How a Projector Can Substitute for a Television Set


New York – I have fantasized about turning a part of the basement into a media room where I’d play “The Godfather,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Best Years of Our Lives” on continuous loop. But where to start? Chris Heinonen, the audio visual staff writer at The Wirecutter, The New York Times site for evaluating products, has tested all the options.

Could I realistically substitute a projector for a flat panel TV and be happy?

It depends on how you watch. If you don’t usually watch TV shows during the day and usually only put it on for movies or streaming, and can close the curtains and block the light, a projector can produce a much larger image for less money.

How do projectors compare in price?

An $800 projector can give you a 120-inch image, while a TV that’s 80 inches costs nearly $4,000. Projectors wash out badly with ambient light, unless you have a screen designed to prevent that, but they can cost more than a projector. Our recommended screen is about $190 for a 100 incher, last time I checked, so it’s still much cheaper. And you can get blackout curtains for around $50 or so a panel. (We have a guide to those as well.)

Some people don’t bother with a screen — they’ll just use their wall. The image isn’t as good, but some people would rather have a giant image for movies and be able to put the projector back in the closet when they don’t use it instead of having a huge TV taking up space.

I want to make clear that you can’t just put a projector where you had a TV and expect it to replace a TV in all situations. Any projector will usually fall short in terms of contrast ratio — the ratio of black to white — unless you’re spending at least $2,000. But, and this is key, you don’t see the benefits of that contrast ratio unless your room is completely dark with no ambient light. If there is any light in the room, it will wash out the black on a projector.

Which is why our favorite $2,000 projector is recommended for dedicated home-theater rooms. In a living room, you wouldn’t really see the benefits.

What do you recommend for a living room?

We really like the BenQ HT2050 projector that sells for around $740. It is really bright, runs quietly, and it is much more accurate for colors than many of its competitors. The more expensive models from BenQ offer slightly better image quality, but not enough to justify the price increase.

And if I do convert my basement to a theater?

The Sony VPL-HW45ES is our current home theater recommendation. For around $2,000, it has contrast ratios almost five times better than the BenQ because the blacks are much darker. It also has very accurate colors. As a result, the image just pops off the screen. It is also more adjustable so it’s easier to find the perfect position in any room.

How did you test these things?

The testing room is in my house. It was a bit of a requirement when we went home buying last year.

I have a completely light-sealed testing room, with a 92-inch screen. I didn’t make the room an all-black cave or anything. It’s a neutral gray like you’d find in a lot of modern homes. I installed a blackout roller shade in the window, put up trim pieces on the sides of it to cut off any extra light, and then covered the window on the door. I really need to replace it with a windowless one.

I do a lot of measurements on the projectors with devices that gauge their brightness, the accuracy of the colors, and even how well they play video games. And I watch lots of movies that I’m really familiar with to see how they perform, especially ones with dark shadows or high-contrast scenes like “Skyfall” and the final “Harry Potter” film.

Those are the hardest things to display well. I’ll also test in the same room with the lights on.

Did you get big comfy chairs, too?

I actually used to have home theater chairs that reclined, but I found them to be annoying in the end since it meant my wife and I were in separate chairs watching a movie. Now it’s just a sofa.

The New York Times

Virtual Reality’s Potential for Magic Gets Real

Sarah Topham, left, and Ashley Hess taking part in the Void, a virtual reality experience, in Lindon, Utah. The start-up has refined the concept of mapping a virtual world over a physical set.

LINDON, Utah — In an ordinary office complex here, past stacked cartons of Mountain Dew and a throng of hoodie-wearing employees, sits a prototype for an attraction that Hollywood thinks will become the next entertainment craze — an offering that could mint money for its developers, throw a lifeline to struggling shopping malls and, at long last, jump-start sales of virtual reality gear.

“I have seen a lot of great V.R. experiences, and nothing comes close to what the Void is doing,” said Cliff Plumer, a former Lucasfilm technologist and manager who joined the virtual reality start-up the Void as its chief executive on Feb. 9. “If anything is going to inspire mass consumer adoption of virtual reality, this is it.”

The Void’s invention looks like nothing special. Four black wooden walls form a 30-foot square. The interior is divided into rudimentary, interconnected rooms. There is no ceiling, unless you count a latticework of cables and sensors.

But everything changes when you put on a special virtual reality headset, pick up a rudimentary plastic gun, slip into a snug vest and strap on small backpack, which has a lightweight computer inside: You and your friends instantly become Ghostbusters.

