‘Awarapan’ Finally Gets its Pakistani Screening Go-ahead

By Sonya Rehman

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Thursday, July 5 marks Awarapan’s official press screening in Lahore, Pakistan, followed up by one open to the public the subsequent day on July 6.

Initially however, Mohit Suri’s film was disallowed to be released in Pakistan as it was ensconced in a few prickly controversies. And one such (major) controversy doing the loop was the fact that in actuality, the film Awarapan was not an ‘Indo-Pak collaboration’ since it has been directed and produced by Mohit Suri and Mahesh Bhatt – coupled with the fact that the film’s actors are also Indian nationals.
Therefore Awarapan’s only ‘Pakistani saving grace’ is its soundtrack which consists of Rafaqat Ali Khan, Mustafa Zahid (of Roxen) and Annie.

But in a final twist of events, the Pakistan Film Censor Board has permitted the film’s censored-version to be released within the country.
The Chairman for the Pakistan Film Exhibitors Association (PFEA), Jehanzeb Baig, in an interview with a local newspaper had stated: “Co-productions release here was a step in the right direction. It will encourage the potential investors and producers and help in the revival of our film industry as artists, directors and technicians would get a chance to be part of big film projects”.

But to put it rather mildly, the situation has turned fairly nasty as the Film Directors Association of Pakistan (FDAP) has thoroughly opposed the film’s screening by issuing a statement against Awarapan’s Pakistani release.
Interestingly, the FDAP’s statement also alleged the fact that Sohail Khan (the film’s Executive Producer) passed a buck (five million to be precise) under the table among officials at the Federal Ministry of Culture and the local Censor Board. Whether or not the allegation holds true, the fact remains, Awarapan is a Bollywood film.

However, speaking with Sohail Khan – whose company ‘Sohail Khan Productions’ acted as the film’s main overseer – was extremely diplomatic in his response regarding the release of the flick. “The Pakistan Film Censor Board has its rules and regulations, and after taking their time screening it, they finally made their decision”, Sohail stated calmly, “when you present a film anywhere in the world there’s always a possibility some will like it while others won’t”. But what about Lollywood’s response? Wouldn’t the Pakistani film industry feel a sense of insecurity? “Lollywood shouldn’t be insecure”, Sohail says with a laugh before proceeding, “With Awarapan’s release I want to prove the fact that a good quality film will bring people to the cinema. We simply do not have a market for good productions, therefore collaborations are good in that regard…I mean Lollywood has its own audience so they shouldn’t be hurt or insecure. God knows why they have their fears, because it won’t be as if each and every Bollywood film will begin to be screened in Pakistan after Awarapan. Lollywood has a different audience – look at the film ‘Anokhi shikaar’, that film’s audience and Awarapan’s audience is extremely different…so I don’t think the film should pose as a threat to Lollywood at all.”

While Suri’s film is said to be a collaborative effort between both countries, it does not ‘directly’ seem so. With Pakistani singers and musicians featured on the film’s soundtrack – it must be stressed that it is however, only a ‘soundtrack’, therefore the collaboration appears to be an indirect one. Now if for instance, the film featured one to two Pakistani actors, a producer or even an assistant director for example, it would make sense to deem it as a multiparty effort.

Also, Sohail’s statement of Lollywood’s productions having different audiences in comparison to films like Awarapan, holds true. But only to an extent. This is because once Pakistani viewers (and I’m talking the ‘mass’ scale here) are exposed to ‘better’ films prepared across the border – the demand to view quality productions is bound to increase. Duh. Because quite frankly, Lollywood creations really seem to be stuck in a state of unflinching mediocrity – to put it politely – and better productions will come as a welcomed change.

Lollywood has every reason to feel insecure…but you know what? Competition may just aid the local film industry to finally yank up its scraggly socks for once and for all. Besides, the masses are not idiots for crying out loud – because just think; how many (local) below-average productions can and will promise to maintain a high viewership when the industry across the border continuously churns out better films?
And if Awarapan can urge the revival of ‘cinema-going as a form of entertainment’, then that’s just wonderful. It’s about time local directors and script-writers quit whining and making excuses about not having proper funding to ensure ‘good’ films. Because fat women jiggling about in spandex doing cartwheels, amidst a batty story which infuses love/action/drama/horror/sci-fi/what-have-you, can get really old after a while.
Quit feeding the masses a diet of visual-junk Lollywood, wake up now before more productions like Awarapan hit the fan…and that too, in your very own cinema halls.

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