaif plays the character of Zoya in the movie, a scientist’s part-time home caretaker who is actually a Pakistani spy. Salman plays a RAW agent named Tiger, who then falls in love with Zoya.
“We have strict criteria due to which films that have themes that touch on anti-terrorism and are against Pakistan’s national institutions or security agencies ultimately have to be censored because they are against the national interest,” he said about the second Indian film to be banned this year, the first being Saif Ali Khan starrer Agent Vinod. “Ek Tha Tiger has several themes referring to Pakistan’s agencies, which were deemed problematic; thus, leading to the ban of the film.”
CEO of Brand TV and Cinema, the marketers of Atrium Cinemas, Asim Qureshi says the ban is bad for business. “Ek Tha Tiger would have smashed Bodyguard’s box office record in Pakistan,” he says, implying that if released, the movie would have drawn a massive audience here. “In the history of Pakistani cinema, Eid has been the most celebrated slot, since the biggest releases are scheduled for this time, he added.
“It will be a major loss. For the past four years, Eid Salman Khan ki hai, chahe India ho ya Pakistan.”
No Salman on Eid
Salman Khan has been ruling Eids in the subcontinent for the past three years. His films Dabangg and Bodyguard crossed the one billion mark and set new records of best openings in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The scenario, however, is a bit different on this side of the border as this is not the first time cinema owners and fans have been deprived of Salman Khan’s antics on Eid. In 2010, Dabangg’s screenings were banned on Eid and the picture became pretty ugly for Pakistani cinema. Although the ban on Dabangg was an effort to promote Pakistani films and let them have a clear box office ground, the strategy backfired. Cinema owners were promised Lollywood films in place of Hindi movies but they recieved nothing except Punjabi flicks. Not a single Lollywood film was released, as a result of which major centres, like Sindh, suffered huge losses. Cinema owners had no other option but to screen Punjabi films, which had a very low demand in the province.
Is banning an Indian film to promote Lollywood really a good idea? Certainly not! We already know that the Pakistani audience has the power to make or break a film — an observation that was proven correct last year when Pakistani films Love Mein Ghum and Bhai Log were beaten by Bodyguard on Eid 2011. The three films were being screened simultaneously at multiplexes but Love Mein Ghum turned out to be a major disappointment whereas Bhai Log did relatively well. Bodyguard destroyed both films hand down, proving that they were not competition.
Pakistani film-makers finally have the golden chance to prove their mettle since they don’t have any Indian film competing with them at the box office. Shareeka, Billu Da Kharak and Ishq Khuda are prospective releases this Eid and if they fail to attract an audience, cinema owners will have no option but to rescreen old Indian films again. The only positive aspect of this ban is that, after a long time, the Eid business in Pakistan will revolve around Lollywood and Hollywood releases only.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2012.