The first room is now a furniture-filled New York apartment crowded with pink poltergeists. That plastic weapon is now a functioning proton gun, just like in the films, and you can use it to zap apparitions (and anything else in view).

As the 10-minute adventure continues, your group tracks ghosts through the apartment tower — in a fast-moving elevator, outside on a rickety window-washing platform — as some ghouls float through you, arriving with a whoosh of air in your face and a vibration of that vest.

A demonic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man arrives at the climax. Do your job correctly and the scent of toasted white fluff fills the air.

Would people, especially young people, pay $20 a head to experience this kind of “hyper-reality”? The Void, which has refined the concept of mapping a virtual world over a physical set, believes they will — in fact, a first location near Times Square is already making money. Featuring the same “Ghostbusters” story line, the attraction opened in July at Madame Tussauds New York and has since sold more than 43,000 tickets, translating to nearly $900,000 in revenue.

The Void intends to open 20 additional hyper-reality attractions this year; some Void Experience Centers will have more than one “stage,” as it refers to the sets, and there will be non-Ghostbusting story lines: roaming a jungle filled with dinosaurs, perhaps, or searching for treasure in an Egyptian pyramid.

So far, the Void has been funded by one of its three founders, Ken Bretschneider, who has invested millions. (He previously started an internet security firm called DigiCert, which he sold in 2012.) The Void is now working with the Raine Group, a merchant bank known for its investment in Vice and ties to the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, to raise expansion funding. Circling, at the same time, have been mall owners, multiplex chains and theme park operators.

“All of a sudden, we have some of the most influential people on the planet asking for tours,” said James Jensen, another Void founder. (The third founder is the chief creative officer, Curtis Hickman, whose background is in visual effects and Las Vegas illusionist shows; he’s a member of the Society of American Magicians.)

Stephen B. Burke, chief executive of NBCUniversal, has been through a Void prototype. So has Robert A. Iger, chief executive of the Walt Disney Company. Last year, Disney even had a Void rig brought to a board meeting so its board of directors could go for a test spin.

Various Hollywood filmmakers have tried it themselves, including Steven Spielberg. “It’s very repeatable, just like a film, and it’s an extraordinarily visceral and effective way to tell a story,” said Ivan Reitman, who directed the original “Ghostbusters” and its sequel, “Ghostbusters II.”

The Void’s potential may have as much to do with the solutions it offers to other businesses as it does with entertainment.

Take at-home virtual reality gear. Sales have been lethargic, held back by high costs ($400 to $800, just for the headsets) and a shortage of must-have content. Virtual reality also has a bad reputation for making users feel woozy. And the V.R. experiences offered so far can be unpleasantly isolating; you are alone in those goggles.

But the Void could be the equivalent of a gateway drug.

There is no investment necessary; just show up and buy a ticket. It’s social; groups of up to four can participate at once and see avatars of one another in the V.R. realm. And roaming through a large set — it’s all wireless, so participants are not tethered to a cord, as with most other V.R. experiences — seems to solve the nausea problem.

“It’s not a subtle difference,” said Adam Gazzaley, a neurologist and neuroscience professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who recently joined the Void’s advisory board.

The Void also sees itself as a new draw for dying malls, where anchor stores have been closing. Multiplexes, many of which are overbuilt, could convert auditoriums into stages. Film companies, eager for new ways to market movies and keep franchises alive between chapters, could turn to the Void as well.

“We’re a big solution to a lot of big puzzles,” Mr. Bretschneider said.

Bravado aside, the Void faces plenty of challenges. One involves scale: How do you move enough people through the stages? The “Ghostbusters” experience in New York can accommodate only about 450 customers a day; it takes about 15 minutes for participants to move through, including getting in and out of the gear. There is also the question of long-term sustainability: Even if the Void does take off, what makes it more than a fad — the laser tag, motion-simulator ride or ShowBiz Pizza arcade of its day?

And competition is mounting. Last week, Imax said it planned to open six V.R. centers this year, some in partnership with AMC Theaters and Regal Entertainment, at a cost of up to $400,000 each, not including real estate. One opened in January in Los Angeles. Tickets start at $7.

“Virtual reality is a complex ecosystem that’s in need of a jump-start, and we’re here to provide the spark,” said Rich Gelfond, Imax’s chief executive.

Also announced last week was Dreamscape Immersive, which hopes to open its first center dedicated to virtual reality experiences in the fall. It has cobbled together $11 million in funding from companies like 21st Century Fox, Westfield Corporation and Warner Bros. Mr. Spielberg is also involved.

