Indian producers open to releasing Hindi films in Pakistan

MUMBAI: The Mumbai terror attack has had some serious repercussions not just on the political front but also on the entertainment front.

Indian films were officially banned in Pakistan since the 1965 war between the two countries. However, movies like Awarapan, Bhoothnath, Race, Welcome, Taare Zameen Par, Singh Is Kinng, Kidnap, Golmaal Returns, Dostana and most recently Yuvvraaj were released theatrically in Pakistan after the government there became less stringent on some rules for screening of Indian films.

Just when the situation improved over the last year or so, the Mumbai terror attacks took place on 26 November; thus bringing the film industry back to square one with regards to Pakistan. Yash Raj Films, which was earlier planning to release Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi in Pakistan, has now refrained from doing so.

In the light of this scenario, explores the implications that this is likely to have on Hindi films’ theatrical release in Pakistan and vice versa from here on and the general mood in the industry.

Indian film industry professionals spoke to opined that it was a wait and watch situation, but Hindi movies will definitely not release in Pakistan as of now purely due to the political quandary. That said and done, most of them, however are open to releasing movies in Pakistan. While it is an individual decision that each company will take, but if there is an official order from the Government of India refraining them from screening movies in Pakistan, companies will undoubtedly abide by the same.

At the same time it is pertinent to note here that recently-released Hindi films like Yuvvraaj, Dostana and Golmaal Returns have not been taken off theatres in Pakistan post the Mumbai incident.

Indian films currently release in Pakistan territories of Lahore, Karachi, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi/Islamabad, Multan, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Gujarat with an average print count of 12 -15.

Reliance BIG Entertainment president Amit Khanna opined, "There are not a large number of Indian movies that have been releasing in Pakistan. Only selective movies are released but those that were planning to release there will definitely be affected."

Sharing his viewpoint from the other side of the border HKC Entertainment CEO Hammad Chaudhary, who distributes Hindi films in Pakistan, said, "It was an uphill task to get the movies released in Pakistan in the first place. While the ban is still there, the Pakistani Government had softened certain rules. Pakistan audience has been absolutely ecstatic to see their favourite stars on the big screen. I feel sorry for the same audience (the aam junta as I may refer to them), who absolutely 100% condemn this barbaric act of violence in Mumbai. As far as the immediate releases are concerned, they may not happen due to security issues. However, the next few weeks will bring a clearer picture. I would urge all our friends in the film fraternity in India that, together, we all have worked very hard in making the release of these movies a possibility in Pakistan. Let’s not make quick decisions or comments, as that’s a winning point for the perpetrators of this crime. The people of both countries have suffered due to terrorism."

Mukta Arts CEO Ravi Gupta said, "We released Yuvvraaj in Pakistan before this unfortunate incident took place. The movie is still running in Pakistan theatres as of now. At this point in time, things are at a political level and each party will look at what the other is doing and retaliate on a ball to ball basis but the moment the animosity levels reach on a people to people level, there will be problems. The problems of the common man in both countries are the same and they have the same interests at hand. However, if some rouge group fuels misunderstanding at the base level then there will be serious repercussions. When the political rhetoric reaches its crescendo, one will have to come down to practical issues and how to deal with them. Thankfully we have international support on our side and we have strong allies in the US. I have a feeling that we might be able to solve the problems politically and diplomatically."

So far, Yuvvraaj has collected Pakistani Rs. 10 million (Pakistani Rs. 1 crore). "The blasts in Mumbai have not had any significant effect on the theatrical performance of Yuvvraaj in Pakistan," informed Eros International president distribution – Europe and Africa Pranab Kapadia.

UTV Motion Pictures CEO Siddharth Roy Kapur also maintained that as of now it was a wait and watch situation for everyone in the industry. "No one has taken any decision on future releases in Pakistan," he said.

