Investigating the ‘O21 booed off’ story: The Picture could have been a little different

By: Aayan Mirza

Pakistan Film Industry maybe progressing fast, but every new local film that you see in cinema is someone’s passion driven project at the end of the day. Honestly, the business sense for films in Pakistan still does not exist. The business sense to a great extent currently depends on either a combo of Shaan and action films, or a virality of a crazy trailer that stirs things so greatly on the social media for the actual film, that it creates it a base. Waar had all these factors to it, and well…you know how big of a success it was. So that’s the formula. There is no other business sense that can promise you the recovery of your investment if your film doesn’t make a mark on its opening day.

These upcoming films may all be the passionate projects, but once you have done your work and the project is now in the hands of its distributors and exhibitors, the passion factor takes a sideline and the unbracketed balance sheets and occupancy ratios come into play. You didn’t fill enough of my cinema seats, well, here is a mindless Indian film I am replacing your passionate project with.

The most recent victim of this mindset has been one of the two Pakistani Eid releases, Operation 021. Lets explore the case.

In the back drop:

All the foreign films that you see at the local cinemas are brought here by the efforts of this group called, ‘distributors’. Some of the widely heard names of the distribution business in Pakistan are, HKC Entertainment, IMGC (now Distribution Club), Geo Films and ARY Films. These companies, and few others bring you all the entertainment that you see on your cinema screens, be it foreign or local. The distributor in focus here is a company called, Distribution Club (DC).

And why is DC in focus today? Because DC, in the month of October, released two big films in Pakistani Cinemas, one of them locally made, O21, and the other, a Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif starer Indian film, Bang Bang, the former on Eid-ul-Azha and the latter on 2nd October.

The Story:

Bang Bang, as mentioned earlier, released in Pakistani cinemas on 2nd October, and managed to bag a good figure of 76 Lacs (7.6 million) on its opening day. The film had a good solo run for next three days and generated quite a few numbers on the local Box Office. Then comes the Eid day and Pakistan Film Industry releases two of its own films, Operation 021 (O21) and Na Maloom Afraad (NMA), the former being released by the Distribution Club that also released Bang Bang in Pakistan three days earlier.

All is good, cinemas show healthy attendance, a few housefuls too and people are liking the films, or not liking them as per their own formulas of liking and disliking.

The turn:

Galaxy Lollywood reviews O21 positively and so do a lot of other people. But on 7 October we hear that O21 got ‘booed off the screens’ from two of the widely known single screen cinemas in Karachi; Bambino and Capri, and got replaced in all its shows by the additional slots for Bang Bang and Na Maloom Afraad. The reason you ask? Some protest by the people who watched the film in these two cinemas and didn’t thought it to be meeting their expectations. The cinemas got scared and took the film off completely.

But then comes another report, a report that says Bang Bang, among the three runners on Eid this year, is leading with its Box Office numbers and bagged Rs. 7.6 million on the first day of Eid, the highest of all three.

The Insider claims:

What all has been mentioned above is collected from the reported stories. And the claim that O21 was thrown bottles at in Bambino and Capri is a fact too. But where does it go wrong? Before I go into it, let me just tell you here that the followup argument is solely based on the ethical reasons and not on the corporate realities, and so if you are reading it to find out whether there were any contractual breaches or foul play by any of the of the parties involved, don’t go any further. But the follow-up part, does make a sound argument.

So on a little digging and in pursuit of finding out the facts behind the ‘booed off’ story, I got to talk with a lot of industry insiders. One such insider, on the condition of anonymity, told me that this isn’t the first time it has happened, and DC has been doing it for long. “They did the same with Ishq Khuda, with Sultanat and now O21.”

