Pakistani cinemas resumed screenings of Bollywood movies Monday, after a self-imposed three-month ban on Indian films cut revenue in half, said Zoraiz Lashari, chairman of the All Pakistan Film Exhibitors Association.
The organization suspended Bollywood screenings in September after the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association said it would cease working with Pakistani actors, musicians and technicians. Both decisions came in the wake of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan after 19 Indian soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack in the Indian-administered part of the Kashmir region in September. India blamed Pakistan for the attack, a charge denied by the latter.
Later that month, India claimed to have carried out “surgical strikes” against militants inside Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Pakistan said no Indian troops crossed the de facto border in the region
“We wanted to show unity with our [artists’] community. Initially, we’d planned for a 15-day suspension, but then it was extended,” Mr. Lashari said. “Now, the message has been registered, that everyone here and there [in India] should operate gracefully and it’s high time that we resume [screenings].”
Despite a history of hostilities between the South Asian neighbors that dates back to 1947, when India and Pakistan became independent states at the end of British colonial rule, Bollywood films are immensely popular in Pakistan. Some Bollywood superstars, like Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, enjoy a cult following in the country.
Bollywood brings in around 60% of cinema revenue in Pakistan, according to the All Pakistan Film Exhibitors Association. Without that revenue, Pakistani cinema owners were forced to lay off 1,700 employees and halve screenings during the nearly three months long Bollywood ban. Mr. Lashari, the association chairman, said Pakistani productions and English-language films didn’t fill the revenue gap.
Not everyone was pleased with the association’s decision. Many voiced their opposition on social media, citing clashes in the past three months in the disputed Kashmir region that left dozens of civilians and soldiers dead. #DontLiftBollywoodBan was among the top Twitter trends in Pakistan Monday.
“Very shameful act by cinema owners…They are killing our children but here we are going to release their movies,” said Twitter user @beingsalmanpk.
The return of Bollywood movies to Pakistani cinemas could boost support for peace in the region by helping change public perceptions, said Nadeem Mandviwalla, CEO of Mandviwalla Entertainment, which owns two major multiplexes in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, and the capital Islamabad.
“We need to work towards normalcy, towards peace, towards dialogue, towards building those bridges that are always broken during hostility,” Mr. Mandviwalla said. “Cinema has been the biggest bridge.”
T.P. Aggarwal, president of the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association said: “They have lifted the ban because their industries are doing badly.” He said his association wouldn’t lift its recommendation for members not to work with Pakistani artists until the two countries’ relations improved.
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