When it first hit the celluloid screens
in 1960, K. Asif’s monumental film,
deeply enthralled millions of people across the subcontinent. “I still remember
the mesmerizing moments when I watched it in Karachi in 60s while our family was
still striving to settle down after migrating from India,” said Amanullah Khan,
a 60-year old businessmen, and a migrant from India after the partition in 1947.
No doubt the black-&-white film
brought to life the legend of the flopped love affair between the 16th century
Mughal crown prince Salim
played by thespian Dilip Kumar and the magnificent court dancer
played by beautiful Madhubala, leaving a colorful and indelible marks on the
hearts of cinemagoers.
Since then, the technology has
enabled the producers to make the already timeless film rather indispensable by
putting colors in it which has fuelled the urge of millions of nostalgic fans to
watch it on the big screen. However, a caveat has kept people of Pakistan
deprived of this opportunity – Pakistan’s decades-old ban on distribution of
A ray of hope emerged when Pakistani information minister Sheikh Rashid
said, “Pakistan has agreed ‘in principle’ to screen the movie by bringing the
ban to an end,” hinting its imminent release in Pakistani cinema circuits.
President Pervez Musharraf also gave his support after receiving a request from
the family of K. Asif. Further paving the way, a provincial court in Punjab
rejected a plea of local film actors association against the screening of
another Indian movie, Taj
Mahal for which Indian
director Akbar Khan teamed up with legendary Naushad, one of the greatest music
directors of Indian cinema.
So, on April 22, marking another
sign of warming relations between South Asia’s two erstwhile enemies,
became the first Indian movie in 40 years to be legally screened in Pakistani
theatres. On its heels came Akbar Khan’s magnum opus
which launched the legendary Pakistani singer Noor Jehan’s granddaughter Sonya
Jehan as Mughal empress Mumtaz
General lifting of ban on Indian
films had been in the air for some time especially since the initiation of the
Indo-Pak peace process. The most positive support came from the chairman of
Pakistan Film Censor Board Ziauddin Khan, when he sent an advice for allowing
the screening of Indian films to the federal cabinet for approval. Experts also
recommended allowing Indian films to be shown in Pakistani theatres so as to
give a boost to cinema houses, which have been facing huge losses, and to help
improve the standard of Pakistani films.
Now, Pakistani youth is waiting
for the time when they could see other Indian film idols on big screens.
“Watching movie on CD or VCR doesn’t give the taste which we could enjoy on the
big screen. I will love to see
in a theatre if it is screened here,” said Nazia Jabbar, a 21-year university
Moribund Film Industry
Pakistan banned screening of
Indian films after the 1965 war and since then its film industry had a solo run
but failed to flourish. The industry has been declining for the past two decades
as theatres, unable to withstand the mounting losses, began closing down at a
In the 1970s, the Pakistani film
industry was dealt with severe blows when art was equated with prostitution and
was frowned upon. Serious producers left their profession and no new investments
took place in studios, technical facilities or theatres and the industry shrank
like any thing. Till 1970s, Pakistan was producing over 130 films a year,
whereas Indian film industry produced 432 films in 1971. Many of these Pakistani
movies were commercial successes. In 2004, India produced more than 800 movies
and most of the 25 or so mainstream movies made in Pakistan bombed at the
The impact is severe on the cinema
houses. At one time there were 1,800 cinemas in Pakistan and were increasing.
Now the number has dwindled to less than 250. Many theatres that were major
landmarks have disappeared and have been replaced by shopping plazas.
“The situation is getting worse
day by day with no ray of hope. Unless radical steps are taken both Urdu and
Punjabi films are almost doomed,” said Shazad Gul, a prominent film director at
Lollywood, the film industry in Lahore, Pakistan’s version of Hollywood.
Revival in Sight
Weighed down by costs, low investment
and rapidly declining talent, the bigwigs of the Pakistani film industry have
been pressing the government to permit the screening of Indian movies to help
Pakistani theatres recover from losses.
While some old timers are still
opposed to opening the flood gates to Indian movies fearing a cultural invasion,
strong proponents of importing of Indian films, like film star-turned director
Javed Sheikh, asked government to allow Pakistani film industry to develop
strong thematic and technical links with its Indian counterpart for its
“I can’t understand what we are
afraid of? Indian movies make their way in the bedrooms of almost all our homes
before they are screened at Indian theatres,” Sheikh said.
Sheikh, who featured in several TV
debates boldly advocating for opening the doors to Indian movies, argues that
almost all Pakistanis avidly watch Indian films through pirated video and DVDs,
which are more or less simultaneously released in Pakistan as soon as a new
Hindi movie is released in India. The Indian film actors and actresses are more
popular in Pakistan than their Pakistani counterparts.
“Our ostrich approach is the major
hurdle in our way to revive our film industry… We are afraid of facing the
challenges, the truths. But this would take us nowhere,” Sheikh lamented.
He said Pakistani films at present
lack story and direction and is being run only on vulgarity and nudity. He said
the local filmmakers would have to change this trend. It is believed that
screening of Indian films would provide a healthy atmosphere for competition and
ample opportunity to good directors, storywriters and musicians to profit from
their work. Pakistani film producers would also get a better deal to reach out
to India’s mammoth market of over one billion people.
Access to such a big audience
alone gives a good enough reason for joint ventures, and if the governments in
Delhi and Islamabad leave the artistic people alone, they can avoid lot of
wastage and plagiarism.
Even, Federal Culture Minister G.
G. Jamal said that the screening of Indian films in Pakistan would not damage
local film industry. In an April 2006, reception hosted by the Pakistan Film and
Television Journalists Association for Indian artists visiting Pakistan for the
premiere of Indian film Taj
Mahal, he said “artists have
no borders and cultural diplomacy is the most effective diplomacy in the world.”
For her part, Indian Union
Minister for Culture and Tourism Ambika Soni continued the cultural diplomacy
when she offered to organize a Pakistani film festival in Mumbai and to screen
Pakistani Punjabi films in Indian Punjab. Censor Board Chairman, Ziauddin Khan,
took her offer and announced that two Pakistani films – one Punjabi and the
other in Urdu – have been approved by the Indian government to be screened in
“Such kind of visits and gestures
could be seen as quite healthy for the people of sub-continent and could work in
real spirit for bridging the wide gap between the common people, falsely created
by their respective governments,” said Fateh Mohammad Burfat, professor of
sociology at Karachi University. Khan said that the two countries should also
embark on co-productions in the future.
No doubt showing Indian movies in
Pakistan helps build friendly relations and promote cultural exchanges between
the two countries as Akbar Khan said. Soni too acknowledges that political,
economic and cultural relations are parts of the composite dialogue between the
provides opportunities to create good will as demonstrated by Akbar Khan when he
donated the proceeds of Taj Mahal to the victims of last year’s earthquake in Pakistan. So far Rs. 6.5 million
have already been raised and given to the federal government. “Taj
Mahal carries a strong message of love and I am here to convey it to the people of
Pakistan,” said Akbar Khan.