Cinema chill thaws between India, Pakistan

By Jivraj Burman

Mumbai, Feb 27 (IANS) Pakistan lifted the ban on exhibition of Indian movies early this month and Firoz Nadiadwala's "Welcome" was the first Bollywood movie to be "officially" released in Pakistan. And now "Khuda Ke Liye," in which actor Naseeruddin Shah plays a major role, is also going to be "officially" released in India March 28 for the first time

Bollywood movies may have been released in cinemas in Pakistan on and off, but the government of Pakistan officially lifted the ban on exhibition of Indian movies early this month.

Firoz Nadiadwala's "Welcome" was the first Bollywood movie to be "officially" released in Pakistan Feb 8 after "the Senate standing committee on culture recommended to the government to allow exhibition of Indian movies under a proper censorship policy".

The movie is currently running to packed houses in Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala and Multan. It is reported to have netted more than Rs.70 million from the local box-office.

Another good news is a Pakistani movie, "Khuda Ke Liye," in which Naseeruddin Shah plays a major role, is also going to be "officially" released in India March 28 for the first time.

The movie, directed by Shoaib Mansoor, has been brought to India by Percept Picture Company, which will release it in the country with 150 prints initially.

"The film was a big hit in Pakistan when it was released there in July last year. Everybody who saw it when it was screened at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa this year appreciated it. So, we thought of bringing it to India through legitimate channels," Ashok Ahuja, director, acquisition and distribution, Percept Picture Company, told IANS.

The company is hopeful that the movie will get a good response from the Indian audience, not only because it is well made but also because the theme on which it is based is relevant to contemporary society.

The movie, a Geo Films presentation (the film division of Karachi-based Geo TV network), is about the ideological clash between liberal Muslims and fundamentalists.

The language of the movie is Urdu.; It stars Shaan, Fawad Afzal Khan, Imran Ali, Hameed Shaikh and Austin Marie Sayre, besides Naseeruddin Shah.

Though the film industry in Pakistan is in a shambles due to various reasons, the box-office success of "Khuda Ke Liye" gave it a new lease of life.

But the problem the industry is facing at present is lack of exhibition outlets as many of the cinemas have closed down because of poor patronage.

It is with a view to giving the industry a shot in the arm that exhibitors and distributors in Pakistan have been urging the government to lift the ban on Indian films.

Bollywood movies, in particular, have many takers in Pakistan. Earlier, they could satisfy their insatiable passion for Hindi movies, blockbusters and the rest, either by buying pirated CDs and VCDs or watching them when they were aired on various satellite television channels.

The last Bollywood movie to be released in Pakistan was Mukesh Bhatt's recent offering "Awaarapan." It grossed nearly Rs.80 million, the highest for a Bollywood movie so far.

"Welcome" is also expected to net an equal amount from the Pakistani market.

"Now that the ban on Indian films has gone, a Bollywood movie can earn Rs.10-12 million in an average from the Pakistani market, provided it clicks at the box-office," said Asish Wagh, spokesman of Studio 18, which has distributed "Welcome".

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