More than 10,000 jobs and billions of rupees in investment are on the line as Pakistan’s latter-day movie exhibition industry – hit hard by the shutdowns caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic – strives to keep its nose above the surface. The prospects for a turnaround are diminishing every day with no clear roadmap to a return to normal business.
Like the rest of the world, Pakistan also imposed lockdown from the first half of 2020 as a result of which cinemas all over the country were completely closed down and still are. A few theatres opened on a trial basis last October but were soon shut down again as the second wave of the pandemic hit. This has increased the frustration of those belonging to the industry.
The onset of the pandemic caught the Pakistani movie industry in the early stages of revival after a near-total collapse in the final decades of the last century. The decline peaked in the 90s with theatres closing down one after the other until there were only a few left at the turn of the millennium.
During 2014, as part of efforts to revive the cinema industry, new theatre houses started to pop up. When the pandemic hit, there were a total 160 screens active in the country.
On the Line are Thousands of Jobs
Manzar Javed, who used to work in one of Karachi’s multiplexes has been jobless for the last eight months. He told The
Truth International (TTI) that he remained on job and got his monthly salary even after lockdown till Eid Ul Azha last year, but after that the administration regretted saying they would contact him again when cinemas open.
About 300 employees from the cinema also lost their jobs with him. “We used to earn only PKR 20,000 to 25,000 a month – which left little scope for saving. Now we are making both ends meet by selling out items from our home.”
The Trials of Bringing It Back
The pandemic has scuttled the government’s ambitious plans for the revival of the movie industry.
Nadeem Mandwiwalla, Chief Executive Officer, Mandwiwalla Entertainment Cinemas emphasized the need to view cinema industry from a global perspective. “At the moment, cinemas are closed all over the world and how to reopen them and start operations again is the priority concern.”
Mandwiwalla elaborated: “A cinema needs a new movie every week. Bollywood is banned in Pakistan that is why we are looking towards Hollywood. In other words, the Pakistani cinema industry should be able to restore its operations as soon as Hollywood starts releasing its new films again.”
He said that at the speed at which the vaccination process is continued in western countries, most of their population would be immunized in the next few months, which will ultimately control the virus and get life back to normal.
No New Releases Mean No Shows
Mirza Saad Baig, General Manager Cinepax Distribution, was of the view that cinema could only be opened if we had something new to show.
“It is useless to reopen the cinemas in situations when nothing is being released. Last year, when the spread of COVID was at its lowest, the government allowed reopening cinemas with 50 percent capacity. That did not suit many cinema owners because in doing so they were unable to cover their expenditures.”
He further said that even the producers who have their projects ready would not think of releasing their films on 50 percent theatre capacity.
Time is Running Out
Mirza Saad Baig further said that the whole last year remained dull because of corona and this year too, there is very little chance of business resuming. “If this situation persists till the eid and beyond, the future of the industry is bleak and people related to it would have to look elsewhere for employment.” Baig expressed his hope from the new film policy by the federal government in which a few positive amendments or steps are expected.
A Film Policy From federal Government
Federal Government of Pakistan has announced to release a comprehensive policy for the betterment of the film and cinema industry. The government sought inputs from many industry veterans to help formulate the policy.
Shibli Faraz, Federal Minister for Information, has also confirmed that the basic structure of the policy is ready and after completing the details, it would be announced officially soon.
“We want this policy to be comprehensive and applicable. That is why we are working on its sections very carefully,” the minister said.
In the times when there is a ban on indoor dining at the restaurants and weddings are limited to open-air ceremonies, to show a film in confined halls of cinema is almost impossible.
Experts say there are news of reopening cinemas and releasing news films coming from neighboring India, there is a hope that the Pakistani cinema may also, be able to resume business.