Pakistan feeling at home on Indian entertainment space

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Why Bollywood and Indian entertainment companies are embracing Pakistani actors, TV shows

India and Pakistan, two fierce rivals with a bloodied history. Four wars, 4-0 to India. Unable to combat on the battlefield, the rival resorts to state sponsored terrorism. The acrimony spilling to thee sporting field too, first with hockey, and then cricket taking centre stage  Pakistan holds the aces in in head-to-heads, but it’s India that trumps the arch rival every time in a cricket World Cup game.

The patriotic fervour spilled across the silver screens, too, with the two nations bashing each other down. Of course, India with its all-win war record and huge population, managed to score the edge here too. However, amidst all the political and sporting acrimony, if there’s one thing that has bonded the two countries, it is cultural ties. Though a one way traffic, Pakistani artists, especially their singers are welcome with open arms in India.

Often changing political climate influenced the influx of Pakistani artists in India, but the gradual rise of Pakistani artist, acquiring of Pakistani content by Indian entertainment companies, and Pakistani sportsmen being hired as experts/commentators by Indian broadcasters, suggests that the weather has never been conducive enough to embrace Pakistan.

In the last few years, Bollywood has roped in premier Pakistani actors like Ali Zafar, Fawad Khan, Imran Abbas, and Mahira Khan, who’s landed her first Bollywood film with Shah Rukh Khan in Raees. Even a film like Baby, that was banned by our neighbour, was actually more anti-terrorism than anti Pakistan. That perhaps explained why Pakistani actors like Rasheed Naz and Mikaal Zulfiqar chose to be part of this Indian film.

And when it’s not about having Pakistani actors, Bollywood films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Welcome to Karachi, Filmistan have crossed over the border, at least in reel life. Aamir Khan’s PK drew flak from certain quarter in India, but here again was a film that harped on the Indo-Pak love saga. Well, Sania Mirza did a Jagat Janani in real life by marrying Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik.

So, from combating Pakistan, Bollywood is slowly moving towards embracing Pakistan. Pakistani films rarely get a release in India, but the demand for Indian films in Pakistan never ceases to die. So, is this love, a move to strengthen bilateral ties or is Bollywood purely looking at Pakistan as market?

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh says “I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious move to tap these markets. 99.99 per cent of the talent is still Indian. It purely comes down to individual producer or director, if they wish to tap the talent from across the border. Stars like Fawad Khan have become popular owing to their TV shows, which even the Indian audiences have been privy to. However, most of these stars have to share space with Indian stars to get a foothold in Bollywood.”

Trade Atul Mohan though calls for Bollywood to tap in the Pakistani market, “The entire business of Pakistan can be compared to as much as the entire business of Bombay or Delhi territory. If that opens up further, Bollywood can have a bigger market. On an average 12 big Bollywood films are released simultaneously in Pakistan.”

When asked whether Indian films contribute more towards Pakistani box-office success than their own films, Mohan replied, “It depends from film to film.  A good Bollywood films tends to generate Rs. 4 to 5 crores from Pakistan. If you look at Khoobsurat, that starred Fawad Khan, it had a much wider release in Pakistan than some of the territories in India.”

That the highest grossing film (Waar) in Pakistan has generated Rs.23 crores is an indication how of how far Lollywood lags behind Bollywood.

Girish Wankhede, Distribution and Marketing Head, Entity One, concurs, “Bollywood films have always found a wide acceptance in Pakistan. We may not have too many films releasing in Pakistan, but their people watch most of our films through pirated copies. As far as their films not making the cut in India, that’s purely because their distribution is not as strong as ours.”

Lollywood has long way to go before it can match shoulders with Bollywood, but the Pakistani television industry has found many takes in India.

Leading the way is Eros International who had recently announced an acquisition deal with Pakistan’s Hum TV, to be aired on their entertainment portal, Eros Now. This move paved the way for Indian audiences to watch popular Pakistani shows like Zindagi Gulzar Hai, Humsafar and Dastaan online.

Interestingly, one is not sure whether Indian audiences made a demand for Pakistani shows, then why are our Indian entertainment companies tapping into that space?

Chandra P, Dobhal, VP – National Head – Buying and Implementation, Carat Media says, “Look, if you just take the channel’s logo out, these Pakistani serials would looks same as ours. After all, we share similar tastes. Perhaps, the Pakistani shows are offering something different to what Indian audiences have been consuming all these years.”

Girish Wankhede concurs, “The Pakistani film industry is nowhere near Bollywood, but their TV industry is well established. Actors like Fawad Khan became stars with television. That is how they’ve caught the imagination of Bollywood too. Besides, Indian television was becoming monotonous, and so these Pakistani shows offered something different to ours viewers.”

While they do offer something different, but Zee Zindagi didn’t quite hit the ratings charts with its Pakistani content.

Dobhal disagrees, “Look you can’t compare a Star World to a Star Plus. Like Star World, Zee Zindagi, too, caters to a niche market. Zindagi did well in metros like Delhi and Lucknow. These shows should be looked upon as a separate genre. Besides, the earlier measurement system (TAM) wasn’t quite comprehensive.”

Commenting on the investment on Pakistani content, Dobhal says, “Again it’s difficult to put an exact number, but they sure do not cost as much investing in shows on Hindi GECs. These shows make apt for online, saving broadcasters production costs.”

Online is safer and indeed the future, then again, when it comes to India and Pakistan, we’re always one tragedy away from disconnecting all ties.

“Showcasing them on television does carry their risk, considering the political scenario between the two countries. But by going online, you expose the content to a global audience,” Dobhal concluded.

Despite our political difference, India and Pakistan have used entertainment as a medium to connect people. And as long as there is demand for content/talent, the two countries would never shy from saying Namaste and Walekum Salaam to each other.

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