Sino-Indus civilizations to explore – cultural bonding through Movie Exchanges

Pakistani films have a long way to go before they can compete in markets as competitive as the Chinese one, but considering the recent progress demonstrated by the Pakistani films, both domestically and internationally, the future certainly looks bright.

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The often-quoted ‘brotherly relations’ between Pakistan and China often has diplomats and other foreigners sniggering since there is little to show in reality. However, lately in wake of CPEC, a belated drive has started to forge stronger cultural bonds between the two countries.

H.E Yao Jing, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, has recently launched an initiative to introduce Pakistani films in Chinese cinemas and theatres, in order for better understanding and promoting Pakistani culture.

The move came after Pakistan and China signed a cultural agreement, under which sectors like Broadcasting and Films, Culture and Art, Education and Research, and Press and Publication will cooperate with each other and receive technical expertise and assistance.

The agreement is significant especially in the backdrop of Pakistan’s first-ever cultural policy announced in May 2018, which called on the government to finance the film academy and film studios amongst other things, something that is done by governments worldwide.

In particular, the 1975 film Mera Naam Hai Mohabbat (My Name Is Love), starring Babra Sharif and said to be based on a Chinese folk tale, became a mega-hit in China when it was released.

As part of cultural cooperation and joint exhibitions, many Pakistani films will be screened in Chinese film festivals, including the Beijing and Shanghai film festivals in 2019. Efforts will also be made to ensure that Pakistani TV dramas, which are already popular around the world, are also subtitled and telecast on Chinese Television channels.

This should help Pakistan’s entertainment industry to flourish and if the Indian experience is anything to go by, the economics of these exports may go in Pakistan’s favor. In the 1980s, several Pakistani films and dramas were aired in China and much of the elderly population of China still remembers them fondly.

In particular, the 1975 film Mera Naam Hai Mohabbat (My Name Is Love), starring Babra Sharif and said to be based on a Chinese folk tale, became a mega-hit in China when it was released. In 2016, a delegation of Pakistani filmmakers and distributors visited China in order to explore opportunities for co-productions in the entertainment sector.

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Consequently, both countries decided to host film festivals showcasing their cinematographic spectacles. In 2017, Chalay Thay Sath (Together we set off) a romantic Pakistani film featuring a Chinese and a Pakistani lead, touched the hearts of all those who watched it.

It also gave us insight into how a Pakistani-Chinese film collaboration could unfurl. The first partnership between Pakistani and Chinese producers is already underway. Called ‘The Journey’, this film is set to showcase stories of Chinese businesses contributing to the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The film will be based on real-life Pakistani and Chinese stories, with the filming set to begin in early 2019.

Chinese film director Cao Guiqian recently visited Pakistan and expressed her desire to begin joint ventures with Pakistani filmmakers. This June, five Pakistani films Chalay Thay Sath (Together We Set Off), Bin Roye (Without Crying), Jawani Phir Nahi Ani (Youth Will Never Come Again), Parchi (Referrence) and Punjab Nahi Jaungi (Will Not Go to Punjab) premiered at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s first film festival, with the stars from these movies in attendance.

China has already shown itself to be a game for films emerging from the Indo-Pak region with Bollywood movies making their mark in the Chinese box office.

Punjab Nahi Jaungi went on to win the Special Jury Award amidst competition with films from 12 other countries. The warm reception received by Pakistani films augurs well for the future prospects of the movies in the Chinese market – which is destined to become the world’s largest market. China has already shown itself to be a game for films emerging from the Indo-Pak region with Bollywood movies making their mark in the Chinese box office.

Back in 2016, Amir Khan’s Dangal managed to break every record, as a non-Hollywood import, at the Chinese box office. The film emerged as China’s highest-grossing film and managed to earn ¥1.299 billion in China – that’s more than what Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War earned. Furthermore, the film be-came the highest-grossing foreign non-English film in China and has been watched up to 400 million times via Chinese streaming platforms.

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This achievement is unprecedented for a Bollywood film in China and the subsequent success story of Secret Superstar, another Amir Khan hit, managed to collect a hefty $124.4 million in China alone, is a testimony to the fact that there is a market for desi films and that they can do well at the Chinese box office.

Of course, these statistics pertain to Bollywood films and as we all know, the Bollywood film industry is light years ahead of our own, however that does not equate to impossible chances of Pakistani movies also getting big numbers. It isn’t as if we don’t have the stars to make it work.

Both countries decided to host film festivals showcasing their cinematographic spectacles. In 2017, Chalay Thay Sath (Together we set off) a romantic Pakistani film featuring a Chinese and a Pakistani lead, touched the hearts of all those who watched it.

Let us not forget that ‘Hindi Medium’, which serves as the Bollywood debut of Pakistani actress Saba Qamar, is one of the highest-grossing Indian films in China. There’s also the fact that Chinese audiences are big on diversity and movies like Thailand’s ‘Bad Genius’ (which earned $41 million) and Spain’s thriller Contratiempo (which earned $26 million) have both done marvelously well, signaling that the Chinese box office is open for varied types of films.

Endorsing the fact, James Li, the co-founder of Beijing-based film industry market research firm Fanink, opened up to The Hollywood Reporter stating that “there’s a growing demand for diversity in the market in terms of genres, stories and styles”. He further added that “the Chinese audience has grown up watching about half of their movies subtitled or dubbed — thanks to Hollywood — so there is potential here for foreign-language films that never existed in North America”.

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Pakistani films have a long way to go before they can compete in markets as competitive as the Chinese one, but considering the recent domestic and international progress demonstrated by them, the future certainly looks bright. Punjab Nahi Jaungi, which has played well with international audiences, was the highest-grossing Pakistani film of all time, earning up to $5 million.

Though this figure does not seem too impressive compared to the success registered by Bollywood movies in terms of earning dollars, the movie’s appeal is a testament to the increasingly better-quality films coming out of Pakistan.

More and more investors are also being attracted to film-making due to the fast revival of Pakistani films and it is likely that some international distributors may soon join hands with Pakistani filmmakers. And it won’t be long before we see our local content making waves in China.

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