There are film shootings taking place in Pakistan, as we speak. This wouldn’t be a surprising notion under normal circumstances but given the current state of local cinema right now, it raises a few eyebrows.
Cinema all over the world has suffered greatly because of the coronavirus with it becoming too dangerous for crowds to gather together in an enclosed space. Major Hollywood and Bollywood releases were delayed to 2021, when things would hopefully get better. But India and the U.S. both have colossal, well-established film industries with an infrastructure that may get shaken by a few losses but certainly wouldn’t crumble from their pressure. In contrast, Pakistan’s fledgling industry was already flailing with profits getting lowered by the cinematic ban on Bollywood movies and then, further plummeting due to a consistent spate of flops. Film industries elsewhere may have thousands of screens catering to their widespread audience – films in Pakistan were showcased to a limited audience with the aid of about 75 cinemas, encompassing about 130 working screens.
This was before the coronavirus ran lose and cinemas, predominantly not managing to break even, had no option but to shut down. Rumors are rife that many local cinemas have now shut down permanently. Once the Covid-19 pandemic is finally reigned in, new film releases will definitely have fewer screens available to them, which means lower ticket sales and thereby, lower profits.
And yet, the shootings of new films have started even while cinemas remain closed.
Director and producer Wajahat Rauf, whose movie ‘Parday Mai Rehne Do’ was being shot and was halfway complete when the coronavirus lockdown swooped in, plans to resume shooting in January 2021. “I am already done with shooting a large chunk of the movie and I have already invested into it,” he says. “If I don’t complete it now, I’ll only be risking greater losses. I basically want to have the movie ready for whenever cinemas do open. The people who have started new movies altogether, though, certainly have a lot of confidence.”
‘Parde mein rehna do’ halted shooting midway back in March 2020
In a similar vein, Jerjees Seja, CEO of ARY Films, says that at this point in time, the main priority is to streamline movies that were already under production, ensuring that they are ready for release. “We’re also working on new scripts but haven’t started shooting,” he says.
ARY Films’ ‘Tich Button’ is one of the movies all set to release once the pandemic gets under control
Two movies that have ostensibly begun their shooting during Covid times is ‘Ghabrana Nahi Hai’ starring Zahid Ahmed and Saba Qamar and ‘Abhee’, pairing Jal singer Goher Mumtaz with Kubra Khan. What is prompting new filmmakers to invest time, effort and money into a business that is closed indefinitely and which will in all probability have shriveled down by the time it does open?
The ‘Ghabrana Nahi Hai’ squad; director Saqib Khan with actors Zahid Ahmed, Saba Qamar and Syed Jibran
Jamil Baig of JB films, who is also the CEO of Nueplex Cinemas and is producing ‘Ghabrana Nahi Hai’ says, “There are ups and downs in every industry and only the main stakeholders stay standing even when things get bad. The others just back down. At this point in time, it’s very important to have a long-term vision. We are utilizing this time to have our productions ready so that once cinemas open, we have material that is ready to be screened. ‘Ghabrana Nahi Hai’ will hopefully wrap up by January next year. Then, we plan to immediately start working on our next two productions.”
Asad Malik, who will be making his cinematic directorial debut with ‘Abhee’, says that it’s important to keep the faith. “Hopefully things will work out for the better. Right now, we are hoping for a release around the middle of 2021.”
Romancing up in the mountains; Goher Mumtaz and Kubra Khan in upcoming film ‘Abhee’
Director and producer Nadeem Baig, whose star-studded ‘London Nahin Jaunga’ is only half complete thanks to the coronavirus, plans to begin shooting in January for his next movie, an action comedy called ‘Naram Garam’ starring Humayun Saeed and Vasay Chaudhry. “We’ll be shooting it entirely in Pakistan which is much more manageable right now,” Nadeem had told me. “It’s likely that we’ll end up wrapping this movie before we are able to resume work on ‘London Nahin Jaunga’. Cinemas may be closed, but right now, it’s all about passion.”
But it’s also about business. Long time veteran producer and the owner of Atrium Cinemas, Nadeem Mandviwalla, points out the obvious, “If they (filmmakers) don’t start now, they won’t be able to release their movies in 2021. And mark my words, everything will be fine in 2021.”
With cinemas still closed indefinitely and the coronavirus rampaging on, how can he be so sure? “Cinema all over the world follows the lead of Hollywood and Hollywood had already lost out on one summer and endured heavy losses. Hollywood will not back out from the summer of 2021 and this will bring back confidence to film industries the world over. Cinemas will open accordingly and SOP’s may have to be followed but predictions imply that by next year, the virus would have weakened in potency and a vaccine may have become widely available. It’s all going to be good in 2021.”
Hopefully, it will be. It’s important to point out here that Director Nabeel Qureshi and producer Fizza Ali Meerza of Filmwala Productions had earlier announced that they were going to take the plunge and release their movie, ‘QuaideAzam Zindabad’, starring Fahad Mustafa and Mahira Khan, in December this year. It was going to be risky but they were banking on the fact that some major Hollywood releases were also aiming for a winter 2020 release at the time, one of them being the latest James Bond movie. “James Bond has always be cinema’s savior,” Fizza had joked back then.
QuaideAzam Zindabad was aiming for a December 2020 release
But 2021 is going to be ‘all good’, apparently. If cinemas do open, this could possibly turn out to be the case. A hefty procession of multistarrer local movies are complete and ready for release – among them, ‘Tich Button’, ‘Money Back Guarantee’, ‘The Legend of Maula Jutt’ and ‘Dam Mastam’. Many others have resumed shooting and are planning to wrap up and target a 2021 release date. And a few valiant new ones have been conceptualized and started shooting even while cinemas remain closed.
Movies that were going to be major highlights in 2020
Local cinema, of course, has always been propelled by faith and passion rather than business. Profits may emerge every now and then but it is passion that has brought cinema back from the doldrums and driven it on the path to revival. It is this passion, ultimately, which will keep cinema alive even now. And also a heavy dose of optimism.
“Wait and see,” says Jamil Baig, “as soon as the pandemic ends and movies begin to release, even the screens that have shut down will open once again.”
Optimism – perhaps that’s the key word here.