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Pakistan open to Bollywood films

Islamabad, Jan. 23: If Mughal-e-Azam was the last Indian film screened in Pakistani cinemas, Jodhaa Akbar could well be the next.

Pakistan’s parliamentary committee on culture yesterday gave its go-ahead to lift the four-decade ban on Hindi films in the country.

“It should be done in a manner which may promote healthy competition at home and without harming our religious and cultural norms and values,” the standing committee headed by Senator Zafar Iqbal Chaudhry said.

The final decision on lifting the ban imposed after the 1965 war rests with the cabinet. Although President Pervez Musharraf — a self-confessed Rani Mukerji fan — does not have a role, nothing stops him from prodding the government to act fast. The Senate committee asked the government to take all stakeholders into confidence before deciding.

Musharraf had made an exception to allow the release of the all-colour Mughal-e-Azam in 2006 in Pakistani cinemas. Another film, Taj Mahal, was also released but that had a Pakistani actress in the lead role.

Leading film producers and promoters in Pakistan have demanded exhibition of Indian movies to help revive the domestic film industry, which is going through one of its worst recessions. The number of cinemas has shrunk to less than 100 from over 300 in the early 1970s, with most converted into malls, godowns and hospitals.

“The ban has practically become ineffective as these movies are being viewed uncensored in almost every household,” the committee said.

The latest Hindi films are shown on cable television within a week of their release in India, and smuggled DVDs are also freely available. Jab We Met was a big hit with the audiences here, making Kareena Kapoor the hot favourite, and Taare Zameen Par has struck a chord with the kids.

A senior culture ministry official said a summary had been prepared for the Prime Minister, recommending import of Hindi films against export of an equal number of Pakistani films to India.

“Exhibitors, producers and directors may be allowed to enter this trade, which will be advertised widely through the media on first come first serve basis,” the official said. An individual who exports a Pakistani film will be allowed to import an Indian movie within three months on the production of two documents: a certificate from the Indian Censor Board and another from the Exhibitors’ Association saying the film was released in India.

If the government takes a decision within the next few weeks, Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Jodhaa Akbar, due for release on February 15, could benefit.

Pakistani producers should try to sell their films in India, the committee said, adding that a market exists for good Punjabi and Urdu films across the border.

While it rejected the local film industry’s argument that lack of official patronage was the sole reason for its sorry state, the committee did call for incentives to help it revive.

“Good and entertaining movies are still doing flourishing business as proved recently by the Urdu film Khuda Kay Liye,” Chaudhry said.

The local film industry must come up with innovative story lines and good subjects and improve its technical expertise to compete with Hindi films if they are allowed, he added.

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