Once again exchange of feature films and television programmes, across the international border between India and Pakistan have come to a screeching halt.

The initiative this time has come from India. It was  swift and severe.  The suddenness of the action caught the Pakistani film exhibitors and distributors off guard.

What was also surprising was the fact that the Bombay film industry to a man, decided to join hands with the Modi government to  make this ban effective. On all past occasions when ever the restrictions were imposed, noises from both sides of the ‘fence’ were heard  complaining of hardships and harassment.

The ban however still allowed Raunat’s film Manikarnika  to slip through into the Pakistani film circuit and   do a successful commercial run. On the other hand  six other films  in the pipe line, found the gate closed. As  public opinion was hostile to all Pakistani sentiments, the Indian film producers and distributors all decided to protect their film assets and stay quiet. The voluntary ban has met with good approval and the patriots in New Delhi have  endorsed the step taken by the film industry.

A ban on film export to Pakistan is not a big deal for us. With about 150 screens in this under developed country, the revenue coming  from the film audiences of Pakistan  is only a spoonful of profit for the Indian exporters. On an average  each  film from India generates an average of Rs 4  crores of profit for the Indian producers in Pakistan. There have been some huge exceptions  in the past when  some Indian films ran and ran and ran in cinema halls and Pakistani fans  gushed over the stories and performances.

Since  film screenings were revived  about ten years ago, a film Sultan has recorded a profit of Rs 37 crores; truly  fantastic. The next best run was for Bajrangi Bhaijan which grossed Rs 23 crores. Dhoom 3 grossed 25 crores, ‘PK’ made Rs 22 crores and Bajirao Mastaani made a profit of Rs 9.50 crores. Salman Khan rules the roost in Pakistan otherwise!

The complete ban on export of Indian films to Pakistan however has a debilitating affect on the local Pak film industry and business.

Each year at each 130 films from India are exported to Pakistan which feed the daily software to entertain its fans. Indian films can  dictate higher tickets which allow the local exhibitors to share higher profits during the film run. Some film from USA also come to be shown in the metro towns but they have poor commercial runs as the local audience is not well versed in the English language. Pakistan’s own film industry mainly based in Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore,  provides another 30 odd films.  A decade ago  the local product was so bad that no member of the elite ever bothered to see the products, but the rush of Indian films and the profits generated thereof, helped the Pakistani business to invest in new theatres, and in import of equipment to  improve the technical quality of the local product. The end result we also saw in films such as Khuda Ke Liye, Khamosh Pani and Bol.

After many decades, Pakistan also found the courage to send entries to USA to compete in the Oscars for the Best Foreign Film. That film critics in Pakistan could recommend a local product meant that  the new generation of Pak films were of reasonable standard. Of the films in five languages  made in Pakistan of Pusto, Baloch, Sindhi, Punjabi and Urdu, it is the films made in Urdu which  have the best local standards.  Pakistan also has a private international film festival now held in Karachi where  Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi make repeated appearances accompanied by Mahesh Bhatt.  All these visits are suddenly closed from India.

The latest ban of films and features from India  will have its effect in the next one month. The Middle Class will begin taking road trips to Jaffrabad across the Durant Line to see their Indian films, the Upper Middle Class of Karachi will take the shuttle flight to Dubai for the same , while the  poor people will see those horrid pirated versions. The more enterprising  youth will like to stream the  delayed released films, to satisfy their urge.

The same fate awaits the television programmes and here the Saas-Bahu conflict will suffer the greatest tragedy. Dramas may be great  shows in Pakistan, but the garish costumed and heavily loaded fake jewelry display on women character of Indian dramas captivate the local  Pakistani audiences right into the deep nights. Now for quiet sometime, there will be some peace at home  and local programming will resume. Fear will also soon emerge , when the local exhibitor will find he has nothing new to offer to his young audiences who prefer their films to be shown in the big Malls. Once upon a   time theatres  deprived of the latest Indian films,  use to screen old films like Mela, Rattan, Dastan, and Nurjahan. That literature  may have by now  turned into celluloid pulp. So this Indian ban could well mean the ruin of the Pakistani entertainment for the remaining part of the year, unless  the Generals decide to  ask us for the peace pipe to be smoked.

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