To many cine-goers the release of Maya is somewhat of a mild shock. Initial reactions are either confounding, leading to a question-mark expression, or to those who do know of the movie, dismissive. People, indeed, have grown wise – to a degree. Maya, the latest offering in a long-line of Pakistani feature film releases, is a low-budget, (and quite daffy-looking) horror movie that makes 2013’s Siyaah look like a work of art.
Despite Maya’s failure to attract attention, the local filmmakers are still going full-stream with a string of releases on the horizon. Like 3D, some feared it was just a fad, with previously completed motion pictures vying for exhibitor and audience attention. Riding on the success of well-received movies, these films bombed. The producers, by habit, blamed Bollywood, not that these claims matter to people paying for the ticket.
In an age of multiplexes with simultaneous releases of international movies, and the return of Bollywood, audiences are receptive to change and variety.
The first two years – 2013 and 2014 – championed, and to a degree won-over, the ‘revivalist’ mindset of promoting Pakistani-produced motion pictures. They helped define the extent of box-office potential, as well as any recent trend; and yes, it did start as a trend – a trend acutely grounded in the schematics of business. A case in point is the overwhelming push of 3D which compelled distributors to adopt digital cinemas, effectively ending the era of reel-based projection. Since James Cameron’s Avatar, 43 thousand exhibitors worldwide have installed 3D capable projectors.
Coming back to Pakistani cinema, we’re less concerned about 3D, Hollywood level filmmaking is still some years away. The question is: will the audience wait?
Pakistani motion pictures are unfairly budgeted, some of them running from 5 to 10 crores and over in budget. In a market that has limited screens – at most 35 to a single major motion picture – this is a sketchy investment. Several different genres are being ‘tested’ at the moment. Wrong No. directed by Yasir Nawaz is an “out-and-out comedy”, according to the filmmaker; Ho Mann Jahaan, starring Mahira Khan, directed by Asim Raza is a youth-based musical romantic drama; Bin Roye, again starring Mahira Khan and Humayun Saeed has the looks of a typical Bollywood-inspired television soap.
Sure, they would make money. The question, again, is: how much?
For Wrong No. and Bin Roye, the biggest drawback is the Eid season, and a face-off with Salman Khan. Judging by Mr. Khan’s star power, there is no competition.
When asked, eight out of ten people prefer Salman Khan’s movie to any other, including those of Hollywood and Pakistan. Still, the producers of these two movies are banking on the Eid season to pick-up left-over audiences from films starring Salman Khan. The tactic is universally applied worldwide, when less significant genre movies gain audiences which were not able to acquire seats of their desired movies.
Business wise, it’s not a question of being ‘hurt’ when people prefer the ‘other’ movie; the logic is to profit. The end, though, justify the means – whatever, and however, those means are achieved.
We are still fools for Bollywood, despite their corny, insensible offerings – a lack of star-power from Pakistan being our biggest drawback. Film-only actors – Javed Sheikh, Nadeem, Shafqat Cheema – are limited and hampered by their old-school persona. Their reputation for drawing the youth, which happens to be multiplex-generation’s biggest draw, is murky because of their previous filmography. Our current string of leading men are from television. Some recently established names like Danish Taimoor and Fahad Mustafa are suddenly film-exclusive now, cementing their intentions about up-channeling from the small screen medium.
How that serves cinema in the long-run, we’ll just have to see. Would their inclusion, or those of our veteran actors, help attract audiences? Maybe. From the people I spoke to at a video-rental shop, the “wow” factor has nothing to do with television actors doing movies. To some, Shaan Shahid is still Shah Rukh Khan’s equivalent in Pakistan (by a far and wide margin, of course). Established actors and stars, nevertheless, matter to advertisers – who govern the promotional push of motion pictures.
Jalaibee grossed nearly 10 crores –a good figure, until you take into account its budget, estimated at 10 crores. Na Maloom Afraad which crept past 12 crores recently, had a similar budget as well.
Are these films successes…yes. Pakistani movies have seldom – if ever – seen such consistently respectable figures in a stretch.
For distributors this is an advantage at the producer’s bearing, which is why even after three years of unbridled ‘triumph’, the distributors – most of them producers as well – are hardly reinvesting their financial benefits back in domestic cinema with a few exceptions.
It’s easy to comment on the industry from a negative point of view. At times, this scribe has been targeting for his ‘openness’ in addressing key factors of the business of cinema. The questions posed are valid, if inconsequential, depending on who I am talking to – the actors, who are ecstatic about the roles they are playing; or the producers, who seem to best know where they lack in production and the audience, who, at this moment, do seem to genuinely “care” about the ‘Made In Pakistan’ movement – for the time being.
Their concern is simply to see a product worthy of their time. And as expectations settle and mature, the demands for ‘something different’ will undoubtedly increase. Would our ‘simplistic’ fodder work then. Yes – but to a degree. •