SOAS University of London

Centre for Creative Industries, Media and Screen Studies

The Rise of the Multiplex and the Role of Bollywood in Pakistan's New Emerging Cinema Culture

Speaker: Zebunnisa Hamid

Over the last couple of decades, as local film production fell and the 1965 ban on Indian films remained in Pakistan, many older, traditional cinemas were torn down and replaced with more lucrative businesses. However, in 2007, Pakistan’s first single screen digital cinema opened in Lahore. A few months later, the ban on Indian films was lifted, after a campaign by industry insiders who saw an untapped market that they believed would only grow with the loosening up of restrictions on Indian films. With the influx of Bollywood films in Pakistan, distributors found that new cinemas with the latest technology were essential in order to bring the most popular movies into the country. Within 7 years, the number of digital screens in Pakistan went from 1 to 65.

Despite the earlier ban, Bollywood films have always been popular in Pakistan and easily available through pirated VHS and later DVD copies. Those who opposed the screening of Indian films believed that the lifting of the ban would finish the already frail local industry. However, many distributors, exhibitors and independent and upcoming filmmakers supported the lifting of the ban. Instead of fearing the invasion of a foreign cinema, they saw it to their advantage – if there are films to show, cinemas would open, creating more space for local filmmakers to screen their own work.

As Pakistani cinema remains a largely unstudied field, this paper, through primary research including interviews with key industry individuals, looks at these emerging trends in a new growing cinema culture, featuring Bollywood and the beginnings of a new local cinema at the start of the multiplex and digital cinema era in Pakistan.