“They don’t care whether the film is Pakistani or not, they are merely concerned with their business, so what they do is that the moment they suspect that their Pakistani release might not be as successful on a particular cinema as they had previously thought it to be, they would reach out to the management of that cinema and will have it replaced there completely with one of their own Indian films. To them, it is no money lost, and to cinemas it is healthy occupancy. ”

A similar feeling is found inside the O21 camp. Their rage, however, is more towards Bambino and Capri Cinema. “When the film can successfully run on the single screen cinemas of Faisalabad, Sialkot, Multan, Gujranwala and Gujrat, why can’t it be run in Karachi? Why the English factor, the subtitles, or the intelligent plot isn’t a problem there but caused the film to be taken off completely from these two cinemas in Karachi,” an insider in the O21 camp remarked on the condition of anonymity.

The DC point of view:

Chasing the story, we next decided to take the official point of view of Distribution Club. Giving his take on the issue, Mr. Muhammad Rizwan who serves DC as its Assistant Manager, said, “It was obviously a big blow to us since we have invested money on its promotion and release, but what can we do. People didn’t like it there. I personally think the film was unlike anything and Ayub Khoso and Shaan have given the performances of their lives, the film was too intelligent for the people there, unn kay sar kay ooper say guzargai film.”

When asked why couldn’t it succeed at Bambino and Capri when it is going successful in other single screen cinemas all over the country, Riazwan said, “The sort of people who usually go to those two cinemas are pretty simple-minded, they mainly come from Liyari and other such localities, so how else would they have responded to a film as intelligent as O21.”

Replying to the allegation cum rumor that it was done with a mutual understanding between Distribution Club and the two cinemas in focus so that the O21 shows can be directed towards Bang Bang, that had been performing better at these two cinemas out of the two films owned by Distribution Club, Rizwan Said, “, I would reject all such baseless allegations. There is no question about such a foul play, or backhand deal at our side. Why would we have it removed?, we have put our money into it. We have still got Khoobsurat running in cinemas, were we supposed to play on such speculations, we would have it removed too as it is drying up. We make sure all our films get equal opportunities, this is a business decision yes, but it hasn’t got anything to do with our profits.”

The Bambino and Capri’s take:

While Bambino officially refused to comment on the story or any part of it, Capri couldn’t be reached on numerous tries. But this is what Bambino had to say on the same issue while talking to Express Tribune, ““The response was awful; people threw bottles at the screen and even harassed the management for wasting their money…The crowd was going out of control but I am glad that no damage was done to our property … we controlled the situation in time.”

What GL says:

The point that even though there hasn’t been any issue in other single screen cinemas all over the country, but Bambino and Capri strangely standout amongst them actually makes quite a sense. To double-check that, we had the single screen cinemas in Faisalabad visited by one of our representatives in the city, and well, the reports were quite positive.

Also, there is no way that Post-Eid Bang Bang could be leading the box office numbers. The claim that it earned 7.6 million at local box office seems an outright lack of research. When all that Bang Bang on its opening day, in a solo run, could earn 7.6 million out of Pakistani cinemas, how did it manage to hit the same figure with an authentically intense competition on the Eid day.

The DC point of view, if looked solely from the corporate eye, seems pretty understandable. But this is an infant local film industry we are talking about. If people didn’t like the movie, reduce its shows, plan for a later release or do anything, but protect the local content. It needs all our support.

Well, the fact is that both O21 and Na Maloom Afraad are performing well all over the country, getting good reviews and being largely appreciated. Also, one cannot compare the totals of Bang Bang and the two Pakistani releases, there is no comparison because Bang Bang was not only released three days before Eid, but also had a solo window to collect its money from.

All we would say at the end is keep supporting local films, and if you haven’t watched these two local Eid releases yet, you are truly missing a big treat.


  1. Interesting and well thought out … Look no Film should have to beg for viewers .. merit alone should be enough . It is about time that Lollywood allowed fresh faces and fresh authentic stories. Please give me your email i would like to talk to you

  2. “Argument is solely based on the ethical reasons”! Aayan Mirza.
    No it is not removed for the “ETHICAL” reasons, but rather on “ETHNICAL” reasons.

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