KARACHI: Cinemas in Punjab have been surviving on revenue generated by screening Indian and American films.
That may not be the case for much longer. A circular/notification has been issued by the Government of Pakistan which categorically states that a 65 percent tax is to be paid by cinema owners in Punjab if they screen a foreign film, regardless of whether it is a Hollywood or Bollywood film.
While the 65 percent tax is only for foreign films being shown in Punjab, the Sindh government only charges a fixed tax for the ‘A’ category of films (which encompasses foreign movies) that does not exceed Rs2,000. If the tax is imposed in Karachi, it may signal the beginning of the end for the few cinemas left in the city.
Karachi, which at one point in time had at least 113 cinemas, now only has 36 cinemas. The rest have been sold off and torn down to make way for shopping markets and commercial buildings. Nawab Hasan Siddiqui, a director at Mandviwala Entertainment, told The Express Tribune, “A lot of revenue is generated from box office hits such as Indian productions 3 Idiots and My Name is Khan. This year, Hollywood films like 2012 and Avatar have also done well. But it would be a great tragedy if such a notification is issued in Sindh as well as in Punjab. Where does one go for entertainment if not to the cinema?”
However, the move to tax cinemas has won support from unlikely quarters. Farah Deeba, a member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly and part of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)’s cultural wing is on board. Farah Deeba, is the daughter of the late actor Rangeela and believes that the Pakistani film industry is going through a grave crisis and wants to ensure that foreign films do not take over the market. Deeba is a firm member of the committee that motioned the 65 percent tax on screening foreign films in Punjab.
While Deeba said that it is possible the percentage may decrease, she was not sure how much. However, the question remains that with just nine films produced by Pakistani filmmakers in the past three years, is it possible for cinemas to even be sustainable when they are so heavily taxed?
As reported in The Express Tribune on April 12, cinema managers are complaining that the government’s arbitrary policy for the release of Indian films only permits 12 to 15 films to be screened. With yet another move to cut down on their profits, cinemas will completely turn to dust.
WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAVED YOUSAF
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