The Survival of Pakistani Cinema

Why Going to the Movies Matter

The Survival of Pakistani Cinema
Cinema

A brand-new year is peeking from the corner. At the end of every year it is human compulsion to react and reflect – to look back at what the year has been about, of what was lost and gained. Of realization. It is alsothe time of new resolutions, of anticipative regiments and plans.

And so, while it may not look that way at first, a new normal slowly begins for the entertainment industry. Although production of motion pictures and television series did take a brief hiatus of weeks, (and in some cases, months), the cinema business will eventually open in accordance with SOP’s. Stocked with masks and sanitizers, cinema halls may not fill-up as usual because of social distancing measures.

It may not look that way for now, but behind the scenes, the film industry is readying itself with a fabulous bundle of releases. When the time comes, 2021 may knock the ball out of the park by a few dozen acres at least.

While movies are ready to rolls out in numbers, the actual need of the hour is the audience – an audience that needs to reciprocate the sentiment, and go and watch movies at the cinemas; to fill out the dent the pandemic has made in the business of making and showing movies.

Irrespective of what we argue about – of the quality of content (or the lack thereof), that is the real challenge.

When the economy is already hitting people’s pocket hard, and the healthy alternative of OTT (over-the-top entertainment platforms, ala Netflix) churning out fresh content almost every day for direct consumption, at your home and at your finger tips, at the cost of a single cinema ticket, only time will tell how much digital mediums actually affect the cinema business in Pakistan.

Do keep this in mind: the Pakistani film exhibition business (which is more expensive than one thinks) had just started picking up momentum. The boom of cinemas opening, although facing slight setbacks, was still a lucrative business opportunity. New complexes were being developed; some were on the verge of opening.

With the COVID and the new strategies of major Hollywood studios jumping into the OTT game, local endeavors may find themselves facing another major roadblock. As recently announced, platforms like HBO Max and Disney+ – arguably the biggest players in the game after Netflix – aim to premiere movies both in cinemas and their respected OTT’son the same day…and that too, without premium ticket prices.

The first big hit starts with Wonder Woman 1984. While it did not get release in Pakistan, WW84 has opened in select few cinemas in the US and other countries, with its premiere on HBO Max. As anticipated, within hours of release the film had made its way to illegal torrent sites.

While piracy has always been a threat, once upon a time the audiences made do with blurred out prints with skewered camera angle of the cinema and muffled audio. Audiences who saw these pirated films would have gone to the cinemas to get the full experience. However, films ripped from OTT’s will not have that problem; they will be of pristine quality. If you have a big-screen at home, you may not want to go out and watch the same movie in cinema.

Warner Bros. has already announced that its 2021 slate will go the day and date OTT route: Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, The Suicide Squad and The Matrix 4– amongst 17 major titles.

Disney is tentatively making a similar announcement with Raya and the Last Dragon, set to release on Disney+ (Mulan, their last title, had a premium USD $30 rental cost over the subscription charges; Soul, Pixar’s last release, is available to stream at no extras cost).

Pakistani movies, though, have a slight edge in this game…at least for the next few years.

Netflix, of late, has been promoting original Indian content. Pakistani titles in their line-up date back a few years. At least for the next two years, the titles we produce should give audiences that unique allure of seeing something not easily available through piracy, downloads or OTT.

With a truly remarkable list of films hitting Pakistani cinemas soon – The Legend of Maula Jutt, Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad, London Nahi Jaunga, Zarrar, Ghabrana Nahi Hai, Tich Button, Chakkar, Parde Main Rehnay Do, Money Back Guarentee, Dum Mastam, Ishrat Made in China – audiences have a chance to really support Pakistani cinema at a time when the industry’s need is at its greatest.

It is not the usual “help support Pakistani cinema” cry that most filmmakers often took refuge in; those products were substandard.

The cry is different this time around. As the world of entertainment changes worldwide, watching good, bang-for-your-buck, commercial Pakistani movies on the big-screen really matters. At least for the next few years.

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