Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad, ready for release

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“People are going to restaurants and malls. Why wouldn’t they go to the movies?” asks director Nabeel Qureshi.

His movie Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad, starring Fahad Mustafa and Mahira Khan, is ready for release and Nabeel and Fizza Ali Meerza, his producer at Filmwala Pictures, are considering a December 2020 release date.

It’s a declaration that has Pakistan’s film fraternity raising skeptical eyebrows – cinemas are mostly still closed due to the coronavirus although a small smattering has started opening up.

Most major cinemas are only willing to resume business once they have enough content to air on their screens so that they can make up for their running businesss.

This may happen by November this year when Agent 007 is expected to stalk into our lives and begin saving the Pakistani film industry. But even so, there is a chance that the fear of getting infected by the virus may dissuade audiences from buying tickets in droves.

There is also the niggling concern that once cinemas do open, the number of available screens may have dwindled.

Some cinemas may have closed down, unable to recover from the losses endured all through last year – a year when money-minting Bollywood movies got banned and the local industry released a spate of flops – with a final unequivocal blow delivered by the coronavirus lockdown.

The paltry 75 screens that Pakistani cinema had so far built up may have receded to much less. Less screens means less profits.

Knowing this, even though a number of Pakistani movies wrapped up production some time ago and are all set for release, most local filmmakers are opting to wait until a time comes when visiting an enclosed cinema is no longer a health hazard. This could take several months.

We may be looking at summer next year when, inevitably, movie releases may habitually cluster around an Eid date. But Nabeel and Fizza have weighed the pros and cons and are not inclined towards waiting for so long.

“We released our first movie, Na Maloom Afraad, to limited screens back in 2014. We’ll just do it again,” says Fizza. “And yes, there may be less cinemas but that will be the case even next year. Why wait? I do think that people will come and see the movie. We are all social animals and we naturally gravitate towards going out, meeting people and doing things together.

There have been so many times when people have predicted that cinema will die: when TV channels launched, VCR’s became popular, Netflix took over and now, during the coronavirus crisis. But the love for going to see the movies has never died.”