“We’ve assembled a team with years of proven success in the creation and distribution of global entertainment,” said Walter F. Parkes, an Oscar-nominated producer who is a Dreamscape founder.

Still, Void leaders contend that their head start, proprietary technology and much more elaborate approach make competition an afterthought.

“We’ve gained a lot of knowledge and data over the past three years that has put us miles ahead of everybody,” Mr. Jensen said. “We know what story moments stop people from engaging with the content, what’s not scary enough, what’s too scary.”

Mr. Jensen, who has a background in visual effects and video games, met his fellow Void founders in late 2013. Mr. Bretschneider and Mr. Hickman had been working on a dream project called Evermore, a physical theme park they hoped to build in suburban Salt Lake City. Mr. Jensen was hired to help with a 3-D component. When the expansive Evermore proved too ambitious, they began exploring virtual reality.

The Void, shorthand for Vision of Infinite Dimensions, now has 75 employees. “It makes sense that we grew out of a theme-park idea,” Mr. Hickman said, “The Void is kind of like an old-fashioned, walk-through attraction — a haunted house — overlaid with this amazing technology that allows us to create any world we want.”

He added: “It seems simple, but it’s actually very complex. There is physical misdirection and psychological misdirection. Magic, basically.”

(The New York Times)

At Last, Entertainment in Saudi Arabia

Saudi women shop at the Al-Hayatt mall in Riyadh

A healthy debate is going on over social media and Saudi arenas mostly about objecting and welcoming a concept that is present in all countries all over the world, and has been absent in the kingdom for decades. It is entertainment, a concept absent from a state where 70% of its population is youth.

Naturally, any real change is equipped with enthusiastic supporters and conservative opposers, while a few await further developments to determine their position.

Vision 2030 admits implicitly that Saudi city life is boring and in routine and Saudi citizens constantly complain of lack of entertainment in their country.

Although the attendees’ queues, and many others who couldn’t attend events, prove the society’s excitement for entertainment, any rejection or discretion from others is a natural reaction for any real change in a society. Opposing any change is expected and should not be regarded as a strange thing.

I don’t think anyone can argue that entertainment as a concept is important for all societies, let alone that such trends are very profitable for neighboring countries, most of which are Saudi attendees.

The argument may be on the content of the events given that some think it is not suitable for the Saudi society. It is understandable as they are entitled to their own opinions regardless of what they are. Some prefer to attend such events in Bahrain, Dubai or Qatar. It is only a matter of time until those against such things will begin to accept the unavoidable truth.

Needless to say that there may occur mistakes and many events may get out of hand, which is also natural for an industry that is still young.

It is rather unfair to judge the entertainment committee and it has been a year since its establishment.

Industry of entertainment is crucial for Saudis not only for joy and amusement like many believe. There are many other purposes that no government should overlook, such as creating new job opportunities.

Entertainment, among other sectors, is expected to reduce unemployment from 11.6% to 7% which is close to the international rates and is the priority of the Saudi Vision 2030.

It would also boost tourism as part of the National Transform Program, knowing that in 2015, Saudis spent $26 billion on external tourism, and enhance both the private and public sectors to organize festivals.

It would also activate the role of public committees in contributing to establish and develop entertaining centers, encourage local and foreign investors to form partnerships with international companies, establish museums and libraries, and support talented authors and directors.

Not to forget the several cultural aspects that accompany such events and cater to everyone’s taste.

Is it possible to ignore all those social and economic benefits only because some don’t understand the truth about entertainment??

Development is not solely limited to the economic aspects; it is also about building a balanced healthy society capable of achieving a healthy relaxing environment.

Saudi Arabia is on its way to create a revolution in entertaining its citizens, improve the tourism sector, and enhance the infrastructure.

Those who are against this will eventually go on with the society’s desires no matter how long they object or how strong they criticize.

The End of In-Flight Entertainment?


London – Seat-back screens that have long been part of in-flight entertainment systems are preparing to depart from many airplanes, American experts say, and will be replaced eventually by content streamed to passengers’ electronic devices through improved wireless service.

With built-in screens, airliners have been providing passengers with a set menu of entertainment content of music and videos for decades with a few movies played on a loop.

Experts say that by streaming content over wireless systems, passengers will have a wider array of content and the carriers will not have to maintain screens because passengers will bring their own portable devices on board.

Jon Cobin, the chief commercial officer at Gogo, which provides Wi-Fi service on more than 2,900 commercial planes, said in an email that “virtually everyone is connected at all times on the ground today.”

