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Mughal-e-Azam releases in Pakistan: will others follow suit?

By Staff
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New Delhi, Apr 23 (UNI) After waiting for nearly five decades, the ethereal Madhubala and dashing Dilip Kumar finally had a tryst with Pakistani audiences yesterday! K Asif's 'Mughal-e-Azam' was premiered last evening at Gulistan cinema in Lahore, thus breaking a nearly five decade-long barrier to screening of Indian films in theatres in the neighbouring country, Akbar Asif, son of the late K Asif who produced and directed the legendary classic, told UNI.

On the occasion, Gulistan Cinema was decorated with a special set designed by Tanveer Fatima.

Talking to UNI, Nadeem Mandviwala of Nadeem Mandviwala entertainment, which is distributing the film in the neighbouring country, said the film had been launched in Pakistan because of Akbar Asif who wanted his father's masterpiece to be the first-ever Indian film screened in Pakistan over two decades.

Mandviwala said Mughal-e-Azam will be screened at Gulistan Cinema from tomorrow, whereas nationwide screening will begin from June 2.

The low key release for 'Mughal-e-Azam's in Pakistan came even as as there was widespread buzz in recent weeks that the London-based Akbar Asif had planned a grandiose release for 'Mughal-e-Azam' on June 2, including a hunt to find a new Anarkali through a major television hunt spreading over six months.

Hence, when it turned out later that Akbar Khan's 'Taj Mahal-An eternal Love Story', which releases in Pakistan on April 28, would eventually become the first Indian film to make it to Pakistani theatres, Akbar Asif dropped plans for a grandiose release as he wanted his film to be the first Indian cinematic venture to hit theatres in the neighbouring country.

''The move to ensure that 'Mughal-E-Azam' turned out to be the cultural bridge between India and Pakistan was to fulfill my father's dream of getting Mughal-E-Azam to be the first film to get permission to be screened in Pakistan,''Asif said.

With this thought, Akbar Asif quietly moved his papers with the Pakistan government and finally the decision to have Mughal-E-Azam as the first film to be screened in Pakistan came through.

Asked about his grandiose plans to premiere the film in Pakistan, Asif said,''it is true that we initially wanted the film to get a grand premiere, but the thought struck me a few days ago that a film of the epic nature of Mughal-E-Azam needs no grandiose in terms of release.

The film is itself the biggest and the grandest epic ever made in India.''

Closely following 'Mughal-e-Azam' in the Pakistani theatres will be Akbar Khan's 'Taj Mahal', which is slated to hit cinema halls in the neighbouring country on April 28. Also slated for an early release is Umesh Mehra's 'Sohni Mahiwal', which was earlier this year cleared by the censors for exhibition. Trade sources say, release of Mughal-e-Azam', 'Taj mahal' and 'Sohni Mahiwal' would eventually pave way for release of other Indian films in the neighbouring country.

The go-ahead for the screening of 'Mughal-E-Azam', 'Taj Mahal' and 'Sohni Mahiwal' 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.

Though the Pakistani authorities have clarified that the release of 'Mughal-E-Azam' and 'Taj Mahal' was a case of individual clearance for these films and did not mean a blanket clearance for release of other Indian films in the Pakistani theatres, trade observers nevertheless see the move 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.

Though the federal Culture Ministry has said that screening of Indian films would not be allowed until all unsettled issues with India were solved, the the Film Exhibitors Association of Pakistan have been actively lobbying with the government for allowing screening of Indian films in the cinema halls of the country to save the industry.

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.

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.

UNI

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