Oct. 14: An association of movie theatre owners has decided not to screen films featuring or associated with Pakistani citizens in deference to “public sentiments”, the announcement coming two weeks before the release of Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
The romantic drama stars Ranbir Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Anushka Sharma with Pakistani actor Fawad Khan making a special appearance. Its scheduled October 28 launch coincides with the Diwali weekend, a premium release slot.
The embargo was announced by the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India, whose members are mainly single-screen theatre owners in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa and parts of Karnataka.
Another film that could be affected is Raees, which stars Shah Rukh Khan and Pakistani actor Mahira Khan and is due for release in January.
One trade analyst said the embargo did not mean much unless associations in other parts of the country and multi-screen theatre owners decided to follow suit.
But others pointed out that if the association stuck to the threat, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil will not be exhibited in around 2,000 single-screen theatres in the four states.
The country has over 10,000 single-screen theatres. But the theatres of the Mumbai circle, which includes all of Maharashtra, contribute the biggest share of the box office collections. Some sources said as much as 70 per cent of the collections came from the single-screens and multiplexes of the Mumbai circle.
“A blow in the Mumbai circle can sound the death knell for a film’s business. Close to Rs 60 crore is riding on Karan’s film,” said a source in Dharma Productions, the Johar company that has produced the film.
Deepak Asher, president of the Multiplex Association of India, could not be reached but another senior official in the organisation said multi-screen owners were “enthusiastic” about the Johar film and would screen it.
“There’s a lot of buzz around the film and its music has been received tremendously well by the public,” he said, requesting anonymity. “So, unless there’s a formal order from the government not to show the film, we’ll go ahead with the release.”
Johar hasn’t spoken or issued a statement.
Nitin Datar, president of the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association, denied any political pressure on the organisation or any fears of vandalism if theatres screened the film.
“We have decided not to screen any film that has Pakistani actors, musicians, singers or any other artiste from that country because of the public sentiments prevailing in the country (India) at present,” he told The Telegraph from Mumbai.
“The initiative was taken by some of our members who felt that patriotism comes first and that we should keep the national interest ahead of our business interests.”
Datar clarified: “It is not a ban forever. But until the relationship between the two countries becomes normal, we will stick to our decision.”
Mumbai-based film trade analyst Amod Mehra said: “It will certainly make a dent on the film’s earnings in the western parts of the country. But these days a film’s fate is largely decided by how it fares in multi-screen theatres. Unless they also come up with a similar boycott, things should be good for the Johar directorial.”
Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had after the Uri attack last month asked Pakistani artistes to leave India and threatened not to allow the release of any Bollywood film with Pakistani actors.
MNS representative Amey Khopkar has congratulated Datar’s association and Raj has posted a tweet appreciating its decision.
Mehra added that any loss Johar suffers could be a gain for Ajay Devgn’s upcoming action thriller Shivaay, due to release the same day.
Devgn is among a handful of Bollywood personalities who have said the Indian film industry should avoid employing Pakistani artistes under the present circumstances.
The Central Board for Film Certification, which has cleared the film with a UA certificate (requiring parental discretion for viewing by children below 12), criticised the decision by Datar’s association as “politically motivated”.
“If it wants to ban Pakistani artistes, it should not do so with films that have already been shot and are ready for release,” board chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani said.
The MNS threat had prompted the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association, one of the biggest organisations of film producers in India, to decide to avoid working with Pakistani artistes or technicians until bilateral tensions eased.
Its president, T.P. Aggarwal, however, objected to today’s embargo by Datar’s association, telling a news channel: “We are not against the films that were made before the situation turned bad.”
Another leading organisation of film producers, the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, too urged the government to see that the producers of completed or close-to-complete films don’t “end up paying a heavy price for no fault of theirs”.