Dilemma of Pakistan’s Cinema Business

Bollywood film Bajrangi Bhaijaan which was released this year on Eid-ul-Fitr got clearance from Pakistan’s censor board for screening across the country. Only few days before the release of the film, it had become talk of the town and there were lots of rumors about the movie having an anti-Pak plot. One of the journalists in a TV talk show even appealed the censor board for a ban on the film by calling it anti-national.

Amid all this came a statement from the lead actor of the film, Salman Khan, himself saying:

“If you want to see India bashing Pakistan then don’t come and see this film” implying that there was no anti-Pak rhetoric projected in the movie.

Furthermore, Chairman Censor Board Sindh, Fakhr-e-Alam, also clarified that the film “is not a negative or anti Pakistan film.” He further went on to say that “Bajrangi Bhaijaan is the most positive film for Pakistan that Bollywood has produced in a long time.”

Bajrangee Bhaijaan received all praises by the Pakistani audience for showing a softer side of the country. Anyone who has watched the film would have definitely found a positive image of Pakistan portrayed in it. It shows the Pak army personnel at the border letting an Indian guy enter Pakistan without any visa for the sake of humanity. It shows how a local journalist accompanies Salman Khan to accomplish his mission of uniting a mute Pakistani girl with her family who somehow separates from them during the visit to India. It also shows a Pakistani imam letting a Hindu Indian guy stay inside a mosque. Most interestingly, the mute girl who is called a Pakistani throughout the film is shown to be from Azad Kashmir which is otherwise officially called ‘Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir’ in India’s political language.

bajrangi-bhaijaan

(Official Poster of the film: Bajrangee Bhaijaan)

But that’s not all. As per Chairman of Pakistan Film Journalists Association, Ather Javed Soofi’s statement: “A couple of scenes [from Bajrangee Bhaijaan], were edited/deleted as per guidelines of the Pakistan Film Censor Board…, as that is what has helped strike a chord with all.”

There are some serious questions that arise in this regard:

Why was it necessary to ‘strike a chord with all’ by presenting a version that was not complete? Why was there a need to cut any dialogues and scenes which were perhaps not in line with Pakistan’s national policy to make it fine for the Pakistani audience? Why did the censor board really consider running a movie for which they needed an ISPR official sitting with them to help with the editing?

In all honesty, if our censor board really believed that the movie was worth-watching for Pakistanis, it should have been shown in its entirety. There was a lot of positive element about Pakistan portrayed in the film. It would have been okay to let the audience see if there was any negativity portrayed as well. The Pakistani audience deserved to be shown whatever negative or positive had been depicted in the film. It is unfair to present a version which is too pleasing, only to successfully ‘strike a chord with all’.

Anyhow, it did not take long for all the excitement to be over. After few months of the release of Banjrangi Bhaijaan, the director of the film Kabir Khan came up with another one named ‘Phantom’ the storyline of which turned out to be highly anti-Pakistan; ultimately banned by the censor board of Pakistan. All the controversy that the movie led to in Pakistan is but another story.

Interestingly, certain voices from within our country were raised in favor of releasing Phantom in Pakistan suggesting that in this age of internet, banning a film cannot keep people from watching a particular movie hence it is useless to do so. Hardly do they realize that the purpose of a ban is not to keep the audience from viewing it, but to convey a message of disapproval to the makers. Banning is a gesture only – the way Pakistan did about YouTube; otherwise we know whoever wants to visit YouTube is doing so anyway through proxy sites.

Screening of foreign movies in Pakistan is yet another debatable issue which requires serious attention. While Pakistan’s film industry has started to produce quality stuff, it still has a long way to go. In such circumstances if foreign films are given more space at the cinemas it definitely affects the local industry. This particular aspect has been of great concern for many members of our film industry whereby they have been demanding more time and space for local films in the cinema houses in order to encourage the film makers. The demand is justified.

Recently, the Pakistani film Moor which was released on 14th August, 2015 was surprisingly shown at very small number of cinemas, giving more space to Bollywood and Hollywood films. It’s quite astonishing to notice that a movie like Moor that has received only praises from anyone who has watched it, did not run at the cinemas as much as it should have – a movie which is going to be Pakistan’s nomination for the Oscars 2016. On the contrary, Bajrangee Bhaijaan’s shows have been running even after more than two months of its release.

Moor

Pakistan has started producing quality films and the hard work of the film industry is paying back. Today, people from all walks of life are turning towards cinemas for entertainment which is a healthy sign for the industry. Pakistani cinema is on the track of its revival in its true sense. What is further required is to help the industry grow by giving more space to the Pakistani films than the foreign ones – especially when they are truly capable of attracting considerable size of audiences. Quality product generates business anyway. We have seen many successful ones in forms of Waar, Bol, Zinda Bhaag, Main Hoon Shahid Afridi, Bin Roye and very recently, Manto which is gaining a lot of appreciation and drawing huge crowds toward cinemas.

The point is not to put a ban on all the foreign films but the local-to-foreign ratio needs to be taken care of, which is the only way to be fair enough with our local industry. Bollywood and Hollywood have already achieved the level of boom the industries would have required. It won’t be problematic for their countries to introduce and run foreign movies for it won’t damage their own film industries since they are already been thriving since long. But for the Pakistani film industry that is in a growing phase right now, running foreign films in huge numbers alongside not only harms the industry’s business but also negatively affects the morale of those working hard for the success of the industry. The ‘Pakistan First’ policy needs implementation in this area so that the industry may flourish as it should.


This article originally appeared in Pakistan Today.

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