Pakistani High Court Bans Screening of Indian Films, TV Shows

Many Bollywood films, including "Jab Tak Hai Jaan" have been huge hits in neighboring Pakistan.

The Lahore High Court reinstates the ban on Indian film and TV content that was lifted in 2006.

A Pakistani court has banned the screening of Indian films and TV content in the country, according to reports Wednesday. The move in effect reinstates a decades-old censor on Indian content that was lifted in 2006 allowing Indian films to be released in Pakistan.

Lahore High Court Justice Khalid Mahmood Khan ruled that Indian films and television serials should be included in the so-called "negative list" of productions that cannot be traded between the neighboring countries under their current bilateral trade regime. The order was issued in response to a petition filed last month by controversial Pakistani TV talk show host Mubashir Lucman, a former film producer known for his anti-India stance. Lucman had contended that Indian films and TV serials were being imported in violation of Pakistani regulations. He further claimed that under Pakistani rules, Indian movies that are shot completely in India and are sponsored by an Indian cannot be screened in the country.

Lucman's lawyers argued that the government had allowed the import and exhibition of Indian and other foreign films and serials through a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) issued in 2006. The counsel claimed that the SRO is “in clear violation” of Pakistan’s import policy and the rules of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. While PEMRA has fined TV channels for violating regulations, it hasn't prevented them from broadcasting foreign content, including Indian and Turkish shows.

Despite the ban, which had been in place since 1965, Indian movies remained hugely popular in Pakistan via piracy, especially since the home video boom of the eighties. While the Pakistani film industry has been struggling, Indian movies have largely fuelled a boom at the box office after former military ruler Pervez Musharraf eased restrictions on their import in 2006.

The first film to have a day-and-date release in Indian and Pakistan was 2007's Bollywood sports caper Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal starring top actor John Abraham. Since then, major Bollywood titles have done well in Pakistan such as actioner Race and superstar Shah Rukh Khan's Jab Tak Hai Jaan, among others. But some titles have been banned such as 2010's comedy hit Tere Bin Laden (Without You, Bin Laden), which spoofed the search for Osama bin Laden, a sensitive subject in Pakistan.

Last year's spy film Agent Vinod was also banned because Pakistan's censor board reportedly didn't approve of the film's plot showing the country in a “negative light." The film depicts Pakistanis aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan and hatching a plot to detonate a nuclear bomb in India's capital, Delhi.

Agent Vinod is for Indians, but it is not against Pakistanis,” said the movie's lead actor and co-producer, Saif Ali Khan in an interview at the time with a wire agency. “But I understand if they (Pakistan) get upset because we are beating them up quite often in the film.”

Despite such incidents, Pakistani talent has been working in Indian films for many years, such as pop star Ali Zafar who played the lead role in Tere Bin Laden.

“Piracy will become even more rampant in Pakistan, with the banning of Bollywood. The exhibition industry will slump again,” leading Bollywood banner Balaji Telefilms CEO Tanuj Garg posted on Twitter in response to the new ban. “Look at the irony. Pakistani talent aspire to be in our movies. The very movies that are a banned commodity in their country. ”

Following the end of British rule in 1947, Pakistan was carved out of India as a separate state. The edgy neighbors have fought three major wars since then. Given the tense relations, Indian films were banned in Pakistan after both countries fought the 1965 war.