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Pakistani content making gradual inroads into Indian entertainment space

Industry experts talk about how Pakistani content has fared in the Indian entertainment space, the attraction factor, the risks involved and impact of bilateral relations

Mayur Lookhar | Mumbai | July 29, 2015


Border hostilities notwithstanding, entertainment has played a huge role in creating a warm bond between India and Pakistan. Every now and then, there comes along a ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ that dissolves the bitterness between the two neighbours, even if on the screen.

While the market for content from Pakistan in the Indian entertainment space is not very vast, there is enough curiosity factor that attracts eyeballs. Artistes from across the border have been warmly embraced by the Indian audiences – be it Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Mehdi Hasan for the older generation or Ali Zafar and Fawad Khan for the gen next.

A brief history of Pakistani content in India

One might remember the 1980s, when video cassettes of Pakistani plays, mostly by popular comedian Umer Shareef (Bakra Qistoan Pay) and Moin Akhter (‘Buddha Ghar Pe Hai’), were much in demand in India.

That was also the time when a young Nazia Hasan shot to overnight fame with her rendition of ‘Disco Deewane’ from the movie ‘Qurbani’.

Growing insurgency in Kashmir in the 1990s resulted in a breakdown of cultural ties between India and Pakistan. There was a reunion in early 2000, with Bollywood embracing Pakistani singers like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Atif Aslam, and Mustafa Zahid. Then came the next generation of Pakistani comedians, who were a regular feature in comedy shows on Indian television such as ‘Comedy Circus’ and ‘Great Indian Laughter Challenge’.

The 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai put an end to the run of Pakistani comedians in India.

The last few years have seen the growing popularity of actors from Pakistan, such as Ali Zafar, Fawad Khan, Imran Abbas, and Mahira Khan (who will be seen in Shah Rukh Khan’s upcoming film ‘Raees’).

The Bollywood edge

A point to note here is that Bollywood movies, which are quite popular in Pakistan, are released in that country on a regular basis. However, one hardly remembers the last time a Pakistani film hit Indian screens. So, is this love a move to strengthen bilateral ties or is Bollywood purely looking at Pakistan as a market?

Taran Adarsh Taran Adarsh

According to trade analyst Taran Adarsh, “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 the 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.”

Another trade analyst, Atul Mohan, however, calls for Bollywood to tap the Pakistani market. He said, “The entire business of Pakistan can be compared to as much as the entire business of the Mumbai or Delhi territories. 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 contributed more towards Pakistani box-office success than their own films, Mohan replied, “It depends from film to film. A good Bollywood film tends to generate Rs 4 crore to Rs 5 crore 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 in Pakistan – ‘Waar’ – has generated Rs 23 crore is an indication how of how far its film industry lags behind Bollywood, where Rs 100 crore films have become the norm.

Girish Wankhede Girish Wankhede

Girish Wankhede, Distribution and Marketing Head, Entity One, a movie production, distribution and marketing firm, concurred, “Bollywood films have always found 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.”

While Pakistan’s film industry has a long way to go before it can match the business that Bollywood does, Pakistan’s television industry has fared better in the Indian entertainment space.

Success on the small screen

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

Zee TV went ahead and launched a channel – Zindagi – that exclusively airs Pakistani shows. The channel currently airs shows like ‘Sasural Ki Gali’, ‘Gulon Mein Rang’, ‘Pyare Afzal’, and ‘Badalte Rishtey’.

Colors’ Rishtey, too, joined the bandwagon by airing shows like ‘Humsafar’, ‘Aasmanon Pe Likha’ and ‘Ranjish Hi Sahi’.

While Pakistani shows have made a home for themselves on Indian television, not much is known about the demand for such shows by the Indian audiences. So, what makes the channels bring such shows to India, how lucrative are they?

Chandra P Dobhal Chandra P Dobhal

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

Sundeep Nagpal Sundeep Nagpal

According to Sundeep Nagpal, Founder-Director, Stratagem Media, “Their (Pakistani shows) content is different and not over-dramatised. Unlike our serials, they don’t like being produced in a factory.”

That said, Zee Zindagi, however, has not quite hit the ratings charts with its Pakistani content.

Dobhal disagreed with this and said, “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.”

Like Dobhal, Nagpal, too, doesn’t read much into the average ratings of Pakistani shows, but does throw in a word of caution.

Nagpal felt, “If everybody wants to keep on producing or acquiring Pakistani shows, then there will be a glut and none of them would do well. The biggest problem in this country is that if something clicks once, then everyone wants to join the bandwagon. One doesn’t have a Kashmiri Pulav at a 5-star hotel everyday. That explains why only a few of these shows have done well, while the others haven’t been able to appeal to our masses. These shows should be consumed in limited quantity only.”

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

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

Online indeed seems a better option and the future for content consumption. Then again, when it comes to India and Pakistan, we are always one tragedy away from disconnecting all ties.

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