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Sunny DeolPakistan to lift ban on screening of Indian films
25th Jan 2006  09.19 IST
By Agencies  

Millions of Pakistanis ''hooked on to Bollywood films'' may no longer have to depend on pirated VCDs to watch a film of their ''favourite stars from across the border.''

The screening of Indian films in Pakistani theatres will soon become a reality, following the government of the neighbouring country indicating that it could give its approval for theatrical screening to Hindi film "Sohni Mahiwal", the "Daily Times" of Pakistan reported on Monday.

The 'Daily Times' report, however, quoted Federal Film Censor Board Chairman Ziauddin Khattak as saying that a formal decision to lift a ban on theatrical screening in Pakistan of ‘Sohni Mahiwal', a joint production between India and USSR, would be made in a day or two.

''A major part of the film has been produced by India,'' the chairman said, adding that there were 60 per cent chances of the approval.

An approval by the Federal Film Censor Board of Pakistan for public screening of ‘Sohni Mahiwal’, based on a popular Punjabi love legend, would lift a 40-year-old ban on Indian films.

The film was presented to the Federal Film Censor Board three years ago and the case had since been pending.

Produced in 1984, 'Sohni Mahiwal', ('Legend of Love' in English) features Bollywood actors Sunny Deol and Poonam Dhillon. It was written by Shanti Prakash Bakhshi and directed by Latif Faiziye and Umesh Mehra .

Other prominent actors featured in the film are Pran , Tanuja , Gulshan Grover , Zeenat Aman and Shammi Kapoor .

The move by the Pakistan Government is being seen as a significant step in the direction of furthering people-to-people relations between the two countries as also opening up a potentially profitable new market for Bollywood films, which has of late been on the lookout for new markets overseas in the face of falling returns at home.

The positive response to the screening of an Indian film is a welcome development for the Mumbai film industry which has been, for a couple of years now, been unsuccessful in its efforts to convince those in the Pakistan establishment to lift a ban on screening of Indian films in the neighbouring country.

Infact, the federal Culture Ministry had said last year that screening of Indian films would not be allowed until all unsettled issues with India were solved.

In a recent statement, State Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani said, ''There is no question of screening Indian films in Pakistan until all political issues with India are settled, including the fundamental issue of Kashmir.''

In this context, it is noteworthy that despite President Musharraf's approval to screening of K Asif's Mughal-e-Azam' and Censor Board Chairman Ziauddin saying last year that the Indian film might be screened in Pakistan, the decision is still awaiting implementation.

The screening of Indian films would also be ''shot in the arm'' for the Pakistani film industry which is in a bad shape due to the theatres going in a loss because of onslaught of cable television and the deteriorating quality of Pakistani films.

Falling cinema attendances, they say, have, reduced the number of cinema halls in the country to 270, from 1,300 cinemas in the 1970s.

Most cinema halls have been converted into either petrol stations or shopping centres.

The Film Exhibitors Association of Pakistan has been demanding permission to exhibit Indian films to save the industry. Infact, the Cinema Owners’ Association and Film Producers’ Association delegations met government officials in Islamabad last year with a proposal to exchange five Pakistan films with five Indian films.

The delegations said they would pay 150 per cent of the entertainment tax if the government banned Indian movies on cable television and allowed five Indian films to be screened in Pakistani cinemas. They said that the government could earn Rs 300 to 500 million annually from Punjab alone. The delegation submitted a summary of the proposal to Prime Minister’s secretariat.

The film associations claimed that in the absence of theatrical screening of Indian films, the pirated video or DVD versions of Indian films were selling like "hot cakes" in the country.

According to an unofficial estimate, every day an estimated 1.5 crore people in Pakistan see a Bollywood film.

Sunny Deol
Umesh Mehra
Gulshan Grover
Zeenat Aman

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