In case there is no formal directive from the government on the same, will a collective decision be taken by the uild, Association of Motion Pictures & TV Programme Producers (AMPTPP) or some such body? To this, Kapur said, "It’s difficult to say at this point in time but it will largely be an individualist decision than a collective one."

However, over the last few days, discussions have been on at AMPTPP wherein members have been deliberating on this issue. Despite repeated attempts AMPTPP treasurer Manish Goswami was not available for comment at the time of filing this story.

Studio 18 vice president marketing and distribution Priti Sahani added, "While as of now the issue is being contemplated individually by companies, I feel that a collective industry decision needs to be taken on whether our films should release in Pakistan or not. However, we are still taking stock of the situation."

Some Indian film industry professionals opine that our movies should not be released in Pakistan. However, one needs to play the Devil’s advocate and ask that if sports and music haven’t been affected when we have had ‘not so cordial’ relationships with Pakistan then why should it affect films? "Why should films be politicized? The fact remains that the common man shares the same interest across the border and films are a reflection of our culture. It’s clearly a wait and watch situation as of now," said an industry professional.

Notwithstanding the developments, Reliance BIG Pictures, which will be releasing the Aamir Khan starrer Ghajini on 25 December in the overseas, is planning to go on schedule for the release of the film in Pakistan as of now. A company spokesperson said, "As of now we plan to go as per schedule for the film’s release in Pakistan. However, one needs to see how things pan out in the coming weeks. A film is sent to Pakistan for censorship close to its release date and the number of prints will be decided thereon."

On the other hand, over the last one year Pakistani films like Khuda Ke Liye and Ramchand Pakistani have found their way onto Indian screens. While the former received rave reviews and performed well at the Indian box office, the latter received a lukewarm response. Percept Picture Company released both films in India.

So will we see any more Pakistani films being released in our country? Percept Picture Company CEO Navin Shah puts forth his viewpoint, "We released Khuda Ke Liye and Ramchand Pakistani in India because the content was compelling and not particularly due to the fact that they were Pakistani films. However, we are not against buying films of Pakistani origin and if find that the content is good, we will go ahead with it. Keeping the current situation in mind, the Indian films’ release in Pakistan is likely to get affected in terms of day and date release and number of prints for at least another three months."

Pakistan based HKC Entertainment’s Chaudhary added, "The release of Pakistani movies in India depends on the Indian Government giving permission for the same. I am quite optimistic that Pakistani filmmakers would love to have their movies screened in India in the future too."

Chaudhary has been in constant touch with Indian producers and corporate companies over the last few days and discussed the fact that one should not succumb to terrorism, as Pakistan is facing the same problem. "However, immediate releases may get affected and this is just due to sheer bad timing," he said.

Ultimately the brunt will be faced by both film industries. Indian films will lose out on theatrical revenues from the Pakistan territory and vice versa. On an average, Hindi films garner anywhere between Rs 3.5 – 10 million from the Pakistan theatrical market.

According to Sahani, a big budget Hindi film starring the likes of Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan can gross in the range of $200,000 (Rs 1 crore) in the Pakistan territory, whereas a mid-size film can tot anywhere in the range of $75,000 – $100,000 (Rs 37.50 – 50 lakhs).

What’s more, Akshay Kumar starrer Singh Is Kinng, which released in August this year, is still playing is some single screens in small Pakistani cities. "Since we are still relying on single screens successful films like Singh is Kinng is still doing its rounds in smaller cities. The real change was brought about with Welcome really, which despite being released late proved to be a very successful film in Pakistan," Chaudhary informed.

Chaudhary signed off, "I am not going to deny the fact that the theatrical market in Pakistan will not suffer – of course it will. But the question here must be that as a film industry, do we stand united? I can assure you that from Pakistan film industry perspective, yes we do! Otherwise the current movies playing in the market would have been taken off. I am also assured by our friends in the Indian film industry that no hasty decisions will be made by them to stop the selling of their films to Pakistan."