Could TV save cinema?
It’s a question that has often been posed ever since ARY Digital’s drama Mere Paas Tum Ho (MPTH) aired its final, much-anticipated last episode on cinemas across Pakistan. The episode was shown simultaneously on TV and yet, cinemas hauled in heavy duty ticket sales.
For all its misogynistic twists and turns, the drama was indisputably one of the biggest all-time hits of Pakistani television.
Now, the HUM TV Network has followed suit by announcing that the final episode of their hit drama Ehd-e-Wafa will also be shown in cinemas – in fact, a day prior to it being aired on TV.
Survival of the box office
Ehd-e-Wafa, with its star-studded cast, interesting story developments and patriotic inclination, is considerably popular and the exclusive chance to find out what happens in the end – social media is rife with conjecture about which character is going to end up dying – could work well for flailing cinema box offices.
Of course, it’s no secret that the local box office is flailing right now. With the ban on Bollywood movies stolidly in place, international releases are limited in number and the small smattering of local productions have an unfortunate inclination to release around the two Eids.
As a result, while audiences may have plenty of movies to choose from during the festive season, there is very little left to entertain them for the rest of the year. The final episode of a much-touted drama aired on the big screen can be an impetus for crowds to frequent cinemas yet again.
“These dramas have such huge fan followings, especially MPTH which was extremely successful,” observes Farhan Javed, the Head of Marketing and Operations at Universal Cinema.
“We sold 6000 tickets in a single day for the final episode of MPTH – that’s as many tickets as we sold for Avengers: Endgame in a day. This drama was being followed by men and women alike and we saw entire families coming to see the episode together.”
Farhan feels that Ehd-e-Wafa will also pull in crowds. “The fact that the final episode is airing a day before it is shown on TV is a big plus. MPTH’s following was exceptional but even Ehd-e-Wafa is going to do well. And everyone basically benefits: cinemas, TV channels and audiences who get to enjoy a family outing.”
Adnan Khan, Head of Marketing and Sales at Cinepax, is also expecting Ehd-e-Wafa to attract a three day decent run. “We showed MPTH for three days in our cinemas across Pakistan – that’s a total of 300 shows. The shows on the first day ran to full houses but even later, tickets kept selling. And just two weeks ago, an entire hall in the Cinepax cinema at Jinnah Park, Rawalpindi was booked by a client for a private airing of MPTH’s last episode.”
High ticket sales even for the weekend during which a drama is aired can attract in sponsors.
“There’s always the hope that sponsors will observe how well the shows are doing and the next time around, they will also come on board,” points out Adnan.
It remains to be seen if Ehd-e-Wafa’s box office innings will be equivalent to those brought in by MPTH. Jerjees Seja, CEO of the ARY Digital Network, says that MPTH’s success was unprecedented.
“We have some very popular dramas running on our channel right now but we won’t be screening their final episodes in cinemas. MPTH was an exception, although even in the past, in the case of Pyaray Afzal, we had shown the final episode in cinemas as well as on TV.”
“Initially, we had planned to only screen MPTH’s final episode for a select invite-only audience, in recognition of how successful the drama had been. But then, based on the drama’s extensive fan following, we decided to open up the shows to public. Our first priority was always getting the most people to watch the drama on TV and according to Media Logic Ratings, 48% of Pakistan’s population was watching the final episode. That’s approximately 8 crore people. The cinematic earnings were a bonus.”
Jamil Baig, CEO of Nueplex Cinemas, despondently points out the obvious: “A single drama episode, aired for a weekend, every few months, doesn’t really benefit a cinema. Yes, it can generate hype. And yes, it helps channel owners who have more statistics to prove that their production has been very successful, thereby attracting in more sponsors for future dramas. But for a cinema to run in profit, a constant influx of movies is needed. That’s something we don’t have. And with every producer vying for an Eid release date, I don’t see this happening in the near future as well.”
Nevertheless, as other cinema owners optimistically state, “Something is better than nothing.”
Could PSL help?
Ehd-e-Wafa’s final episode, based on the trailer, promises to be ‘something’. There’s going to be a special appearance by Humayun Saeed and plenty of action on the battlefield as one of the main characters, Saad played by Ahad Raza Mir, fights it out in Kashmir. People are going to want to see this.
Momina Duraid, Ehd-e-Wafa’s producer, says, "Ehd-e-Wafa is a story that, in a nutshell, motivates the youth of Pakistan from all disciplines and socio-economic classes to join hands and as a combined force build up the nation together. The finale in cinemas will also take audiences through this beautiful journey of ‘ehd-e-wafa’ to our nation and will hopefully motivate them to become part of this journey in their own capacity, in their real lives.”
Jerjees Seja, while talking about his experiences at ARY and particularly MPTH, observes, “More and more dramas may air in cinemas in the upcoming months but still, this really can’t become a trend. Unless people feel very passionate about a production, they won’t want to pay money to see it on the big screen when they can see it for free at home. MPTH airing in cinemas worked well for us but it is far more common for important cricket matches to be shown in cinemas. People are so enthusiastic about cricket that cinemas benefit.”
And this, with PSL fever currently reigning over the country, brings us to a new question: can cricket save cinemas?
Apparently, closer to the end of the tournament, major PSL matches are going to be shown in cinemas across the country and cinema owners expect the box office to get rolling again.
That’s great. As long as cinemas get saved. As long as they can survive till Eid when, hey presto, a long lineup of local releases are suddenly going to emerge.