With big screens in major cities being dominated by Bollywood item girls like Munni and Sheila, there is no place for Lollywood’s gandasa-waving hero and his buxom lady love.
Ticket sales of Bollywood’s recent release Race 2 have broken previous box office records in Pakistan, an omen that bodes doom for our local film-makers, whose days of glory have become ghosts of the long-forgotten past.
In this environment, local film-makers, such as veteran director Hasan Askari feel stifled, to say the least. Askari blames the failure of his recent film, Dil Paraye Des Mein, on cinema ‘lobbies’, which, he claims, “purposely hinder” local films in their greed to promote Indian ones.
“I will call on all mohib watan (patriotic) organisations to protest this conspiracy,” he said dejectedly, adding that he also would reach out to “anti-Indian” clubs to start a protest at the Lahore Press Club. “This is an industry I helped build – I cannot stand and watch while it dies.”
The prominent Urdu and Punjabi film director’s last major box office success to have a diamond jubilee run at the cinema was 2000’s Teray Pyar Mein, a cross-border love story. Like many of Pakistan’s old school film-makers, he blames the decay of our film industry on the influx of Indian films. “The government would never encourage Indian products if it was some other industry that was struggling,” he said. “India makes better bicycles than us. [Getting bicycles from there] is not a logical solution,” he pointed out.
According to cinema-goers, Askari’s Dil Paraye Des Mein – which has been hyped as the new-age Lollywood film – is a poorly produced movie with the redundant story line of the Indo-Pak conflict, depicting India as a country with a passion for war.
According to Askari, his film made it through the censorship scissors six months ago and was only screened by distributor Metropole Cinema as a last-minute decision when their scheduled Indian film didn’t make it. He added that the film was pulled down last week, and accused the cinema owners of “closing canteens to further discourage viewing of the film”.
The film’s producer Mumtaz Malik said he planned to take the cinema to court for failing to uphold its end of the agreement.
However, Qaiser Sanaullah of Metropole Cinema was unperturbed by the allegations. He explained that the decision to pull the print abruptly had been made to replace the screening with Bollywood flick Special 26, “because cinema owners could not subsidise the screening of substandard films any longer”. “Using old cameras and outdated story lines is just not viable anymore,” he said.
In the last year, only three local films have made it to Pakistani screens, as compared to scores of Bollywood blockbusters.
Director Masood Butt brings to light a more important factor in the Indian-versus-local film debate. He explains that cinema owners find the business potential of Indian films irresistible, and that while local films offer producer-cinema ratios of 80:20, Indian films can give as much as 50:50 distributor-cinema profits. “We have failed to evolve as a film industry,” he admitted. “Aside from Shaan or Moammar Rana, we really have no star, and we simply cannot compete with Indian cameras and quality.”
MPA Farah Deeba is quick to draw attention to the Punjab government’s efforts to improve the local film industry through tax breaks and other initiatives. She said that being the daughter of the late actor/director/producer Rangeela, she has led several delegations to meet with the CM on this issue. According to her, the larger issue is that cinema owners are desperate for survival and that from the 1,000 screens that once existed, only about 100 remain.
“If quality films are made and private money is invested in better films, the dominance of Indian films will subside,” she says. “We cannot ban Indian films – screening them is not against national interest. We really have to move beyond this mentality.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2013.