I was once approached by a producer for making a movie.
The prevailing notion was that we need to make something that sells well in India. The producers were willing to go to any lengths to ensure that outcome; from hiring Indian actors to outsourcing key production tasks. This got me thinking:
Bollywood already makes their own blockbusters, so why would they patronise what would, at best, be our tribute to them? We already have such talented individuals in our own country; why outsource?
Waar is the most lucrative movie in Pakistani history and not a Bollywood blockbuster.
Why not try to replicate that success instead?
To be clear, this is about introspection, not hate. It's about learning, and to that end, I ask you: should Pakistan be making entertainment primarily for Indian audiences?
Our content is slowly becoming India-centric with each passing iteration, simply because we are gaining traction there.
Zindagi Gulzar Hai was picked up for regular telecast. Our actors work there frequently, our musicians have been popular there for decades now. So, does that mean we have to modify our content to suit their seasoned tastes? Should we not be giving them something different to digest instead of the same drudgery they can just source locally?
If only the answer was a simple binary choice. One cannot peel away all the layers of history within a single article, so I won't even try. However, money is as real today as it was in 1947, so let us look at it from a strictly business perspective.
India has a population of just over 1.25 billion. For such a massive audience, even 10 per cent penetration generates more business than the Pakistani average. It makes perfect sense to market (even pander) to that region.
For the same outcome, we should put serious efforts in making our content more commonly available in China, even a tiny portion of those accumulated eyes on our product will be more than what Game of Thrones does on a good day.
Also read: Is 'Bulbulay' bad for comedy?
The cardinal rule of business is that you don’t turn away a paying customer. If any country wants our content, it should be sold happily — there can’t be any limitations there.
However, they remain a secondary market. Our primary market is Pakistan. If we prioritise the secondary market, our content will lose traction in the primary market.
To simplify, we cannot hope to sell a product in any international market if it fails to succeed locally.
But what's happening is that producers and writers are creating bipolar content: content that has shifted focus to generic situations that translate well across the border featuring the likes of atypical relationships and oh so much crying; trumping content pertinent to Pakistanis on a personal level.
To put it into perspective, imagine the immensely popular Turkish dramas turning into something akin to Humsafar and Bulbulay.
That is very unlikely because these shows are designed to generate business in Turkey. Whatever business they do here is a bonus. India might be a huge market, but it is still just that — a bonus.
In recent times, everyone from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Adnan Sami Khan, Junoon and Ali Zafar built their personal brands first. They did not start out by creating music specifically for India. They created original content that made such a huge impact it was felt over the border.
With regards to cinema, our films are rapidly anchoring themselves to what are rather disjointedly named as “item songs”.
In the meeting with the aforementioned producer, there was talk of hiring an international studio for CG work, even though there are studios in Pakistan which had successfully worked for illustrious projects like Spiderman 3, Tomb Raider, Discovery Channel, Audi Adcampaigns to quote a few examples.
One’s identity should be a matter of pride, especially when catering to the whims of Pakistani audiences has proven profitable in the past. Content creators should not water at the mouth so voraciously at the prospect of taking it across the border that they end up trampling our own audiences to get there.
We have spent a lifetime cultivating our own identity, and fickle as it's often made out to be, it does exist.
When we refuse to take ownership of it, others impose their presumptions. If we work harder at pleasing the world over ourselves, we risk losing both.
And that would be really bad for business.