Hamna Zubair, the Culture Editor of Dawn, says that the decision to show Iranian and Turkish films in the place of Bollywood flicks will not be a good commercial proposition for the Pakistani film industry as films from Iran and Turkey will never attract audiences like the way the rollicking Bollywood block busters do. And poor collections at the box office would mean that the Pakistani film industry will not be able to lift itself from the pit it has dug itself into in a moment of nationalist zeal.
Our ban on Indian films has made painfully clear that Bollywood provided the scaffolding on which Pakistani cinema could stage its comeback, ensuring a steady supply of cash where none was to be had before, she notes.
“Banning Indian films was a strategic error on the part of Pakistani cinema owners – not just because it had the paradoxical effect of hindering the growth of local cinema, but also because it is nearly impossible to reverse. Though cinema owners said the ban would be in effect until Pakistan-India tensions ease, there is no objective standard by which this expected softening of relations can be gauged. However it is justified, any move to begin screening Indian films again can be criticised as being anti-national.”
“The Pakistani film industry is not yet in a position to produce more than a dozen mainstream films a year — if that — so cinema owners have little recourse other than to look westward for something that’ll pull in the crowds. Enter Iranian and Turkish films.”
“Now, introducing Iranian films to a Pakistani audience is, in theory, not a terrible idea: Iran produces provocative, award-winning features that ought to be seen by more Pakistanis. However, the decision is ill-conceived in that it aims to solve one problem — that is, poor attendance in cinemas — with a solution best applied to an entirely different problem — a lack of cultural awareness in Pakistan’s movie-going population.”
“It stands to reason that a rigorous examination of identity vis-à-vis an Iranian film will never serve as substitute for the rollicking entertainment a Bollywood blockbuster provides. The gains made in screening Iranian films will not be monetary; they will be moral and intellectual. This is noble, yes, but it does little to boost Pakistan’s nascent film industry in real terms.”
“And what of Turkish films? Interestingly, there’s a precedent here. Turkish dramas dubbed in Urdu have been airing on Pakistani TV for many months now, and with great success, or so ratings tell us. However, assuming Turkish films will fare as well as Turkish TV dramas is a leap that ignores the key difference between cinema and television: TV viewers are a captive audience, and so, are easy to convert into casual or even regular consumers.”
“In contrast, going to the cinema is a deliberate economic decision, an event with a not inconsiderable price tag. The exhausted mother-of-three who likes to zone out in front of a Turkish drama at 3pm while her children nap — will she rush to the cinema to get her fix of Turkish entertainment? No.”’
“This is the state of Pakistani cinema at the moment: having dug ourselves into a hole we’re desperately casting about for a ladder. We’ve latched onto Iranian and Turkish films as a mode of elevation, but it’s a poor one which won’t be our salvation.”
‘Had we taken the long view, we wouldn’t have banned Indian films at all — we’d have continued to use them to prop up Pakistani films until, one day, we could fully detach without consequence. Unfortunately for Pakistani cinema, pragmatism plays only a bit-part in our decisions.”
(The featured image at the top is that of Hamna Zubair, Culture Editor of Dawn ,Pakistan)