Faisal Qureshi photographed by Yaseen LakhanIn an exclusive interview for the Daily Times, the brave, bold and opinionated Faysal Qureshi talks about the corrosive effect of excessive amounts of foreign content in Pakistani cinemas and on Pakistani television channels. In recent months, you have become very vocal about your displeasure with the amount of Indian content in Pakistani cinemas and television channels. What makes you so angry? The unfairness, irresponsibility and immorality involved in exhibiting Indian films in Pakistani cinemas and airing Indian serials on Pakistani television channels. And, let me correct you. This does not make me angry. It makes me very angry.The issue is one of fairness, justice and reciprocity. Our policy on Indian content – if it can be called that – is not based on fair and reciprocal trading. It needs to be. In order to be fair and just, both countries need to show films and dramas made by each other. India does not allow the exhibition of Pakistani films and has effectively banned Pakistani television dramas in the country. The imbalance hurts Pakistan in many ways. One, money flows unidirectionally from Pakistan to India. Two, we come under the destructive influence of a culture vastly different than our own. Three, our national dignity is hurt when we do not respond – in kind – to Indian’s unfair bias, propaganda and bans. And, four, we effectively weaken our stance on the atrocities being committed against Muslims in Kashmir and in India. Our economic, political, ideological, moral, and cultural conflicts with India do not allow for the free and unrestricted exhibition of Indian films and television programs in Pakistan. Do you believe that Indian films and television programs should be banned in Pakistan?No, I do not. I believe that a fair and judicious policy should be developed for the exhibition of Indian films and television programs in Pakistan. The policy needs to protect the interests of the Pakistani entertainment industry and be cognizant of its financial, cultural and artistic imperatives.What should be done specifically?A number of things. One, the amount of Indian content that is allowed in Pakistan should be limited and regulated. Two, Pakistani content should be given favorable slots in cinemas and television channels. Three, bi-directional trade must be ensured. Four, content that is at odds with our cultural, moral and religious values should not be allowed. And, five, Indian and other foreign content should be taxed and the tax revenues used to support the Pakistani entertainment industry.What would be the best way to use revenues from the tax you propose?They should be used to provide subsidies, tax holidays and financial support to the Pakistani industry. They should be used to offset the cost of the duty-free import of photographic and media equipment. They should be used to pay for participation in international film and television festivals. Most importantly, they should fund non-commercial art cinema and television.You seem to be advocating protectionism.No, not at all. All developing industries, all over the world, need – and get – government support. Otherwise, they fail. Protectionism comes into play only when industries are mature. We are not there as yet.How do you feel about the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association’s stand on the issue of Pakistani actors working in India?The Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association is trying to protect the interests of the Indian film industry. I understand that. There is nothing wrong with it. I just wish that their stand would shame us into taking similar action.What do you think of the Pakistani government’s ban on the release of Indian films during and around Eid Al Fitr?I think it is a good move but more needs to be done. Our industry does not need one-off actions; it needs the development, definition and implementation of a proper policy.A few people have complained that the government’s action jeopardizes the constitutional and fundamental right of film exhibitors to do business.Yes, they have. Their criticism would be valid if we only cared about money and had no regard for our national, cultural and moral interests. I hope that is not the case and that we have not become a nation, which is so short-sighted that it is willing to sacrifice the long-term growth of its industries for short-term monetary gains. Yes, the exhibitors may lose a little money during the two-week period of the ban but they would gain immensely, in the long run, from a solid and strong Pakistani film industry.A lot of people believe that the lifting of ban on Indian films in 2007 helped improve the quality of Pakistani films, brought people back to movie theaters, and resulted in the construction of new cinemas. Are they wrong?Absolutely. They are totally and completely wrong.Pakistani films owe nothing to Indian cinema. They are not at all like the pulp that Bollywood churns out regularly. I recently saw the Pakistani film Cake and totally loved it. It represents quintessential Pakistani cinema and is not at all similar to Indian films. No one can say that the high quality of the film is a consequence of the exhibition of Indian films in Pakistan. I do not subscribe to the view