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It's been well over 15 months since cinemas shut down in compliance with the NCOC’s orders to control Covid-19 outbreak. As more and more people are getting vaccinated and govt is easing restrictions on businesses that depend on groups of people to function, cinemas have been allowed to screen films on the display of vaccination cards.

Nueplex cinemas have already advertised Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It as its Eid release and Atrium and Centaurus will be showing Fast and Furious 9.

While this is a welcome change for the entertainment-starved Pakistanis, it seems like everyone has turned a blind eye to the elephant in the room; cinemas are reopening in Pakistan but what will we watch? Can a box office increasingly dependent on Bollywood get a new life through Hollywood and Pakistani films only?

Gearing up

"Our plan is simple - we will reopen with popular Hollywood films,” Nadeem Mandviwalla, managing director of Atrium and Centaurus cinemas shared with The Express Tribune. “For now, Fast and Furious 9 will be screened for Eid, followed by Black Widow. These franchises have an ample fan following in Pakistan so we are expecting a good opening, Fingers crossed."

Mandviwalla further added that idea is to release one Hollywood film every week, so the audience is spoiled for choices. "We didn't open cinemas after the second wave of Covid-19 because we didn't have any huge releases in the pipeline. These are unprecedented times and even producers in Hollywood were very unsure of what the next few months looked like," he continued, adding, "Now the situation is much better, hence they have released big-budget films. F9 has earned over $100million at the international box office and I think that's a great incentive. This would give a much-needed boost to our local filmmakers to release Pakistani films. The cycle has been shut for more than a year, but we are certain things will gradually get back to normal."

The elephant in the room

Talking about releasing Bollywood films, Mandviwalla asserted the void shall remain till the ban on Indian content is lifted. "We can't help but hope for cordial relationship with our neighbours for the government to lift the ongoing ban on Bollywood films," he added.

On the other hand, Javed Sheikh, who has worked with the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Emraan Hashmi shared no sentiment can supersede the love for his country.

"When it comes to your country, it is imperative to take a firm stance," the Jawani Phir Nahi Ani star told the publication. "Yes, a mix of Bollywood and Hollywood has worked for our industry but that still doesn't mean we can give Bollywood priority when we are not in an ideal relationship with India."

The actor further shared, "The recent blast in Lahore allegedly had an Indian source behind it. Imagine people come to know about this one day and the next day they see Indian films in our cinemas. They would be furious. We have always been very lenient when it comes to having welcoming ties with India. They couldn't reciprocate. I am in support of screening Indian content in Pakistan, but not at the cost of our country."

Sheikh added he would also like to appeal to PM Imran Khan to help the producers and cinema-owners in this regard. "I'm requesting the prime minister to save the industry, save the cinemas," he went on. "Abolish the taxes, lower the electricity rate from commercial to industrial. This industry has been affected the most. It needs all the help it can get to re-establish."

But for Vasay Chaudhry, the universe can be explained through numbers. "It's rather simple," he said. "There are 52 weeks in a year. Are we producing 52 films every year? We need to produce at least that number of films to be self-sufficient. Hence, it's obvious we need some other content - let it be Hollywood or Bollywood. It's not about the governments. They aren't the ones who have implemented these bans. It's the associations who have placed these bans."

Adding to his comment, the popular actor-host went on, "Pakistan is the third-largest market for Indian films. We were providing them with at least $1m every year in revenue. So it's obvious that the market has been affected."

A much-awaited comeback

Talking about cinemas making a comeback, the Wrong No. star said that it will take some time to bring people back into cinemas. "Our local films are ready to be released. Once we do a test run with Hollywood films, I'm sure it would give encourage our filmmakers to showcase their films. We have some big-budgeted projects in the pipeline. It's only fair that they wait until they're sure that the audience is ready to step back into cinemas," added Sheikh.

Cinemas in India begin re-opening on Thursday after a nearly seven-month coronavirus shutdown. PHOTO: AFP

Cinemas in India begin re-opening on Thursday after a nearly seven-month coronavirus shutdown. PHOTO: AFPBut the responsibility of a smooth comeback doesn't only lie on the shoulders of cinema owners and the management, essayed Chaudhry. It lies on the shoulders of the audience equally. "The compliance of the SOPs is such a dilemma," he said "The management can only ask, they can’t force the audience to wear a mask and keep a distance. Now, we must make this transition a smooth one."

Chaudhry concluded by saying, "We have films such as Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad, The Legend of Maula Jatt, Tich Button ready to be released. It's a smart move to open the cinemas with F9 and Conjuring. It's a good testing ground. We hope it works out in our favour and soon we see the much-awaited Pakistani films in cinemas."

OTT versus the big screen

Sheikh also commented on the rise of OTT platforms over cinemas in the pandemic. "The world has moved to the streaming platforms, but one can't deny the charm of cinemas," the Na Maloom Afraad star commented. Sheikh believes even the biggest streaming giants would never take over movie theatres.

The actor remarked it would be unfair to compare Indian and Pakistani content in recent times. "Our content has always been golden, it's just a matter of time when our content will be available on Netflix and Amazon Prime," he said. “Our artists have always been lauded overseas. Even in India, our celebrities have a strong fan base. If Netflix offers to produce Pakistani films and dramas, I am sure they will work just as well if not better than Indian content."

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