Pakistan film industry started off as a mighty empire, industry of the chocolate heroes and exquisite heroines. This is known as the “Golden era of the industry” where cinemas were filled with audiences enjoying their local movies which would touch the sensitive issues of the society. The industry flourished, boomed and grew mightier every day. An article in LA times sums up the story of Pakistan film industry, “In their heyday, theaters such as the Odeon had queues of Pakistanis snaking far beyond the box-office window and down Lahore’s bustling sidewalks. Moviegoers dressed in their snazziest salwar kameezes and arrived two hours before a showing to secure tickets. Today, Pakistani cinema has all but vanished, a victim of the VCR, cable television, President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq’s Islamization of Pakistani society, and finally DVD piracy. In 1985, 1,100 movie houses operated in Pakistan; today, only 120 are in business. The few directors, producers and cinema owners often rely on second jobs to make ends meet” (Rodriguez). The Islamization reforms introduced by the President Zia-up-Haq led to the deterioration of the industry and finally to its downfall. Stereotypical thinking, lack of Government finance and support, uneducated actors/actresses/writers/directors, lack of acting schools and production houses, and lately the introduction of the Indian movies in our local cinemas has closed down the industry completely.
The role of cinemas in the downfall of the film industry also needs to be discussed. It highlights the willingness of cinema owners to show Indian and English movies in their cinemas.
Although it might be argued that the cinemas have shown willingness to show Pakistanis movies as well. For example, the DHA cinema in Lahore is currently a Pakistani movie “CHANNA SACCHI MUCHI”, along with other Indian and Hollywood movies. Furthermore, several cinemas continue to show Pakistanis movies despite incurring losses but even this trend is changing as no cinema owner would continue to lose revenue by not showing Indian and English movies as also suggested by Jam Hussain’s article in The Nation newspaper, “While the Pakistani films have vanished from the cinema, the screening of foreign movies is in full swing these days. Almost every cinema in the City including those located in the Northern Lahore and Walled City known for displaying Punjabi movies, has switched over to either Indian or English film. The cinema-owners are going for the foreign flicks after the Pakistani films failed to attract viewers in a sizable number to sustain the cinema industry.” One of the reasons for the introduction of Indian movies in Pakistan was to bring back audience to the cinemas so as to ensure the survival of cinemas but the cinema owners, instead of screening both local and foreign films, are switching towards foreign films only which is effecting our film industry quite negatively.
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It is said that the downfall of the film industry started with the introduction Islamization policies indroduced by President Zia-ul-Haq. Advocates of General Zia’s regime argue that following the Bangladesh liberation war, the number of cinemas decreased rapidly and as political uncertainty took charge of the industry; filmmakers were asked to consider socio-political impacts of their films. So the film industry was already on decline but the imposition of new registration laws for film producers requiring to be degree holders, where not many of them held one, led to a steep decline in the workings of the industry, the forcible closure of most of the cinemas in Lahore by government and the introduction of new tax rates which further decreased cinema attendances is proof enough of the fact that the policies introduced by General Zia was a major blow to the film industry. There were other implications as well, according to the article “How Pakistan Fell in Love with the Bollywood” published in Foreign Policy magazine by Anuj Chopra, General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization policies resulted in the artificial split between Indian and Pakistani culture. Basically entertainment, particularly Indian entertainment, was labeled as “fahashi (vulgar)”. Classical Indian music and dance were banned, and colleges were instructed to shut down their music societies. Sari, a Hindu garment, was banned, which according to him revealed too much of a woman’s body. Moreover, it has also been noted that in state TV programs, women playing negative roles were shown wearing Indian clothes (mainly saris), while the good ones were shown wearing “salwar kameez(traditional Pakistani outfit)” and a “dupatta (a shawl covering the head)”. General Zia’s Islamization process was a huge setback to Pakistan’s film industry and it is still recovering from those setbacks as the process permanently changed the way people thought about films and the industry.
The Pakistani movies have been stereotyped as bad and low quality and also that people with low standards come to these academies and work in this industry. “It is commonly accepted that ‘respectable’ people don’t go to Pakistani cinema houses anymore, unless of course it is to watch a special screening of some Hollywood blockbuster” (Minhas). It might be argued that people still watch and appreciate Pakistani movies and also that many people are entering this field with prospects of great future. Some of the many new talents that have entered the industry include names like: Fawad Khan, Imran Abbasi and Imaan Ali. Their acting in “Khuda Key Liye”, regarded as one of Pakistan’s best movie, was commendable. They are a source of inspiration for other individuals, especially those who are passionate about acting but feel that there is no future in it. However, a few exceptions cannot really account for the performance of the whole industry.
