Pakistani moviegoers are finding it hard to celebrate the government's decision to allow screening of Indian films in the country, as there are not enough cinema halls here to meet the demands of the audience.
In this port city of Pakistan, cinema halls and multiplexes have been screening the latest Bollywood movies like Race, Taare Zameen Par, Awarapan and Welcome since last month, all running into packed shows.
With Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Bhootnath also slated for a countrywide release on May 9, Nadeem Mandviwalla, owner of the plush Nishat cinema in Karachi, says exhibitors are now finding it difficult to accommodate the latest releases.
"We are already screening Race since last month and it is doing good business. We are also running a special noon show of Taare Zameen Par and we have advance bookings from schools and corporate houses for special screenings," he said.
"In the last few years the cine business was so bad that many halls closed down and owners converted them into shopping malls or offices. But now I think the trend will have to change to accommodate all latest Indian and English films."
Qaiser Rafiq, owner of the Prince cinema which is also screening Race and Taare Zameen Par, said there were some 800 cinema halls nationwide in the early 1970s when the Pakistani film industry was booming.
"Now the number has come down to around 250. But the new releases are bringing back business," he said. Leading media groups like Geo, Express and Aaj have also entered the business of being media partners in the release of latest Bollywood films.
Since 1965 the Pakistan government had maintained a ban on the release and exhibition of Indian films in the country.
After having spent years watching Bollywood movies and latest Hollywood flicks on pirated DVDs, the moviegoers here are finding it a welcome change to see them on the big screen.
"I don't see anything wrong with allowing Indian films. Why not... We are a progressive and moderate nation and this is a good way to relax after a hard week," Sumera, a young banker said outside a cineplex here.
Rafiq said the interest of cinema hall owners in Indian films was obvious as a good Pakistani film raked in around Rs 800,000 on an average week while films like Welcome, Goal and Race have upped ticket sales to even around three to three and a half million on a good week.
Obviously, there are those who believe that by allowing Bollywood films the government will destroy the local industry which does not have the finances or production qualities to compete with the stuff from across the border.
But Satish Anand, a prominent distributor, says a good film always sells.
"I would advise the government to allow some concessions to our film industry. But there is no harm in releasing Indian films. The people must have the right to choose what they want to see," he said.
Federal Culture Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said the government would ensure that the sensibilities of people are not hurt by release of any "uncensored" film.
"We would also like to see our films released in India and more exchange and cooperation between the two industries. We need to support our film industry as well," he said.