Everyone loves glamour,
but in Pakistan, the desire for some relief from the veils drawn down by the
ultra-conservative is especially strong. No wonder, then, that Bollywood has so
many fans. It draws attention to something specific, something that signifies
happiness, joy and celebration. Lollywood—the Lahore-based Pakistani film
fraternity—may have had glamour at some point in the past but what they make
today in the name of a film is not what the Pakistanis want.
Bollywood is the closest we can get to glamour—the language, culture and traditions are similar. So is the taste of what is classified as glamour by people in this region. Moreover, you don’t have to leave home to enjoy it. The cablewalhas put up the latest movies of the month from time to time and though the print is usually average, it’s absolutely free.
The life of a Bollywood fan in Pakistan is both similar and different to that of his counterpart in India. Different because there is a whole section of society that opposes Bollywood imports or anything that shows it’s been taken from India; yet if you live in Pakistan, it’s impossible to escape Bollywood’s influence.
In 1965, after the Indo-Pakistan war, Bollywood films were banned. As there was no VCR or VCD or DVD, not to speak of the Internet, people only knew whatever the newspapers printed once a month on Bollywood. Rauf, a grandmother now, recalls reading a newspaper article on Indian films again and again for one whole month till the next one was published.
The introduction of the Video Cassette Recorder in the 1970s pushed an already ailing Lollywood to the brink. Films from Hollywood and Bollywood were easily accessible but only a few households had the new invention. So, after years, Bollywood made its way into Pakistani society. In the 1980s, VCR prices came closer to what the middle-class could afford to rent for a day or two. A new release was Rs 20 a day. A comparatively old movie cost Rs 15. Shakil, now a father of four, recalls those long ago nights when he waited till everyone went to sleep before the TV was turned on, with the room dark to give the impression that there was no one.
In the 1980s, Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor were the reigning deities. Any movie with them was worth watching. Other than that, video shop owners would give updates about any recent movie which drew big crowds in India.
Riaz Shahid, who now owns a book store, used to run a video store in the same shop till a decade ago. “It was not difficult for me to get new Bollywood films on VHS and later on CD. All I had to do was to go to Rainbow Centre once a week and get a few cassettes of each.”
Rainbow Centre is the hub of video piracy. It’s located in Saddar, one of the busiest suburbs of Karachi. It has 450–500 shops; all packed tightly together. They are lightning quick professionals; pirated copies of any movie are available within 20 hours of its release. From computer software to Indian and American films and TV serials and soap operas—all are available at negotiable prices.
The pirates have been in operation for several decades. People say that the business is backed by a few influential personages, whose identity may come as a surprise. For that reason there’s no opposition. In the past 10 years, video shops in several major cities have been burnt down, or the owners shot dead in broad daylight by members of some right-wing party or other. But no one dares to step into Rainbow Centre. There have been a few raids by government officials to crack down on the making and distribution of porn movies, but after a few weeks, everything is back to normal. According to an Indian newspaper, “buying pirated CDs and DVDs in Karachi is as easy as buying an apple.”
The themes of films often find echoes in Pakistan, too. Both states lie below the poverty line, and face more or less the same challenges. For instance, Taare Zameen Par, highlights the plight of children with special needs; it struck a chord here.