Most of us are aware of the fact that a government can play a key role in promoting the film industry of a particular country. This notion obviously applies to Pakistan also, but the ill-fate of our country is such that the government has shown little interest in the development of this industry. The point is also backed by Amna Nasir Jamal’s article “The Pakistani Film Industry Struggles to Survive” in which she says that due to government’s laxity in the past two decades, the film industry has deteriorated and most of the technical facilities have been closed. It is acknowledgeable that throughout Pakistan’s history most of the governments have been hesitant to promote the film industry because of the opposition from religious factions. What the government does not realize is that the film industry has a potential of playing an important role in portraying a better image of Pakistan. Recently, the government, under President Asif Ali Zardari, formed “United Film Association of Pakistan (UFAP)” which aims to bring back the golden era of the film industry and also, according to the newspaper article “Taxes Everywhere and Not a Film to Screen” in The Express Tribune by Saadia Qamar, levied a 65 percent tax on the screening of foreign films in Punjab. These are positive steps and whether they will bear fruits or not, only the future can tell but what the industry really needs is economic and technical assistance which every government has failed to provide.
It is argued that the introduction of Indian and Hollywood movies has provided a competitive base for Pakistani movies so that only good quality movies come forward. The argument is backed by the introduction of movies such as “Khuda Key Liye” but the situation of the whole industry needs to be taken into account first. The film industry is on the brink of collapse, Pakistani movies have been stereotyped as bad so there is very little demand, few cinemas that are still operating are unwilling to screen Pakistani movies, the industry lacks technical equipment and expertise and there is very little government support. In 2009 an article, “Pakistan Film Industry Bombarded by Bollywood” published in Times of India by Bhariti Dubey quite accurately sums up the impact of Indian movies on Pakistan’s films industry, “This year, the Pakistani film industry produced only nine films. The reasons for this dwindle are many but most fingers point to one culprit who, they claim, has killed their industry: Bollywood. In the recent past, almost every film released in India has simultaneously been released in Pakistan and done business of about Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore”. Our local industry is unarguably very weak and needs support and exposing it to foreign competitors would never allow it to grow.
It is also suggested that instead of putting restrictions on Indian movies, the Indian movies should be allowed to be screened and promoted in Pakistan if the Indians agree to screen Pakistani films. This would improve cross border relations and also give Pakistani actors, who do not find enough work here, an opportunity to work in India. Meera and Javed Sheikh have already worked in Indian movies and as more people enter Bollywood, they could bring investment into our industry. However, this school of thought does not realize that Pakistani movies can only be screened in India if they are made of the same caliber and are able to compete with their films otherwise the Indian cinema owners would have no incentive of screening Pakistani Film. The introduction of Indian movies in Pakistan was only intended to increase the revenue of cinema owners and motivate our producers/directors to work harder and compete with them. However, this introduction took a wrong turn and still faces a lot of opposition.
Islamization policies, lack of financial support by the government, introduction of foreign movies in local cinemas and stereotypical thinking of the locals have really dented the film industry. The Pakistan film industry is now a sinking ship, which needs a captain who cannot only secure the future of the industry but can also lead the ship to its destination. The Pakistani Film Industry went through a smooth and a bumpy road altogether. There was a time when the industry saw good days as well as the bad days. But changes can be inflicted to make sure that the industry revives and sees those heights once again that it saw previously. The government support, educated youngsters, and establishment of more acting schools, cinemas, and production houses are the elements which should come on one platform in order to make the revival possible.
Works Cited Page
Rodriguez, Alex. “Pakistan’s Film Industry is in Collapse.” LA Times 08 Nov. 2009. Print.
Chopra, Anuj. “How Pakistan Fell in Love With Bollywood.” Foreign Policy Magazine 15 Mar. 2010. Print.
Minhas, Shandana. “The Second Wave.” Chowk 22 Nov. 2004. Web.
Jamal, Amna N. “Pakistani Film Industry Struggles to Survive.” Central Asia Online. Web.
Qamar, Saadia. “Taxes Everywhere and Not a Film to Screen.” The Express Tribune 19 Apr. 2010. Print.
Dubey, Bhariti. “Pakistan Film Industry Bombarded by Bollywood.” The Times of India 1 Nov. 2009. Print.
Hussain, Jam S. “Indian Movies Dominate Lahore Cinemas.” The Nation [Lahore] 3 Aug. 2009. Print.
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