Foreign films have traditionally performed exceptionally well at the Pakistani box office. Many of them are in our top ten highest-grossing pictures, posing stiff competition to our homegrown films. After a difficult start, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness eventually went national after last weekend.
What Happened Next
To accommodate the Marvel film, most theatres reduced, or in some cases removed, shows for local Eid movies. While our local filmmakers were already vocal about their displeasure with the release of Doctor Strange, this past weekend may have exacerbated issues. But are angry local filmmakers and films justified?
First and foremost, we must address the Scarlet Witch in the room. The highly awaited and newest Marvel picture is the Sam Raimi-directed sequel to the 2016 blockbuster Doctor Strange. Coming just five months after Spider-Man: No Way Home broke box office records in Pakistan, the latest Multiverse event was bound to do well in theatres.
Doctor Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff, The Scarlet Witch, are played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen. Other fan favorites, including as Professor X and Captain Marvel, will also appear as their multiverse counterparts in the film. Marvel is a significant brand for Indian moviegoers, with Spider-Man: No Way Home and Avengers: Endgame among the few films to ever break the 30 crore mark at the box office.
The film’s debut just days after Eid meant that it would severely undercut local movies at the box office, which local producers feared.
While local films faltered, Doctor Strange did more business in three days than any Eid flicks did all week. Doctor Strange was delayed over the Eid holidays and that viewers chose to wait for the film over the Eid blockbusters is a tell-tale indicator. While it is true that space and slots were eaten up, it is equally true that Pakistani films can and have fought on the big screen with international movies in the past.
Too Many Films
Even the most ardent moviegoers worldwide can only afford to watch one film every month on average. So, given the post-pandemic economic scenario, was it genuinely prudent to release five films simultaneously?
This was a point of controversy for many people even before the outbreak. Film analysts and consumers have spoken out against our industry’s release patterns, claiming that many releases harm everyone. Unlike prior Eids, which saw at least one or two films out of the batch do well, this year’s box office results were lower than in previous years. Call it a post-pandemic rebound or audience bewilderment – the stats are, to some extent, revealing.
Lack Of Big Names And Brands
On Eid, we usually see names like Mahira Khan, Humayun Saeed, and Fahad Mustafa, all of whom have become brands in their way. Except for Saba Qamar’s connection, the Eid lineup lacked the grandeur of big personalities. It’s a pity because these films featured many outstanding people, like Imran Ashraf, Ahsan Khan, Zahid Ahmed, Hania Aamir, etc.
The next Eid will witness the return of famous names with films such as Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad, and even though Thor: Love and Thunder will be released around the same time, those flicks have already built a buzz.
The Unfair Release Schedule
When Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness reached the big screen, we saw theatres devote all of the big time slots to the blockbuster while drastically reducing the places for local productions. In several circumstances, films that were previously running house full or at full occupancy were allocated no screens to accommodate the Marvel feature.
While this demonstrates that cinema owners only worry about which picture will fill seats after a difficult two years, it doesn’t excuse not giving our films a chance to generate money – especially since the original business sounded good, to begin with. If there is to be a competition, it must be fair, with each contestant having an equal chance of making a mark.
People in the business banded together to protest the claimed unfairness due to the judgment. Aside from the press conference in Karachi, several local actors took to social media to urge audiences to support local films.
Amar Khan, the star and writer of Dum Mastam, took to Instagram to discuss filmmaking teams’ hard work and hardships, only for a foreign film to take over the screens. She also urged the audience to unite together as one. Adnan Siddiqui, Yasir Nawaz, Nida Yasir, Arslan Naseer, and Dananeer Mobeen also used social media to encourage people to support local films.
A significant course adjustment is required here. Quality control and better screening schedules must be key takeaways. While there are countless things to consider and layers of intricacy to this issue, all that is within one’s power must be examined. While prohibiting imported items is not the solution, and filmmakers did argue that they preferred a delay over a ban, we must keep in mind that our business is still struggling. However, we have also had our setbacks, and we can get back on track. Cinema owners must also consider what role they want to play in the resuscitation of local cinema and provide a level playing field for local filmmakers.
Hopefully, the next Eid will bring good news for our film business. We’ll have to wait and watch how this all plays out, whether or not these filmmakers’ complaints are heard, and how it affects the landscape in the following days. What are your thoughts on the entire situation? Tell us in the comments.