Movies and sports have been caught in the middle whenever tensions at the India-Pakistan border have risen. While the two countries have not played a bilateral series since 2008, India has also boycotted Pakistani actors for the past couple of years. On Wednesday, Pakistan declared a ban on Indian movies being released in the country.
The move, which comes as a consequence to the escalating border tensions between the countries in the aftermath of February 14’s Pulwama attack, is expected to hit the Pakistani film industry, especially the exhibition sector brutally.
“Pakistan has close to 170 viable screens. It’s a very small market as compared to India. Bollywood and local films are the main content forms that are screened in the country. Banning Bollywood films will mean a paucity of content to keep the multiplexes and theatres running profitably,” says a distributor with knowledge of the cinema market of India’s north western neighbor. In comparison, India has more than 9000 viable screens. In fact, India’s largest multiplex chain PVR alone has 4.5 times the screens in Pakistan at 748 screens.
According to industry estimates, the total Pakistani box office at Rs 60 – 65 crore, half of which is cornered by Indian films. This is minuscule when compared to India’s Rs 10,300 crore domestic theatricals business. India’s international box office business for 2018 is expected to be around Rs 2500 crore according to the FICCI-EY 2018 media and entertainment report. Pakistan’s contribution to India’s overseas box office collection comes to Rs 30 crore a year, or 1.2 per cent. In this light, banning of Indian films does not make a dent in the fortunes of Indian movies released abroad. In 2018, 21 Pakistani films hit the cinema halls in Pakistan, while 41 Indian films were released in the country.
As a result, the problem for the Pakistani film industry runs deeper than revenues though. Since Indian films also form a significant part of the content shown at multiplexes and single screens, the exhibitors will find themselves with a dearth of content to programme. This will impact their ability to sustain the business as well, say experts.
A studio executive adds, “For India, the main international markets are US, UK, Canada, Middle East and in some cases, Australia and New Zealand. Pakistan is not a big market, revenue wise. Our stars have a huge fan following there, and so films travel there more for servicing a fan base.”
Experts in the business also reveal that unlike India, the film market in Pakistan is fairly unorganized. While box office tracking agencies like Rentrak are present in India and provide an idea of the multiplex collections for movies, Pakistan has no such tracking agency. The business hence, is fairly encumbered with issues like under declaration of revenues, selling of tickets in black, and piracy.
Suniel Wadhwa, Independent Distributor and Box Office Analyst adds, "With no bonafide means of calculating the financial performance of films, barring for few credible sources, based on the estimate, one has to reply on rely on either producers or local distributor who are transparent to share details."
Indian producers who do take their wares to Pakistan usually signed a fixed revenue deal with a local distributor from the country. In this case, the producer sells the rights to the local distributor for a fixed amount, and then the revenues from the Pakistani box office lie with the said distributor. “The Indian producers in this case do not need to get into striking deals with individual multiplexes in Pakistan,” adds another distributor. For markets like US, UK, and Canada, Indian studios have offices or representatives to deal with local exhibitors directly.