When there’s a big demand and the supply side is artificially kept as a drib, there is always a side door that allows happy but contraband transactions to make up for the official shortage. Except the ‘side door’ for the entry of Hindi movies in Pakistan is one giant darwaza called pirated DVDs. So it wasn’t Track II diplomacy or Punjabi amity on either side of the border that has made the Pakistani government finally allow ‘regular’ screening of Indian films in Pakistani cinemas. Instead, it was the brutal fact that Pakistani distributors and cinema owners were losing precious income to DVD pirates that opened the gates.
Pakistani distributors had been lobbying for the expansion of the Bollywood movie quota for years. The last two years, they had some success when the government agreed to allow Indian films in — but on a case-by-case basis. This quota raj-cum-censor board approach to Hindi movies is understandable when one puts it in the context of other countries battling that other hegemon of cinema, Hollywood. France, for instance, has a strict quota of French films that have to be shown in the cinemas so that the market isn’t inundated with the likes of Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. India — and America — is lucky in the sense that it loves what its homegrown produce.
Lollywood may not have the pulling power of its Indian counterpart even in Pakistan. But if Pakistani soap operas, so popular in India in the 1980s, can be any indicator, the Pakistani film industry could — who knows — come up with a brand alternative to Bollywood. It may be far, far away in the boxoffice sweepstakes, but perhaps as a choice, Pakistani cinema could provide the choice of another kind of subcontinental cinema. What Latin American films did in the scattered field of ‘World Cinema’.