An arbitrary policy on Indian films hurts Pakistani cinemas

Ali Usman April 12, 2010

LAHORE: Even as Indian films dominate cinema screens and fervent coffee shop discussions, they are being screened under a dubious policy.

Even though the import of Indian films in cinemas was legalised in 2008, the government has not created a clear-cut policy for their release. While Pakistani film producers, directors and exhibitors differ on whether the screening of Indian films helps the local film industry, they all agree that the current policy must be changed.

Currently, Indian films are censored under an import policy devised by the Ministry of Culture. But under the policy, only those films are allowed which are not Indian productions and have been registered or filmed in another country. The policy bars the viewing of any film which has been filmed in India.

Film exhibitors and distributors call this policy “vague”, and say that it seems as if the problem is “with the country India and not with Indians”. Producer and director Rukhsana Noor told The Express Tribune that ironically, this policy would even permit propagandist films. “Many Indian producers register their films in Bangkok so they can be screened in Pakistan even if the film has objectionable content about Pakistan or its ideology,” she said.

Filmmaker Sangeeta said that she does not advocate banning Indian films, but reiterated the need for clear guidelines. Film exhibitors and distributors are worried about the lack of guidelines.

Cinemas need a steady supply of films to keep afloat and the Pakistani industry can’t provide that. But Indian films must be registered abroad otherwise they are not kosher for a local audience. Zoraiz Lashari, the chairman of the Film Exhibitors Association of Pakistan, said that cinema owners have no choice but to screen Indian movies.

“We don’t screen Indian movies happily. We do it because we have to run cinemas. Since there are no Pakistani movies available in the market, the government should devise a clear policy on Indian movies so that people can have some sort of entertainment,” he said. According to Lashari, an Indian film can be purchased for $50,000 (Rs4.1 million) to be screened in Pakistan.

While that is a huge amount, the film can break even fairly quickly. An example of this is My Name is Khan which made Rs4.5 million on its opening day this February. Qaiser Sanaullah Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Cinema Management Association, told The Express Tribune that cinema owners want a steady supply of Indian films to keep cinemas running. “Since there is no clear policy about the screening, only 12 to 15 films are allowed to screen here which is a very low number to keep cinemas running year-round,” he said.

Khalid Pervez, who is a deputy secretary at the Ministry of Culture and responsible for the screening of Indian films, confirmed to The Express Tribune that only those films that were not ‘Indian productions’ were allowed in Pakistan. He said that there weren’t any detailed guidelines on the subject and the Censor Board cleared films for release. “There are no detailed rules of business for the issue and I cannot say anything more,” he said. While filmmakers have tried to bring up the policy issue before, nothing has been done to make sense of the vague guidelines. The ‘made in India’ tag attached to films and the arbitrary policy is only hurting, not helping, Pakistani cinemas.


Fayyaz Alam | 13 years ago | Reply Being a country where foreign films are available is a respectable choice, whereas becoming a dump for foreign things is not something that one can be proud of. Indian films are very popular in Pakistan and one must admit that almost all the famous films are being shown in Pakistan. The current 'cry' of cinema owners comes after they were allowed to showcase Bollywood films after nearly 45 years. During last 2 years, one can see that all blockbuster Indian films were released. What more do they want? Do they want to show flop films too? Many countries have laws that restrict foreign films. Even China doesn't allow more than a certain number of foreign films. Recently China banned 3D Avatar and allowed only 2D in order to favour a local film. If the number of film is restricted, it is a good thing for the importers & distributors as they will be careful and only buy films that are likely to be successful. During last 10 years, Bollywood films have been making loss and only a handful have been successful. If we are looking for a respectable solution, we'll have to look closer at home. Revive our own film industry. Even in the past, when there was a 'film for film release policy', our importers would make a very cheap & third rate film in order to send it to India (and remain there in boxes) and import their favourite films. We had a bad experience in the past. This time we'll have to be more careful! Two years were enough for Cinema owners to support few local films. If they can make (as your article says) 4.1 Million on a successful Indian film in one day, they can easily support production of a local quality film on their 2 or 3 days' income!
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