In the wee hours of Tuesday (February 26), the Indian Air Force (IAF) launched an airstrike and destroyed the biggest Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camp in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. In response, Pakistan information minister Fawad Chaudhry declared a total ban on Indian films.
Chaudhry took to Twitter to announce that no Indian film would be allowed to release in Pakistan. He also said that Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has been instructed to crack down on “Made in India advertisements”. The ban was also in response to India’s total and complete ban on Pakistani actors and artistes from working in India.
However, while we hardly see any Pakistani films releasing in Indian theatres, around 70 per cent of the total revenue of theatres in Pakistan comes from Bollywood. The ban of Indian films in Pakistan, therefore, is expected to deal a crippling blow to the entertainment industry in the neighbouring country.
Pakistani website Herald reports that after the ban of Indian films was lifted in Pakistan in 2007, the audience began flocking to theatres and the increased box office revenue triggered the construction of new cinemas. With new threatres being built across the country, the production of local films too witnessed a boost.
But even then, the Pakistan entertainment industry has a long way to go. Only 21 Pakistani films were released in 2018. In 2017, there were only 129 screens across the country.
Compare this with our country – a Deloitte report says that as of 2016, India had 6,000 single screens and 2,100 multiplexes. According to the Film Federation of India, 1813 films in different languages were certified in India in 2018.
In 2016, after a deadly terror attack on an army camp at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan declared a ban on Indian films, which was eventually rescinded in December 2016. Herald called the ban “ill-advised” and said that since the audience stopped going to the theatres altogether, the box office collection of local Pakistani films too took a massive hit.
Not only this, the Pakistan government’s decision led to several local productions being shelved and multiplex development projects being scrapped.
Nadeem Mandviwalla, a known exhibitor, distributor and owner of the Atrium chain of cineplexes in Pakistan, told PTI at the time of the earlier ban, “I just hope the ties don’t remain tense on long term basis. If there is a temporary ban, we can survive but if there is any permanent ban, you can expect a lot of cinema houses and multiplexes to close down.”
Pakistani film critic Omair Alavi had echoed the same sentiment and said, “We have seen a number of Pakistani films release and do well and others are also lined up for release. But for a cinema industry to survive, you need to produce at least 50 to 60 films in a year which we are not doing at present.”
Meanwhile, former Sindh Board of Film Censors chairman Fakhr-e-Alam told PTI that if such a ban was implemented long-term, it would mean “going back to the days where our screens were shut down and converted into shopping malls or apartments because there weren’t enough movies.”
Rahul Kadbet, Vice President of Programming at Carnival Cinemas, told PTI earlier this week that Indian productions will hardly feel a pinch if they are not released in Pakistan. “The losses can be amortised from other avenues like exploiting new media platforms. A blockbuster Indian film hardly grosses four to six per cent of Indian box office in Pakistan and for a regular film, it is even less,” he said.
Pakistani filmmaker Sohail Khan told PTI after the Pulwama attack, “The Indian film industry makes a lot of money by screening movies in Pakistan. My idea is they make Rs 700-800 billion annually as over 100 films are exported and shown in Pakistan. So it is a big business for them and they will also lose money by this decision.”
The figures, however, speak otherwise.
Exhibitor Akshay Rathi told PTI after Bollywood producers decided not to screen films in Pakistan, in solidarity with the Pulwama terror attack martyrs, “Lots of consumption of Indian films happens through piracy and the kind of collection that comes out of Pakistan is very less as compared to other territories.” Remember Filmistaan?
He said that on an average, Bollywood films earn around Rs 4-7 crore in Pakistan. The biggest Bollywood blockbuster in Pakistan so far was Salman Khan’s 2016 Eid release Sultan, which made Rs 37 crore. Sultan’s worldwide box office collection was Rs 630 crore. That makes the revenue from Pakistan just about 5 per cent.
Indian film industries will survive without that 5 per cent. Will Pakistan, where 70 per cent of all revenue is from India, pull through?