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In view of the ongoing sparring between the two countries, Pakistan should avoid any kneejerk reaction
A group of Indian film exhibitors had recently resolved not to screen any film featuring Pakistani artists till the normalisation of relations between the two countries. The decision was taken to show solidarity with the Indian soldiers who lost their lives in the Uri attack. This decision was later modified to allow the screening of those films featuring Pakistani artists that had been in production when relations between the two countries hadn’t reached their current low point. The reported ban on Pakistani stars was imposed on single screen cinemas mainly in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat and Karnataka. These states are being ruled by BJP-led coalitions. Maharashtra is the hub of militant Hindu outfit Shiv Sena and its affiliates, known for their pathological disposition towards Pakistan. In a recent film festival held in Mumbai, the screening of the one-time epochal Pakistani movie of the late 1950s, Jago Hua Sawera was also banned. The film is associated with renowned humanists Faiz Ahmed Faiz and AJ Kardar. Pakistan’s film associations, within no time, resorted to a similar ban. It is worth noting that the ban in India was imposed on relatively rundown single screen cinemas. Modern multiplex cinemas, which earn huge revenue were kept out of its purview. This underlined the cosmetics of the move. The sainaiks were very conveniently wise enough not to physically lie down on the railway track across Atari and stop goods trains carrying huge stocks of Pakistani cement to meet the insatiable demand of the Indian real estate industry. In the post-Uri backdrop, India has unfolded a calculated strategy of continuously needling Pakistan on multiple fronts, the creative industry being a new addition. The banning of Pakistani stars has raised serious eyebrows amongst the saner elements of the Indian film industry but these voices are being ignored.
Films and the pursuits of performers, including that of singers, are part of the service industry. In bilateral relations between countries, these are an important and distinct entry in the balance of trade. Service sector exports and imports indeed add to the value chain and reinforce linkages with downstream industry and businesses as a whole. With modern multiplex cinemas coming up in Pakistan, the import and exhibition of Indian films have given a spurt to our film industry and expanded allied businesses as well. Film is an important part of the creative industry as are actors and performers. Apart from satiating the demand of the importing country, films have been a promising source of revenue generation. The creative industry, in many ways, is the purveyor of cultural values and a means of diffusing cultural practices. The process helps broaden the outlook and approach towards nagging social and economic issues. India is by far the largest film-producing country in the world with an annual production of 1,600 films and a revenue of well over $2 billion. The revenue figure is not as big as that of Hollywood, Japan or China. The industry is not unilingual, has a split market and a low per seat revenue share by an international comparison. The Indian film industry has come of age with racy blockbusters creating niche and penetrating markets abroad. This journey, however, had different turns, starting with a wave of social realism in the late 1940s, captured brilliantly by the likes of Bengali film icon Bimal Roy in Do Bigha Zameen. In the 1950s, film production morphed into a melange of romanticism and tragedy, both in thematic content and performance. It will not be out of place to say that the earlier years of the Indian film industry after independence saw the dominance of artists from this side of the divide — stars from the Peshawer valley like Dilip Kumar, Madhu Bala and those belonging to the house of Prithvi Raj, stars like Kamini Kaushal, Pran, Balraj Sahini, Chetan Anand, Dev Anand and singers like Muhammad Rafi from Lahore, and CH Atma from Hyderabad, Sindh.
Over the years, films for India have been the country’s flagship export, from Al Maghreb in Morocco to Bali in Indonesia and from Fiji to the Carribbean thanks to the presence of the Indian diaspora. This ploy has been deftly used by India as an adjunct of its diplomacy as well.
The journey of film in Pakistan had its ups and down. At one time the country produced around a hundred movies a year, but this number plummeted to single-digit figures in the 1990s and the early 2000s. This slide was on account of a variety of reasons including stringent censorship. The other parallel development was the production of the Punjabi blockbuster of the 1980s, Maula Jutt, which changed the tone and tenor of film-making in Pakistan, and the irresistible typology spawned by this movie, glorifying blood, violence and vendetta, became a constant theme in our films. With the passage of time, this struck the death knell for the industry. Cinema houses were razed to the ground and the space vacated by them was put to alternative commercial use. In 2008, there was a lifting of ban on the screening of Indian movies. This set the pace for the revival of cinema culture and eventually encouraged the emergence in the industry of a better educated younger lot, trained in the techniques of filmmaking. A grand coalition of professionals brimming with new ideas and techniques are now playing a lead role in the revival of the Pakistani film industry. It must be noted that Indian producers haven’t been after some of our leading stars and singers just for the heck of it. Our artists showcased their freshness, talent and creativity really well resulting in their demand in India. For years, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Rahat Fateh Ali have been much admired with the latter having been the popular choice of many a producer and music director in recent times. As regards Pakistani actors, they brought in the rich uninterrupted heritage of our teleplays on the mega screen. Teleplays in the early years of television in Pakistan were penned down by renowned creative writers known for their depth and breadth in Urdu literature.
With the coming up of shopping malls in major urban centres in Pakistan, modern multiplex cinemas have figured as an integral component of these new business propositions. In fact, there are close and interrelated linkages between branded stores, food courts, play areas for children and the modern cinema.
In view of the ongoing sparring between the two countries, Pakistan should avoid any kneejerk reaction. We should not be oblivious to the fact that the exhibition of Indian films has helped revive the Pakistan film industry and in financial terms benefited us more than India. Indian films are not only providing healthy competition to the domestic film industry they are also providing critical mass to upcoming cinema houses, which may run into operational difficulties if Indian films are not screened as the number of Pakistani productions right now is too low to be able to sustain the cinema business throughout the year. One also hopes that better sense will eventually prevail in India.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st , 2016.
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This article was originally published on http://tribune.com.pk/story/1216497/banning-cinema/