Reviving Lollywood – Quality Is Not the Only Factor
By Rafiq Ebrahim Valjee
Winfield   IL

During my visit to Pakistan a few years ago, I went to Eastern Studios just out of curiosity. Three decades ago, being a film reporter for a local magazine, I used to frequent the place. It used to be abuzz with actors like Waheed Murad, Mohammad Ali, Nadeem, Shabnam, Rani and other top stars with whom you could chat during the break in the shooting. All the floors usually remained busy. A good number of films produced in Lahore and Karachi every year delighted the film-goers, keeping the film-makers, actors, technicians, distributors and exhibitors prosperous and happy. The film industry was flourishing and we were able to see some memorable movies like Arman, Do Raha, Naila and a host of other unforgettable films.

That day I was shocked to see the condition of Eastern Studios. There was nobody there. A chowkidar opened a creaky door for me. After dusting off a few cobwebs I entered the studio to see a screen full of dust. It had turned yellowish as a result of neglect. A few broken chairs and a floor that was not swept for years welcomed me. There was a projector in a corner. It was only a skeleton with lenses missing. I could see some other equipment, rusted or broken. The studio was in such a deplorable condition that I simply could not stand the sight, and had to get out, feeling extremely sad at the fate of the Pakistani film industry.  Coming back on the way to the hotel where I stayed, I saw huge posters displayed on walls of some cinema houses. These posters and painted hoardings showed fat, ugly actresses scantily dressed in dancing gestures. Later, I came to know that the only films produced in Pakistan were trashes, full of vulgar scenes and dialogues. What a downfall! Is there any hope that good, inspiring films will ever be made again in Pakistan? Is anything being done to revive the industry?  

 When Shoaib Mansoor’s Khuda Ke Liye was released a few years back, it was widely believed that it could mark a revival of the Pakistani cinema. The film was much appreciated at home and abroad and won many laurels. Following its wake, Syed Noor and Reema Khan released their moderately entertaining good films. Yet, revival was not in sight. Shoib Mansoor’s next movie Bol also proved a hit; still the industry couldn’t stage a comeback.

If Pakistani filmmakers release four or five good films in a year and hope for a revival, their hopes would bear no fruits as only quality is not enough. There are other factors like quantity, availability of state-of-the-art studios with quality processing units, strategic promotions and world-wide marketing that need to be considered.

Today, experienced and recognized filmmakers, producers and financiers and even those who wish to enter the field for the first time to make good films are scared, because they feel certain that their films will not even be able to cover the production cost when released.  That’s because they would not be able to compete with the avalanche of technologically advanced Indian films exhibited in all cinema houses in Pakistan. The distributors and exhibitors are so obsessed with Indian films that all their cinema houses remain booked for weeks for the release of these films, giving Pakistani films little chance of being shown. The latest example is Reema Khan’s Love mein ghum. This film could have made a mark had it been shown for a longer period. It was taken off early because the cinema houses were in a hurry to release a couple of star-studded Indian movies. Thus Reema’s ambitious movie with an exorbitant production cost could not even fetch a fraction of the cost involved.

Bollywood movies may be rich in special effects and modern technological magic; they may have top actors in the cast, yet ninety percent of these movies are just senseless trash, catering to illiterate masses. Even these trashes earn a lot of money, because they are marketed throughout the world where South Asians live. Bollywood has now carved its name as a top-ranking industry in the world, because of the quantity of films produced each year and effective marketing and promotion strategies. The filmmakers also have all the facilities like state-of-the –art studios, processing and dubbing equipment right in their own country.

In Pakistan celebrated humorist and performer Omar Sharif and some others in the field have been constantly appealing to the government to promote the industry by at least establishing a few film studios with latest equipment like cameras and lenses, modern sound recording units, color processing labs and digital services but so far no heed has been paid to these appeals. It seems that presently the ministry of culture is simply dormant or inefficient. It has not yet realized that films, like sports, can be a true ambassador of the country  and help in promoting its image.

If such studios are established, the existing technicians or even the new recruits could easily be sent abroad for just a few months for getting the required training to handle the advanced equipment, or expert technicians from abroad could be hired to train our technicians. These studios would enable filmmakers to get their films processed here, instead of going to India or Malaysia. The government would pretty soon recover the cost of investing in such studios and start making tremendous profits.

If the government keeps on ignoring this important issue, some present studio owners or industrialists can venture to do so, keeping in mind long-term financial benefits.

Ambitious filmmakers and even new producers, given such facilities, would certainly go ahead with their projects. It is certainly a good sign that some of the TV producers are showing a tendency to make movies.  Our TV dramas and plays are certainly among the best in the world. There is no dearth of talents here. It is full of high-caliber actors, writers, directors, musicians and other technicians. If such talents enter cinema, more and more quality films would be produced.

 Our cinema owners, in national interest, should not give preference to Indian films when our films are ready for release. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if the government restricts the import of Indian films in order to give Pakistani films unrestricted exhibition time.

Presently, the market for our films is limited. They are only shown at home if distributors buy the rights and cinema houses release them. As such, the earning is also limited. They hardly cover the cost of production. We need to have a bold and strategic marketing policy with effective promotion everywhere in the world where South Asians live. If Indian films can be exhibited universally, why can’t Pakistani films do the same?

Markets for good films from any country are available everywhere in the world. The only thing required is awareness and effective promotion. Trailers of Indian films are shown multiple times on Pakistani and Indian channels a few weeks before their release to create awareness. Unfortunately, there is little awareness abroad about Pakistani films. Many Pakistanis living in foreign countries have no knowledge of films produced in Pakistan. A classic example is that of Bol, a super-hit film. Geo Films made it possible to release the film internationally. When it was released in one of the auditoriums of AMC Theaters in Chicago land, it hardly lasted for a week because the audience turnout was very poor. Cine-goers simply didn’t know anything about the film or its maker Shoaib Mansoor! Whereas an average film like Salman Khan’s Bodyguard drew huge crowds in another auditorium at the same time.

If a few ads in community newspapers, magazines and electronic media are placed prior to the release, our films would create awareness and then a desire to see them. Theater owners would readily release Pakistani films and earn good revenue. If the filmmakers themselves are unable to promote and market their films, there are so many promoters, who presently sponsor music concerts featuring Pakistani singers and musicians, and some non-resident wealthy Pakistanis eager to take the task of distribution and release of our films in the country where they live.

Simultaneous release internationally in more and more theaters would assure not only the recovery of cost of production but a large profit in just a couple of weeks – much before pirated DVD’s hit the market. A new Hollywood movie is released in at least four thousand cinema houses throughout the world simultaneously. A big Bollywood movie also these days is released in no less than a thousand theaters. When would a Lollywood movie reach this status?

rafiq.ebrahim@gmail.com

 

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