In October, Pakistan’s Supreme Court reintroduced a ban on Indian films and television shows being broadcast on the country’s local channels. “They are trying to [obstruct the construction] of our dam, and we cannot even ban their channels?” said Pakistani Chief Justice Saqib Nisar as he ordered the broadcast of Indian shows to be “shut down”.
In 2016, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) had imposed a complete ban on airing Indian content on local television and FM radio channels. The decision was primarily seen as a tit-for-tat move after similar actions were taken by some channels and the entertainment industry in India against Pakistani content and artists.
In 2017, the Lahore High Court lifted the Pemra-imposed ban, declaring it null and void. Pakistan’s federal government had no objections to this.
The Supreme Court reintroducing the ban has had far-reaching impact. Two Music channels—8XM and Jalwa—used to air Indian film songs round the clock, whereas two movies channels—FILM world and FILMAZIA—used to air Indian movies. “All these four channels have been forced to air local content now,” says an Islamabad-based media expert.
Besides these, Pakistani news channels also aired Indian songs as background music to dramatise current affairs news. They have also been asked by Pemra to stop using Indian songs as background music for news.
Similarly, children’s channels in Pakistan mainly aired Indian animated cartoons during prime hours. They have also been served notices.
Pakistani television viewers now have been wholly deprived of watching Indian songs and movies on television in any form. Some media experts say that since the launch of private channels in Pakistan some 15 years back, this is for the first time that Pakistani viewers do not see even an iota of Indian content on television.
However, Pakistanis have devised innovative ways around this ban. This means an increase in the sale of pirated CDs of Indian movies and songs in Pakistani cities. The illegal business of selling pirated CDs of Indian films is now flourishing in Pakistani cities.
Colourful posters of the Indian movie Namaste London are visible on the glass door of a stylish shop for decoration pieces in Bahria Town—a middle-class locality in the heart of Rawalpindi city. A portion of the shop is dedicated to the business of movie CDs, where a large number of Hindi and Hollywood movies are displayed on separate shelves.
The more significant portion of the shop is dedicated to decoration pieces of all types, but this portion is all empty. Few young couples have queued up in the congested corners of the shop where Indian movies are displayed. They want to take their turns to look at the latest Indian movies that have arrived—the CD corner allows only two people to stand in front of the shelf.
“We watch two movies every weekend…and it is always Indian movies,” says Ayesha Waqar, a housewife who is accompanied by her husband, “We usually don’t find new movies on the shelf every weekend, so we go for the older ones,” she says.
A salesman at the shop says he sells 350 to 400 copies every weekend and during the weekdays the sale drops to 200 copies a day. The sales go up during the release of a high-profile Indian movie. Shops like these dot the urban centres of Pakistan across the country primarily because Pakistanis have very few sources of entertainment available to them.
Middle-class social and sports clubs are almost non-existent, cinema houses are few and parks have been encroached upon by unplanned and unmanaged urban expansion.
Moreover, movie CDs are available at extremely cheap rates, “We sell Indian movie for Rs 100,” says the salesman at Bahria Town shop. If you move towards the inner Rawalpindi city, you can buy Indian movie CDs for Rs 50 or even Rs 35, where customers are mostly from the lower middle-class.
The distribution hub of Indian movies in the Northern part of the country is Hall Road in Lahore-commercial centre of electronic goods, “We supply movies to every city in the northern part of the country. Basically, one or two copies of every movie are smuggled into Pakistan…we mass produce the cheap copies on CDs,” says Zamurat Khan, the shop owner on Hall road.
Legal film distributors in the country have demanded the government umpteenth times to regulate the business of Indian movies, “We have demanded the government at every level to regulate the film CD movies business, but our demands have fallen on deaf ears,” says Nadeem Mandviwala, a leading film distributor of the country.
There is an apparent political reason behind the government’s indecision to not regulate the business of Indian CD movies, “95 per cent of unregulated movie business is the business of Indian movies, and if government regulates it they will have to pay copyrights to Indian companies and in this way billions of dollars will go to India,” says Nadeem Mandviwala.
There are no statistics available with regards to the volume of business Indian CD movies are doing in Pakistani cities. But it is almost impossible it.
“The only possibility is to regulate it…forcibly shutting it down is not a possibility any more…it will find its own channels to survive if a ban is brought down on it,” says Nadeem Mandviwala.
The impossibility of this task could be judged from the fact that rough estimates of volumes of the business of Indian CD movies goes into billions of Rupees, “I cannot give you an exact figure as it is almost uncountable…but runs into billions,” says Mandviwala.
Indeed like all bans affected by governments, people have found a way around this one too.