Pakistani filmmakers are crying foul. 5 Pakistani movies release on Eid and then along comes Dr. Strange to take over their cinemas, seats, and smiles!
Before I delve into this dilemma, and that is what it is really, let me shed light on Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness! The film was released to eager Marvel fans who finally got an in cinema ‘maskless’ experience post covid. These fans are not your typical Pakistani movie fans or drama buffs. They watch Spiderman. Batman, The Hulk, Thor and maybe even Breaking Bad & Game of Thrones. They are your dream come true in the Marvel filmmaker’s universe and they wait after the film is over to catch the post-credit cuts to see what’s in store next – kind of like catching your post-episode drama teaser, except, this one doesn’t air every week, (or every day) it comes in only when the movie is released. To deprive them of this long-awaited watch might just be the cruelest thing you ever did to the Marvel fan. But wait a minute, no one aims to deprive them, they just asked for a 3 day (or 1 week)? reprieve till the local films had accumulated enough revenue to cover costs and make a healthy profit maybe?
The debate is not new.
Protectionism vs Competition
I for one am not for any sort of protection. I believe in the ‘going gets tough, the tough get going’ philosophy, in other words, improve your content if you want people to fight off Marvel. But here’s the catch. I’m also a Pakistani at heart. I feel for our industry. I want our films to flourish, to thrive, our talent to prosper and our filmmakers to be able to tell more and better stories. Can they do it with Dr. Strange threatening to gobble up their profits?
The Pakistani audience has responded with resounding clarity – Shape up or ship out, they say. We don’t want to watch more drama content on the big screen. If you want us to watch, then give us stories that will pull us in.
Not just that, but many have lamented (as this is a practice carried on from previous Eid releases) that not one, not two but 3,4 and now 5 local films are releasing together in a market that might not have the strength to spin off that kind of watch time. Are you not then, cutting into your own market, threatening to pull the rug off your fellow filmmakers?
Moreover, of the 5 films released, I doubt if any of these films carry material for young adults, I’m talking about the PG 13 age group, which is where Marvel comes in with Dr. Strange. Also, Eid is a family festival, albeit it is great to see Eid film releases, and much as I applaud local filmmakers for taking on covid and sticking with it, they have to understand that the success, (and threat) of Dr. Strange among Pakistani audiences have proved that the market will welcome content aimed at the young adult, school, college going viewer, but the content has to be intelligent, resonate with the youth and out of the box. Regurgitating comedy and rom-coms will only get you so far, your audience will remain limited to the desi movie hungry crowd and they too, have some superlative content to watch on Netflix and YouTube, by the way!
Now coming to the question of the 3-day vs 7-day delay in airing foreign content. It seems that the filmmakers were assured first 3 days of foreign content free cinema space, but perhaps they needed 7. Now it is fair to consider this request as they are not requesting an all-out ban on foreign content, however, I would suggest that instead of cinemas dropping local films to 50% viewing space, perhaps they can allot 20% screen time to foreign films for the first 7 days. This because:
a) A little bit of competition is good for both the industry and audiences. The industry, to motivate them to work harder and keep at it, and get a dose of reality, to go back to the drawing board and create even better content, be challenged, and sometimes, admittedly, failure is a great teacher. History has shown us that economies that have practiced too much protectionism have been left far behind in providing quality products on a global platform.
Also, the audiences have a right to choose. You cannot suffocate choice by offering them only local content, especially as it does not cater to all viewing interests and preferences. This is a basic consumer right and cannot and should not be taken away from them. Twitter has already had its say btw.
b) Because foreign movies, if not screened on local platforms, will lose cinema audiences. Viewers will find ways to stream them on OTT platforms etc and this, in turn, will end up cutting into revenue and profits of local cinema houses who would have run a full house, judging by the current response to Dr. Strange.
Hence, our filmmakers need to work in tandem with their partners, namely the cinemas that house and promote their products. Makes sense, right?
Lastly, it must be said that the showbiz industry in Pakistan cannot and should not be dismissed as a side attraction, an industry that merely provides entertainment on a superficial level.
Filmmakers have emphasized repeatedly that they have invested their life’s earnings in producing a film that hits the box office.
Pakistan’s film industry is still in fledgling mode, it has weathered repeated storms, covid being the most recent. Perhaps the government needs to look into offering subsidies to filmmakers for creating content. This will help them work creatively and on meaningful content rather than just content that ‘sells’. Think tanks also need to be active in ironing out flawed scripts or hiccups in storytelling in order to ensure that the efforts of all involved, from the makers and cast to the lighting, camera, and makeup staff are fruitful and go towards adding punch and staying power to the Pakistani Film Industry. In fact, a power that can be reckoned with on a global platform!
The government and all stakeholders have to view this industry as a strong contender and partner (not an opponent or errant child who needs to be admonished). It can be a true and powerful Pakistani representation of our identity on global platforms and a key to changing mindsets. Perhaps we need to revisit censorship policies as local content has often been banned, curbed, or censored on grounds of not just graphic exposure but on the concept or theme itself. Incessant censor board controls mean Pakistani filmmakers face an uphill task when it comes to unleashing creativity and original content. Too many restrictions on creativity will, for sure, hinder our progress graph tremendously.
Yes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, but a bit of help on the way never stopped anyone!
This is from a Pakistani Drama, Movie, AND Marvel fan who feels she has a right and more importantly, a duty, to speak up!
Give us your take on the Pakistani Films vs Dr. Strange debate!