ln a brief career of 15 years, Rashid Khawaja has seen the highs and lows of the entertainment industry. A seasoned producer who is known for a lavish yet calculated style of film-making through his films Very Good Duniya, Very Bad Loag and Salakhain, the only two films to his credit, Rashid’s is a big name in Lollywood.
“No sensible person can make a film in Pakistan these days, even if he has big hits to his credit. The environment is not conducive for which the government should take the blame as it has given an open field to India. At the same time, the criticism faced by our films for being weak in all aspects of film production is ironic. I know how much efforts our producers and technicians put in to make a film,” he says.
Rashid predicts that if drastic steps are not taken, TV productions would also end up as bad as our films, which have lost their charm, glamour and standard. “In every country, people buy certified and legalized goods in order to promote local products. Here it is the contrary, as far as the entertainment industry is concerned. We sell, rent and promote illegal material from across the border. By allowing free transmission of Indian TV channels, the government is losing billions of rupees in revenue.”
He also quoted a Pemra official who said in a TV interview that approximately Rs1 billion in advertising revenue goes to Indian channels from Pakistan. “The reason the official gave for this loss was that the local industry is not in competition with India. How can it fight if its hands are tied? They say that the bill to legalize or ban Indian films is in the assembly for consideration, but one wonders why do they need to consult the assembly now if wasn’t a necessity during the Kargil war when Pemra all of a sudden banned the telecast of Indian news channels on TV.”
Rashid says that the availability of low-priced Indian films is damaging the fragile local industry the most. A cinema ticket in Pakistan costs about Rs100 while an Indian or English film DVD is about the same price or even less in the market. The same goes for the local audio CD market where an Indian CD is sold at Rs60 and the local one is priced at Rs100. In no other country such a scenario exists because governments generally protect their indigenous products against foreign products.
‘The entertainment industry has taken away the appeal and charisma of Pakistani actors as there is simply no comparison between Shaan and Shah Rukh Khan,’ says Rashid Khawaja
“This doesn’t mean that I am an anti-Indian person. In fact, I was the first producer in Pakistan who used Indian technicians in Very Good Duniya, Very Bad Loag. Also in Salakhain, I did all the post-production work in India. My only concern is that the government should legalize the process of screening Indian films and generate revenue from them. I won’t object if my film is being shown in a cinema for Rs100 and theirs is shown at Rs300, but I would certainly raise my voice if their film is being watched on VCD for Rs40.”
He regrets the reduction in the number of cinema houses and says that when compared to the rest of the world where cinema houses exist in almost every neighbourhood and are considered a great source of family entertainment, people here rarely go to cinema houses for fun and shared amusement. “Nobody would like to board a wagon from his house, travel to a distant cinema, pay premium on the ticket of Rs100 to watch a local movie when he can watch any Indian movie on a DVD for Rs100 at his home.”
He further debates the issue by citing the example of Spider-man 2, which was a hit with more than 500 million dollars business worldwide but could only rake in $2,500 in Pakistan. “Does that mean that Sam Raimi doesn’t know how to direct a film,” he argues and maintains that the problem lies within the local system in which the last film to make money was Javed Sheikh’s Yeh Dil Aap Ka Hua in 2002. “It was not only because of its excellent songs, never-seen-before crystal clear print and good direction, but also a ban on Indian channels in those days that played its role in its success. The entertainment industry has also taken away the appeal and charisma of Pakistani actors as there is simply no comparison between Shaan and Shah Rukh Khan.”
Rashid Khawaja was also conspicuous by his absence at the Lux Style Awards in which Salakhain received an award. “The organizers lacked style themselves. First of all, nowhere in the world is there a single category for films nor does the best film go without getting any more awards. I was declared the winner for producing the best film but my director and actors who made my film a success were completely ignored. I am certain that none of the jury members of the so-called style awards saw Salakhain.
“Secondly, why was there only one category for film in an awards show that was dominated by filmi people? Has there ever been any awards ceremony in Pakistan that has been successful without the representatives of the film industry? No, as the Pakistan film industry is huge as compared to the fashion one. Shaan dominated the ceremony as the host and it was the presence of film personalities that drew the attention of the public. First we criticize them of not being able to talk in English and then we ask them to grace ceremonies. Why were the models not asked to carry out the entire programme proceedings. It was because the organizers knew that with only models, their show won’t be a success as it would be with Shaan.”
Rashid calls the LSA ceremony a marketing gimmick used as a means for a get-together for people connected with the fashion industry. “I was one of the award nominees and should have been informed in advance. But instead, I came to know of it through a newspaper. Later, I came to know that I have won the award. I did receive two unnamed invitation cards a month before the ceremony and later two return air tickets to Karachi, but I never received any call from the award organizers nor did I contact them since I didn’t know whom I should talk to.”
Rashid says it’s great fun to go different places and meet new people when asked about the ad he has worked in for a cellular service provider company. “One of the reasons for doing it was because it was shot at Krabi, Thailand, a location I loved very much while I was there for the shooting of Salakhain.” He couldn’t shoot there because of financial reasons, but when the ad was offered he accepted it, taking it as an opportunity to fulfil his dream.
Being a cautious person who does a lot of brainstorming before taking up a project, Rashid concludes by saying that he is waiting for the right time to make films as it is better not to make a film in the current scenario than to make a bad film. “Let’s see what the government decides as they should either legalize the import of Indian films or ban them altogether so that local producers know the risks involved,” says Rashid Khawaja.