Should Pakistan show films from India?

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While war in Afghanistan rages on one border of Pakistan and unrest simmers on its border with Iran, a schism has appeared within Pakistan's film industry which threatens the country's relationship with its other neighbor, India.

Pakistan's film industry is divided into two groups, one made up of filmmakers who believe that Pakistani artists are not treated with respect in India and would do better to work only in Pakistan, while the second group consists of those who believe that when there are no films being made in Pakistan it is unfair to expect actors to sit idle at home. And while the debate rages on, the question persists whether Indian films should be screened in Pakistani cinemas at all.

While one side rejects screening Indian films in Pakistan, exhibitors have an entirely different view, believing that cinemas started doing good business only after Indian movies were allowed in Pakistan.

Official government figures show that cinemas require about 40 to 45 films a year to earn enough revenue to survive, while the number of total Pakistani films released in 2010 was only 12. Additionally, only three of those films were Urdu films and the others were Punjabi productions, which are often not screened outside of Punjab.

Pakistan Film Exhibitors Association chairman Zoraiz Lashari believes that Indian films have helped to save cinemas in Pakistan, and exhibitors and distributors would never have thought to import and buy Indian films if enough Pakistani films were being made.

“Either we shut the cinema houses or keep up the current practice. We welcome good Pakistani films, but cable has changed things and technology has done wonders. Our filmmakers should realize this and make good films instead of lobbying to get Indian films banned,” he said.

Senior film critic Zahid Akasi, who's written several books on filmmaking in Pakistan, commented, “It is true that we cannot compete with India when it comes to Urdu films, but our production of Punjabi films is way ahead of their Punjabi films—we used to have a market in India, but we haven't been able to sustain it. There is a need to sit together, make a plan and think about what has to be done, but no one has set a platform where our filmmakers, stars, distributors and cinema owners can discuss the problems.”

Thailand Productions Booming
Be careful what you wish for.

It has taken six years or so for the Thailand Film Office to get the word out to the international community about Thailand's exotic locations and multicultural/lingual film crews. Years of battling non-interested governments that did not recognize the economic viability of promoting access to Thailand's natural and cultural wonders.

But this has changed. Thailand is busy with foreign productions and is being recognized as not only one of the top three locations in Asia, but one of the top locations in the world for film shoots. Even the government is beginning to take note: Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva visited the set of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' The Hangover Part II and chatted with director Todd Philips and crew about their experience shooting in Thailand, right before the New Year.

Coming off the 2010 fourth quarter hosting two major Hollywood pictures (The Hangover Part II, Scorpion King 3) and one film produced by Luc Besson, Into the Light, 578 productions were filmed in Thailand in 2010, earning the country $60 million, double the more than $30 million received in 2009.

The greatest number of foreign production teams was from India and Japan, with European and Korean productions following close behind, according to Wanasiri Morakul, director of the Thailand Film Office (Thailand's Film Commission). Increasingly, the Thailand Film Office is seeing applications for filming from new territories such as Eastern European countries, Russia and China.

The only problem is that these crews tend to be small, many of them wishing to do reality shows (which don't really have any focus that can be described to the Film Office on permit applications), and some of them, shall we say, have business practices which are a bit outside the norm.

And while the Thailand Film Office and the private sector Foreign Film Production Services Association of Thailand (FSA) have done much to put professional standards in place, offering ongoing training for private-sector production service companies, the 125-plus production service companies all want a piece of the increased foreign shoots in-country and are skirting regulations.

"It's an increasing problem," admits Sasisupa Sungvaribud, president of FSA, "one we will have to deal with at some point, but all the evidence is not in yet."

So as the industry grows, a new set of problems arises. As was said earlier, be careful what you wish for.

Tussauds Salutes Jet Li
Internationally acclaimed action star Jet Li unveiled a wax model of himself at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Shanghai on Jan. 19. Li has just finished building what is being called "China's most luxurious mansion," a $29.5 million villa complex (with three stand-alone homes), in Shanghai. Li and his family currently live in Singapore and have not announced when they will make the move to Shanghai.

Aftershock to Debut in Japan
Aftershock, the highest-grossing Chinese movie of 2010, will open in Japanese theatres on March 26. Chinese director Feng Xiaogang was invited by the Japanese distributor to help promote the movie. Feng arrived in Kobe, Japan on Jan. 17, the 16th anniversary of the Kobe (Hanshin) earthquake, in which 6,434 people were killed and 300,000 left homeless.

Released by the Huayi Brothers, Aftershock chronicles a mother's three-decade-long struggle with the emotional repercussions of the 1976 Tangshan, China earthquake. First released in IMAX theatres on July 22, the film took in about $99 million in its home country.

Contact Scott Rosenberg with relevant news stories at prdivision@gmail.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @scott_cos or on Facebook: D Scott Rosenberg.