Within hours of Indian air force planes breaching our sovereignty and making the ridiculous claim of killing 300 plus Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists, Pakistani politicians, civilians and armed forces stood fiercely together under one flag. The usual clockwork was set into motion; DG ISPR press conference, Prime Minister’s address to the nation, and a boycott of Indian content.
Every time tensions between Pakistan and India escalate, our cinemas screening Bollywood films take a hit. The Cinema Exhibitors Association has announced a blanket ban on Indian films till further notice. While pirated DVDs will continue to be displayed in video stories, no Bollywood movie will now be screened in cinemas across Pakistan. This official boycott has been reiterated by our Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting while instructing PEMRA to also act against advertisements made in India.
Given the immense fan following of Indian film stars in Pakistan and the revenue Indian films generates for both countries, the move makes a clear statement to our neighbors: nothing comes before our nation. Zoraiz Lashari, chairperson of the Film Exhibitors Association, stated: “In light of the prevailing situation, and in solidarity with the government, the film exhibitors fraternity has volunteered to focus on local content till the normalization of the current situation in the region.” But for how long will our cinemas be able to continue this?
The boycott is neither sustainable nor something new. Similar calls for suspending Indian films have also been made in the past only to recommence screening once the hubbub had died down. A more viable alternative is to counter the demand for Indian films by pushing for growth in Lollywood. While Bollywood is a world renowned giant, Lollywood is just beginning to show growth. During 2018 Bollywood released 116 films while Pakistan managed to produce a mere 21 films. Furthermore, India’s highest grossing movie ‘Sanju’ generated a worldwide box office revenue of $82 million. On the other hand, Pakistan’s ‘Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2’, managed to generate only $6.4 million in revenue at the box office worldwide. Even if we make concessions for our weaker currency, there is still an immense difference between the film industries of both countries. The glamour and popularity enjoyed by Indian superstars far exceeds that received by Pakistan’s finest artists. With an income of $40.5 million India’s Akshay Kumar was recognized as the world’s 7th highest paid actor in 2018 by Forbes, while Salman Khan bagged the 9th position with $38.5 million. Despite having both stunning good looks and phenomenal acting skills our actors and actresses are yet to hold similar recognition titles. Fawad and Mahira can instantly draw a crowd of thousands, but not one larger than that which will surround Ranveer or Deepika.
Now the birth of a superstar comes from mixing a little fate with a great script. And Pakistan has immensely talented writers capable of producing good scripts which do not rely solely on replicating the Indian cinema’s well established formula of minimal clothing and maximum references to sexuality. The popularity of Pakistani soaps like ‘Humsafar’ and ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’- in both India and Pakistan- are proof of this. However, film production is an expensive venture and hence not something which anyone can dabble in. The cost of cameras and basic technical equipment can easily run into millions. Given the recent dollar hike this cost has shot up even further, curbing the number of films which can be released in Pakistan annually. Moreover, there is still a certain taboo attached pursuing a career in films. Young men with a dream to act will frequently be called useless while women will be labeled immoral. As much as the average Pakistani adult may gush over a hero or a heroin, the idea of their child appearing in one of the very same roles can often be unsettling. And yet watching movies is one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Pakistan. So if the ban on Indian films continues and Pakistan is unable to produce a greater number of entertaining films, what will the people watch? Since we are a country where majority of the people do not speak English, Hollywood movies cannot substitute for the vacuum left behind by the boycott of Bollywood movies. How will then the cinema cleaners and the young boys hired to make popcorn earn a living?
In our daily lives national pride tends to take a back seat; we repeatedly fail to give the achievements of our nation and its people the importance they deserve. Criticism supersedes celebration. Patriotism tends to only emerge in the face of American accusations and Indian attacks. While the intentions behind boycotting Indian content are no doubt righteous, it is far more sensible to push beyond this superficial symbol of solidarity with Pakistan. It is far more patriotic to develop our own film industry to such a point that the demand for Bollywood films naturally declines.