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In Pakistan, films must be Indian
- Secret screening of Bhoot from banned Bollywood is talk of Lahore

Lahore, July 12: The big bad world of Bollywood continues to wield its magic wand in Pakistan despite an official ban on Hindi films in a country that eats, drinks and breathes cinema.

A rumour — which the uncharitable insist is a better source of news than many official channels in the country — is doing the rounds in Lahore. A section of the city’s chatterati reportedly got together some weeks ago for a special mission: a secret screening of Ramgopal Verma’s Bhoot.

The story leaked out, raising a political furore. “Though everyone talked about it for a while, the rumour was never confirmed and was eventually dropped,” says a senior journalist based in Lahore.

But out on the streets, it is Mumbai’s cinema that rules, ban or no ban. Shops are full of Hindi film videos, for the viewing of pirated videos — which are easily available — is clearly one of the most popular pastimes in Pakistan.

“You may not get a particular film in India, but you’ll certainly get it in Pakistan,” says Zahoor Sahba, an Indian from Jaipur, who now lives in Lahore. “On many occasions, films not released in India have already been viewed in Pakistan.”

Most houses have access to satellite television, which provides Pakistanis a healthy — or unhealthy, depending on your world view — diet of Hindi cinema.

A recent attempt by the Pakistan government to ban Indian channels failed miserably when the people protested against it.

“Most of us said we would stop subscribing to satellite television if Indian channels were not aired,” said Sahba. Not surprisingly, the move was quietly buried.

Indian cinema’s hold on Pakistanis has been an old and abiding bane of the ruling classes ever since Pakistan’s first film, Teri Yaad, starring Dilip Kumar’s brother, Nasir, was released in 1948. That was five years after the immensely popular Ashok Kumar starrer, Kismet, was released in Mumbai.

Since then, Pakistani cinema hasn’t moved on much.

While other forms of Pakistani culture, including its television serials once greatly popular in India, have captured the imagination of the people, Pakistani cinema has not.

Take, for instance, a 1990 release called International Gorillay. The villain in the film, based on the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, was the besieged author himself — a part played tellingly by actor Afzal Ahmad.

With Lollywood — a fond, if borrowed sobriquet for Lahore’s film industry — lagging far behind its bigger and better cousin, Bollywood, Hindi cinema has managed to retain its hold over Pakistanis.

Weddings are organised on the lines of the gala celebrations in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Shah Rukh Khan is clearly among the most admired men of recent times.

There is, of course, a reason for that.

A Lollywood film is produced at a cost of Rs 1 crore, which is the price that several top actors in India command for a film role.

There was a time, a decade or two ago, that Lollywood produced 100 films annually. Now they barely make 40 films a year, as against the 800-odd films that Bollywood churns out.

Not surprisingly, the average Pakistani finds solace in Hindi cinema. One of the prominent banners at an India-Pakistan cricket match during the bygone days when they duelled on the pitch was a significant social commentary. “Kashmir le lo, Madhuri de do (Take Kashmir, but give us Madhuri Dixit),” it said.

Of course, the Indians — no less fanatical than Pakistanis about Mumbai cinema — declined the offer.

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