Whenever tensions between Pakistan and India escalate, the entertainment industries become among the prominent punching bags. Tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi have been high ever since the February 14 attacks in Pulwama on an convoy in Indian-administered Kashmir. In response, India conducted an air strike in Pakistani territory targeting a terrorist training camp.

Since then, the Indian music label T-Series has removed songs of Pakistani musicians from its YouTube channel. In a tit-for-tat move, Pakistan has banned Indian content on its airwaves, and cinemas in the country are no longer showing any Bollywood films.

Bollywood’s popularity in Pakistan

Despite frequent tensions between the two neighbors, Bollywood films are more popular in Pakistan than those from Hollywood and even Pakistan’s own film industry known as Lollywood. According to the culture editor of Karachi-based newspaper The Express Tribune, Rafay Mehmood, Bollywood accounts for 60% of total cinema consumption, with Lollywood and Hollywood accounting for the rest.

Loss for Pakistani cinema industry?

Because of Bollywood’s popularity in the country, Pakistan’s cinema industry will suffer quite a lot from the current ban. Mahmood further said that there were about 120 cinemas in the country and the average shelf life of a good film was about two weeks. Pakistani cinemas have to show at least 26 films a year in order to stay in business.

The longest ban on Bollywood in Pakistan lasted for 40 years, resulting in the decline of cinemas in the country and their conversion into other public places, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation. When the ban was lifted, cinemas reopened and going to the movies became a trend. Pakistan’s film industry also gained some momentum as it was encouraged to make movies as well, although not on the same level as its Indian counterpart.

Enter the digital era

When Pakistan’s music industry went into decline during the mid-2000s, many major record labels in the country went out of business because of piracy among other factors. Even the star power of some popular musicians associated with those record labels could not save them.

In the 2010s, the music industry started to regain momentum, and this encouraged big record labels like EMI and Sadaf to return to the musical landscape. However, realizing that things had changed, both record labels abandoned their physical model and went completely into a digital format. There are currently three main popular music streaming sites in the country: Taazi, Patari and BestSongsPk.

Cinepax, Pakistan’s largest cinema chain, realized that a digital revolution was coming and would serve as a game changer for the country’s cinema industry. Cinepax, with 45 screens and a capacity of more than 6,000 seats nationwide, launched the Pakistani version of StarzPlay, a Middle Eastern streaming service. Popular streaming services like Netflix, Iflix and Amazon Video are present in the country as well. A Pakistani streaming service called Seeti.Pk will be launching soon.

One major victim of the digital revolution will be the cinema industry worldwide. Netflix has already proved this by releasing films that are at par with theatrical films, a phenomenon and a rising trend that has worried some of the biggest names such as Steven Spielberg. The 2018 Netflix film Roma won several film awards that were reserved for theatrical releases and not television shows, which served as a threat to the cinema industry.

In Pakistan’s case, Cinepax has served as an innovator by going into the streaming business, but it remains to be seen how the cinema giant takes full advantage of the digital landscape. Many other cinema chains in the country have significant resources as well and should start working on their digital models before it is too late.

As for Bollywood’s effect on the cinema industry in Pakistan, it was bound to decline whether Indian content was banned or not, because the digital revolution has reached Pakistan as well, and the trend of going out with family and friends to a cinema is soon to go out of style.