Lahore, Dec. 24 (AFP): Pakistan’s once-lucrative film industry is in crisis, as modern technology floods the market with Indian and other foreign movies, and the quality of local productions sags, producers say.
“The malaise is all-pervasive, encompassing all segments of the industry,” said the owner of Prime Film Studio in Lollywood — called since Pakistan’s film industry is centred in Lahore.
Sajjad Gul said the 1960s and 70s were the “golden spells” for the industry when the largest number of films was produced and returns were lucrative.
Pakistan has around 450 cinemas.
“The arrival of video made a dent, while more significant damage was caused by the invasion of satellite and cable television,” said Mohammad Younus, the owner of a cinema here.
Indian films are banned in Pakistan. But video shops have an uninterrupted supply of Indian movies. Demand of Indian films has multiplied since the Pakistani government early this year banned foreign television stations that showed Indian movies. However, the well-to-do can skirt the ban with satellite dishes.
Pakistan produces about 60 films a year with a turnover of $100 million, while Bollywood makes some 800 films a year to a tune of $2 billion. In Pakistan, the production costs are soaring with the prices of negative rolls, which are imported, are rising.
A new worry for Lollywood is the rise of Islamic hardliners, who made spectacular gains in October elections and have entered power in two of Pakistan’s four provinces. After forming the government in the North-West Frontier Province, the Islamists immediately launched a crackdown on the screening of “vulgar” films in cinemas. Police tore down posters judged to be obscene. But directors, storywriters and other Lollywood insiders say a fascination with sex and violence has contributed to the industry’s decline.
Lollywood movies, made in the Punjabi language for the audience in Pakistan’s largest province Punjab, rarely move beyond simple lots of renegade violence and male honour.
Posters outside cinema houses show actresses posed provocatively with larger-than-life bosoms, and heroes menacingly holding smoking guns or hatchets dripping with blood.
“Films filled with violence, songs and dances attracted the illiterate and sold well for a time but ultimately the trend distorted the image of the industry and prevented its growth to a level of artistic excellence,” said actress Zeba Bakhtiar.
She lamented that most productions are “starkly sub-standard, full of hypocrisy and laced with pornographic touch”.
“They have no relevance to our culture and values. We are projected as a nation of terrorists, smugglers, as if we don’t have a culture,” she said.