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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June, 2005, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Pakistan's dilemma - Bollywood or bust?
By Usman Ghafoor
Lahore, Pakistan

A cinema hall
Producers say there aren't enough films to keep cinemas going
Powerful figures in the Pakistan film industry are desperately trying to step up pressure on the government to allow screening of Indian movies in Pakistan.

They say this is the only way the country's comatose film industry can be revived.

The ban was imposed after the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965.

"The local film industry has proven itself to be completely unable to meet the demands of the local market," says studio owner and producer Shahzad Gul.

Mr Gul is one of the few producers who still comes up with an occasional hit.

The Film Producers Association (FPA) and the Cinema Owners Association (CAO) have been repeatedly requesting a meeting with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to press home the urgency of allowing local screening of Indian fare.

However, their last request was turned down recently on the grounds that this may not be the right time to raise the issue.

To some extent, the industry's urgency is driven by the possible release later this year of Indian epic Moghul-e-Azam.

Connections

Pakistan's information minister Sheikh Rashid told BBC News website that the government had given the "green light" to distributors for bringing Moghul-e-Azam to Pakistan.

Producer Shahzad Gul
Gul: "Local industry cannot meet popular demand"
He said a letter to the effect has been sent to Akbar Asif - the late producer's son who currently holds its screening rights.

"We have not yet decided the release date," he said.

"There are many things we need to look into before going ahead with it."

Pakistani film makers are looking to use this as a precedent to secure permission for bringing in other, newer movies.

"Mughal-e-Azam's screening has been allowed due to the personal efforts and influence of Akbar Asif," says CAO chairman Zoraiz Lashari.

"This won't change the situation in general."

'Bollywood-isation'

A Pakistani cinema
Cinemas are being converted into shopping malls
Industry watchers say the stake holders need to get their own act together before they can change the government's mind.

Some within the industry have for long argued that opening up Pakistani cinemas to Indian movies will result in a "complete Bollywood-isation" of Pakistan.

"Hasn't it already?" counters Shahzad Gul.

"Bollywood has already invaded our homes. Our cable networks air Indian films the very day they are released in India. Besides, we have easy access to all kinds of CDs and DVDs."

Mr Gul and others who support his contention point to the situation on the ground.

Pakistan had 1,300 cinema halls in the 1970s, feasting on an average annual production of around 300 movies.

In 2005, the CAO could count only 270 cinema halls across the country with most of the rest having been converted into gas stations, shopping malls or car showrooms.

Only 18 movies were produced in the country last year.

"It is not that we are particularly fond of Bollywood movies," says Zoraiz Lashari.

"But we must talk business. We need to feed the cinemas for 52 weeks a year and Pakistan is not producing enough. Our only survival is Indian movies, like it or not."

Hypocrisy

Hollywood isn't the answer either, he says. Besides being too expensive and running up against a language barrier, no Hollywood star can hope to command the following that the likes of Indian idols Aishwarya Rai or Shahrukh Khan do.

Those in the industry also point to the "hypocrisy" in Pakistan's policy. They argue that those well connected are already bringing in Indian movies.

Last month, select cinemas across Pakistan screened Bullet Ek Dhamaka, a movie featuring an all Indian cast. For the purposes of import, it was billed as a Bulgarian production.

Film makers say that the screening of Bullet has valuable lessons for Pakistan: despite having an Indian cast, it was a disaster at the box office.

"It shows that there is no reason to be scared of Bollywood," says Mr Lashari. "Not everything made in India ends up being a blockbuster."

Mr Gul proposes that if at all any controls are needed, the government can limit the number of movies imported to Pakistan under some kind of quota system.

Any kind of an import formula can be drawn up, they say. What is important is to recognise the fact that Pakistani cinema is all but dead.

And few are willing to argue that it can be revived without help from across the border.


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