After giving Bollywood films a miss for a while amidst the tensions generated by the Mumbai attacks, Pakistanis are back in cinema halls queueing up to watch Aamir Khan's much-talked-about Ghajini.
Attendance in halls screening Bollywood movies dropped by almost 75 per cent in the wake of tensions between the two countries, but it seems it is difficult for Pakistanis to resist an Indian flick, never mind the anti-India rhetoric.
Ghajini opened to a good response three weeks ago and most Pakistanis are raving about the film.
"People are calling in to book tickets and so far, many have poured in to watch Ghajini," Kaisar Rafique of a Karachi cineplex told Instep magazine.
Rafique, however, rued the fact that since the pirated DVDs Ghajini are available in the market, many people are watching the film at home.
"We are not getting the same response as Dostana or Race. It could have been brilliant if only pirated DVDs were not available in stores," he said.
Pakistan banned the screening of Shoot On Sight, an Indian production in which a Pakistani portrays a terrorist, last month when tensions between the two countries were at a high.
Acting on a directive from the culture ministry, Pakistan's censor board banned the screening of director Jag Mundhra's film, which is based on the impact on Muslims of the July 7, 2005 bombings in London.
The move led to talk of banning other Indian films and Indian channels which air the very popular 'saas-bahu' soap operas and reality shows.
Ghajini became the only Indian film to earn one billion rupees at the box office across India in less than a week of its release on December 25. At a time when every industry is hit by recessionary trends, the film starring Aamir Khan broke all the previous records and set the cash registers ringing.
"Our cable guy continuously plays Ghajini on TV but we have come here to watch it again," Jurry Quraishi, who came along with a friend to watch the film, told the magazine.
"I love the film and what could be better than watching Aamir Khan on the projector! Had I known Ghajini would be played in the cinema here, I wouldn't have bothered watching it on television."
Another avid Indian film watcher said: "The audience applauded whenever Aamir would kick into full action and hooted at the quirky romance between Sanjay and Kalpana, played by Asin. They thoroughly enjoyed the film and that was expected.
Nawab Hassan Sidique of Karachi's Nishat Cinema said: "Ghajini has done superbly abroad and could have done better business for us had the cable operators not played the pirated version." Pakistanis are now eagerly awaiting the release of Akshay Kumar's Chandni Chowk to China and Emraan Hashmi's Raaz 2.
Indian films no longer seemed hot business for Pakistani distributors just a month ago, with most Bollywood fans giving them a miss in the wake of tensions generated by the Mumbai terror attacks, which India blamed on Pakistan-based elements including the Lashker-e-Taiba terror group.
A film distributor in Lahore said last month that though Pakistanis love Bollywood films, few were showing up to see the movies after the escalating tensions. Lahore's Plaza Cinema manager Anwar said Indian films were being screened at three halls in his city and Plaza Cinema, which has a capacity of 850, had only 50 people showing up to watch Indian films even on weekends.
Anwar said distributors might not buy more Indian films in the near future if they are unsure of recovering their investments. Sozo World Cinema in Lahore, which was screening Yuvraaj featuring Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif, failed to attract a full house despite the huge fan following of the two actors.
Pakistan Cinema Management Association chairman Qaiser Sanaullah Khan too had admitted that in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, there had been a significant reduction in the demand for Indian films and exhibitors and distributors were reluctant to buy screening rights of new Bollywood movies.
Pakistanis, including Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, are huge Bollywood fans. Gilani, an ardent fan of Aishwarya Rai and Shahrukh Khan, was presented a box-full of DVDs of Rai's films by visiting External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in May.
The screening of Indian films was banned in Pakistan after the 1965 war. However, Islamabad has allowed a limited number of Bollywood movies to be imported over the past few years. Compared to India's production of over 1,000 movies a year, Pakistan's film industry makes just about 50 movies a year.
In the recent past Singh is King, Race, Awarapan and Jannat have all done well in Pakistan. Only 12 to 15 Indian movies a year are allowed to be screened in Pakistan.