Pakistani film distributors have run up losses of millions of rupees because of a ban they imposed on Indian movies following a spike in tensions between the two countries, leading to the shelving of plans to build more multiplexes.
The self-imposed ban was to have been lifted in late October but several developments, including a terror attack in Quetta that killed 60 people and was blamed by some in Pakistan on Indian elements, led to the postponement of a decision.
More than a month after the ban was put in place, Pakistani exhibitors are feeling the pinch with losses of Rs 10 million in daily revenue on weekends alone, Newsweek Pakistan reported on Monday.
“It is the worst year for cinemas and theaters in Pakistan,” Zoraiz Lashari, chairman of the Pakistan Film Distribution Association, was quoted as saying by the magazine.
“Over 200 cinemas were in the pipeline for construction. These plans have either been shelved or are on hold for now,” he said.
Indian films had largely fuelled the cinema boom in Pakistan in recent years, with revenue from Indian films accounting for between 60% and 75% of box office revenues in Pakistan over the past three years. Salman Khan’s Sultan alone earned more than Rs 300 million at the Pakistani box office.
Emporium, Pakistan’s largest shopping mall in Lahore, had announced a multiplex with nine screens. Following the ban on Indian films, the number was cut to three.
Distributors are also concerned about the widespread piracy of Bollywood movies.
“The decision is not hurting those who are illegally selling Indian movies in Pakistan,” said Nadeem Mandiwala, one of the country’s leading film importers. “They won’t stop. But we have to, who are working legally. And it’s not just about the money; it’s what we did for 40 years, rebuilding trade, which is no more.”
Pakistani distributors and cinema owners had said their ban was only a response to the Indian film industry’s actions after the terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri that killed 19 soldiers. The Indian Motion Picture Producers Association prohibited its members from hiring Pakistan actors and technicians and actors such as Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan and Ali Zafar were forced to return from India.
The recent boom had taken the number of screens in Pakistan to more than 100. The film industry made only 10 movies this year, of which only two were a commercial success. In comparison, Lashari said, Pakistan exhibits more than 50 Bollywood movies every year.
Pakistani distributors recently turned to films from Iran and Turkey but it’s unclear whether they can be as successful as Bollywood productions.
The last time the Pakistan government imposed a ban on Indian films was after the war in 1965. This ended in 2006, when former dictator Pervez Musharraf allowed the import of a limited number of Indian movies every year.
No one is sure how long the current ban will last. According to Lashari, war between artists on both sides of the Line of Control helps no one. “How is watching each others’ movies anti-state? Trade and visits by Indian religious leaders to sermons in Raiwind seem to remain halal.”