that lifting the ban on Indian films has helped improve the quality of Pakistani films in any way. Our industry has developed very well, on its own, and will continue to do so.It is true that the last ten years have seen the construction of a lot of new movie theaters but the growth cannot be attributed to the exhibition of Indian films alone. Hollywood and Pakistani films did their part as well. Now that a decade has passed, we need to relook at our policy and make sure that we allow only as much foreign content as is needed to sustain the growth of cinemas in Pakistan.Why do you not allow the performance of songs from India in your television show, ‘Salam Zindagi’?I do not see the need to include Indian songs in my show. I think Pakistani music is very good. I love our songs. A limited number of songs are performed in my show and the need is fulfilled adequately and very well by Pakistani songs. Again, the question is one of fairness and reciprocity. I do not believe that Pakistani songs are ever played in Indian television shows. The inclusion of Indian songs in Pakistani shows is, therefore, patently wrong.In a recent interview, Indian actor Swara Bhaskar referred to Pakistan as a ‘failing state’. How would you respond to it?Yes, I did hear of the comment even though I do not know who Swara Bhaskar is. She is probably a starlet who is not known outside of India.What do you think of her comment?It is a foolish comment. It stems from petty hatred and, possibly, a desire for publicity. It appears to be the idiotic rant of an uneducated woman with no brains. If this woman is interested in talking about political issues, she does not need to look beyond the borders of India. She should talk about rape, sexual harassment, poverty, lack of sanitation, corruption, mistreatment of religious minorities, atrocities in Kashmir, racism, casteism, and a plethora of other problems that plague India and are a cause of enduring shame. Once those problems have been addressed, she can talk about the failure of other nations. Until then, the ill-informed woman should focus on the sanitation problems of a country that largely lacks clean toilets and forces its people to defecate publicly, out in the open; or just stay quiet.Do you feel that you are alone in your crusade against Indian content in Pakistani cinemas and television channels?No, I do not. A lot of people – Aijazz Aslam, Hina Bayat, Samina Ahmed, Syed Mubashir Imam, Wajahat Rauf, and Zeeshan Khan, to name a few – are fighting the fight. The United Producers Association (UPA) is doing its part to protect the interests of Pakistani television, film, digital, children programming, and animation media professionals. I am confident that the movement we are spearheading will gain momentum in coming months.You met with the Chief Justice of Pakistan recently and asked to take note of the excessive amount of foreign content being broadcast by Pakistani television channels. How did the meeting go?It went very well. He promised to talk to representatives of the television channels and address the matter. I think he will resolve the issue.Why did you feel the need to go to the Chief Justice of Pakistan?In a circular dated September 02, 2016, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) directed all television channels to limit foreign content to ten (10) percent and ensure that, at least, ninety (90) percent of aired content was produced in Pakistan. The rule has been grossly violated by televisions channels. The percentage of foreign content on some channels is as high as fifty (50). We went to the Chief Justice to ask him to ensure the implementation of the PEMRA policy.Television channels like to import dramas because they are in their second-run and, therefore, cost a fraction of first-run Pakistani dramas. The desire to increase profits by airing foreign content is highly objectionable and can have very bad long-term results. People need to understand the destructive effect of having excessive foreign content on our television channels. Pakistani dramas have had a venerable reputation for originality, quality and artistic merit for very long. In the nineties, when hugely inferior Indian television dramas infiltrated our air waves, they had a very negative affect on our dramas. Some producers tried to imitate their garish, loud style and, in the process, hurt the quality of their dramas. It was a sad time. We are fortunately past that tragic period and producing excellent television serials, once again. We should make sure that, going forward, we never again allow poor Indian dramas to hurt the quality of our own. We must also be aware that we have a very rich cultural heritage and a very sound set of ethics, morals and values. It is important make sure that a preponderance of foreign content does not erode our cultural, political, religious, and ideological identity. The entertainment industry employs more than seventy-five thousand (75,000) people in Pakistan. We jeopardize the livelihood of each one of those people every time we import a foreign program. That is unforgivable and should never be allowed.The writer lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts. He tweets @allyadnan and can be reached at email@example.comPublished in Daily Times, June 5th 2018.