Will Indian films save Pakistani cinemas?
LAHORE: Lahore’s Odeon cinema has seen better days. The Punjabi song-and-dance feature on the screen plays to rows of empty seats, the scratchy image and crackling soundtrack as old as the memory of a packed house.
Pakistan’s once thriving film industry, which used to pump out 80 to 100 movies a year, is in a terminal decline. Cinemas are closing at an alarming rate, and owners say cinemas can be saved if the 40-year-old ban on showing Indian movies is lifted.
The Lahore-based movie business, known as Lollywood, similar to its Bombay cousin Bollywood, has suffered from the booming sales of pirated movies on video tape and DVD and the recent spread of cable TVs showing Bollywood blockbusters.
Only about 25 mainstream Pakistani movies were made in 2004, most of which bombed at the box office.
“The situation is deteriorating daily. Urdu and Punjabi cinema is almost doomed,” said Shazad Gul, a movie director and chief of Evernew Studio, the main production facility for Pakistani cinema.
Gul, whose late father Agha was regarded as the country’s first movie mogul, is converting the sound stages on the aging Evernew lot for television as there seems to be a brighter future in making drama serials for the growing number of private TV networks.
Dwindling cinema revenues mean that films that do make it on the big screen are usually cheap productions with hackneyed plots and the same few actors that can only attract audiences with lots of blood-spilling and sexual innuendo.
“People just want naked bodies and vulgar dances,” lamented Mohammed Aslam, a popcorn vendor at the Odeon. Only two-dozen customers, most of them ignoring the no-smoking signs, were in for the night’s main feature- a 1971 comedy in black and white.
Lollywood has a long moviemaking tradition dating back to before partition and while it always struggled to match the brassy musical extravaganzas produced across the heavily militarised border in Bombay, the Pakistani industry thrived for decades and made 101 films in 1989 alone. ap