"I don’t think cinema will have the glow and splendour"
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a global health catastrophe. The impact of it has had a knock on effect in many industries including Pakistan cinema.
Organisational and industrial agility is a major talking point, particularly when things have come to a close or a halt.
The lasting nature of the pandemic has put many in a dilemma and predicament. The Pakistani film industry as whole, particularly, cinema houses are facing challenging times.
Producers have had to unexpectedly delay big banner releases. The multi-starrer, The Legend of Maula Jatt is a good example.
The coronavirus has also been a hindrance for production companies and shoots, especially when anyone was hit with the deadly disease.
Pandemics are a visceral reminder of how an industry and various elements are interconnected to each other.
Can Pakistani cinema financially recover from COVID-19? We look at the industry situation in respect to COVID-19.
For some of the producers and productions houses, the crisis of the pandemic had mitigating negative effects on the Pakistani film arena.
Social distancing guidelines came into play with production houses implementing less contact between people.
However, due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases among people, the government had to enforce lockdown all over the country.
On March 13, 2020, the Pakistani government mad a country-wide shutdown announcement.
With the lockdown, film projects had to face postponements and in some cases complete cancellations.
Lesser films were made during the pandemic for obvious reasons. Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) were in motion, which included wearing masks, gloves, and social distance.
Thus, film projects, casts and crews did not have the continuity due to such safety measures. Many actors and actresses also fell prey to this virus, including Mahira Khan in December 2020.
Therefore, in such circumstances where there was a corona outbreak, productions came to a temporary stop.
Few sites and production houses were available for projects. Though, they had to strictly follow any SOPs.
Over time and with vaccinations rollout, films such as London Nahin Jaunga gradually came to a shoot finish in Pakistan. Though, any film shooting abroad in some cases is yet to be complete.
Some films like Zarrar had a pause in their post-production, with films not being shown in cinemas.
Cinemas and Film Theatres
Naturally, with closures, delays and people being reluctant to go out and watch PakistanicCinema, this had an impact on film venues and the industry as a whole for two years.
This was primarily because the Pakistani government had put the breaks to large public gatherings.
Whilst not entirely applying to cinemas, big producers did not take the risk of having a low turn out showing up for potentially successful films.
At the peak of the pandemic in 2020, cinemas and film theatres had to close their doors more or less indefinitely. It was not just the owners suffering, but the economy as well.
With Pakistan’s large cities housing multiplexes, pre-covid an influx of people were watching good films in cinemas.
In between the pandemic, cinema halls did open briefly, but due to not many ticket sales they had to close again.
Social distancing and fear of catching COVID-19 were reasons to deter people from visiting the cinemas.
Mohammed Kamran Javed from Dawn alludes to the struggling nature of cinemas when they were open:
“From July till August , a few cinemas did open, however, in the Punjab region with negligible box-office earnings.”
He continued on the shutdown of cinemas, presenting a glooming picture:
“All the previous problems of the Pakistan film industry pale in comparision to its biggest challenge — theatres remaining shut.”
“Have the curtains finally fallen on cinema screens nationwide? It certainly seems so…”
Actor Shaan in a solemn declaration to Dawn was also quite pessimistic:
’’It’s a lost cause. Mera nahin khayal cinema waisay hi suhagan ban sakay gi jaisay thi woh!”
“(I don’t think cinema will have the glow and splendour of a newlywed bride again].”
Cinema owners do not have much optimism too. With a lot of uncertainly, many have little confidence, especially if they do not have a “bail out” package from the government.
With the pandemic affecting the world and movies not releasing in cinemas, there have been no substantials film premiers. This means less publicity for Pakistani actors too.
Cinemas did reopen again in eight cities including Islamabad from October 1, 2021, but there was still no sign of any credible Pakistani film releases.
Delay in Feature Films
Coronavirus has gone on to change everything for the Pakistani film industry.
Many big film projects, which have completed are yet to be exhibited at Pakistani cinemas and across the globe.
Producers have naturally put in the money and want to see a return. There is als ao case to maximise attendees for some of the biggest films to release.
The Legend of Maula Jatt is a prime example. The makers and one of the principal writers for this film are banking on this to be a massive blockbuster.
Intending to release in many territories, it does not make sense to compromise, by releasing it in 2021.
There were reports for a release during Eid 2021. However, with COVID-19 not completely settling, the film is more likely to come out during Eid 2022 when things will further improve.
One has to feel for the filmmakers and cinema lovers. With the film free from any legal turmoil, everyone wants to finally see it.
Everyone will just have to show patience and look forward to it in 2022.
There are many other films, which had plans to release in 2021, however, they may not see light at the end of the tunnel.
These include Money Back Guarantee, Tich Button, Qaid-e-Azam Zindabad to name a few.
Other Key Issues
The outbreak has seen a major decline in profits for stakeholders, filmmakers, directors, and producers. This was inevitable, particularly with films not releasing.
The major fear is that the pandemic can hit the the film industry even more, with long term effects. Ammara Hikmat, the producer for The Legend of Maula Jatt said:
“As fascinating as the film industry might look to a layman, it’s harder than ever to make finances from film projects right now globally.”
Supporting acts who rely on small to minor roles may very well be out of work also. They may not even get the roles even after the pandemic.
This begs the question as to why Pakistani filmmakers do not consider profitable digital platforms to showcase their movies.
There is another problem to look at carefully. Why is it that all big films want to release on Eid. Stacking up too many films around the same time, leaves a gap, which is difficult to fill.
Filmmakers need to spread movies throughout the year or produce more films.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIOB) needs to invite all stakeholders and have a very constructive discussion.
Besides conversing about the problems and giving suggestions, key positive recommendations need to come out of any such meetings.
It certainly has been a tough period for Pakistani cinema and the film industry. The delay and decline in projects has been seen in seismic proportions.
Hopefully, fevered debates around the aforementioned will result in concrete solutions for Pakistani cinema to overcome this crisis.