By one estimate, in-flight entertainment systems are the biggest expense in outfitting a new plane and can make up 10 percent of the entire cost of an aircraft, despite that screens and their wiring add weight to the plane.

Another financial incentive: Without the screens, carriers can install slimmer seats, which means they can accommodate more passengers and earn more money, Brett Snyder, the author of the airline industry blog “Cranky Flier,” said

Opinion: More Than Just Entertainment in Saudi Arabia

I asked Dr Ahmed Al-Khatib who is in charge of a project that is considered by some as the most difficult in the Saudi government: “Are you confident that you can do this?” His answer was practical; “Come and attend one of our events”.

A week ago, I attended an artistic show in Riyadh and it seems strange that I travelled from Dubai to Riyadh to attend a performance. The theatre had three floors and can accommodate more than 2000 people. It was bustling with liveliness and clamour and the audience was mainly made up of young people who had come to see iLuminate, a New York-based entertainment group. The group put on several exquisite performances. The experiment was a successful one and answered my questions that included “Will people accept these kinds of performances?” and “Will they cater to their tastes?”

Dr Al-Khatib is the chairman of the General Authority for Entertainment and is in charge of introducing and developing entertainment programs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. When the Authority was announced, many considered the introduction of entertainment in Saudi Arabia as a task that is inevitably doomed to failure, and this is a justified judgment considering that attempts by both the public and private sectors to implement previous projects ended in failure, with many of them failing before they had even started.

Five months have passed since Dr Al-Khatib was appointed as chairman. Although the legal procedure of establishing the authority and its structure hasn’t been finalised yet, he has announced an ambitious list of events and leisure activities. Some of them have begun to surpass people’s expectations and scepticism.

Do not underestimate this task and its positive and wide ranging effects, especially on the youth who account for more than sixty per cent of the population. Do not underestimate its enormous economic value; Saudis spend in excess of $21 billion dollars whilst on holiday abroad and ten million non-Saudis have nowhere to spend their free time in.

You can imagine how recreational social and artistic activities can change people’s lives. It is not difficult to imagine half a million of Riyadh’s residents travelling to the Eastern Region if they were provided with tourism and entertainment opportunities, better trains and integral services.

Neither is it difficult to fill stadiums, theatres, squares and other recreational facilities with millions of people and citizens each month considering that Saudi residents and nationals fill recreational facilities in the countries to which they travel to around the world.

If this is achieved, it may change us for the better, reduce the vacuum and congestion and stop the huge financial waste. It will give life a more beautiful meaning. People confine their dreams to travelling in order to escape the hard life here. Even attending matches in the kingdom is a tough trip, and one must be a fanatic in order to bear the hardship of going there and the lack of services, poor management of stadiums and permanent chaos. When I attend a match in London, it feels like a real outing and is enjoyable for those who love it despite the high cost of tickets and terrible crowding.

Attending the recent show in Riyadh was a personal and important experience. Although it is a small step, it is a historic one and it is a positive transition. It may seem to be a marginal and even trivial issue to some because they are not aware of its importance for a community that needs to open its doors to the sun. Dr Ahmed is of the view that “We are giving people additional options so that they are not forced to run to the airport in order to travel abroad during every holiday. Our country deserves a lot from us”.

Saudi Arabia Attracts Foreign Investments in Entertainment Sector

Saudi woman takes a selfie in the new Snow City at Al Othaim Mall in Riyadh

Riyadh- Saudi Arabia is expected to change the investment map in the region during the coming months since the local market is anticipated to be the first destination of foreign capitals especially in several vital sectors that are considered the core of investments.

Major sectors that are expected to witness a surge in capital inflows are: entertainment, tourism, retail, real-estate development and the industrial sector. The flow emanates from the new measures taken by the kingdom to ease investment conditions.

On the level of entertainment, Saudis are considered on top of nations who prefer to travel during vacations because the local entertainment sector does not appeal to them. This actually urged Saudi Arabia to establish an independent authority for entertainment the thing, which indicates more projects are to be implemented in this sector.

Saudi Arabia aims to increase the entertainment sector contribution in the GDP from 3% to 6%, while investments in entertainment are forecast to start by next year.

Some economic reports affirm that Saudi Arabia is based on five overseas investments attracting factors: unique geographical location, eminent economic power, human factor, giant market and low number of competitors in many sectors.

Commenting on these factors, the economist Fahd al-Mashari told Asharq al-Awsat that international companies and investors have their eye on Saudi Arabia. He added, “Saudi Vision 2030 boosted the interest of international companies in the Saudi market and I expect the upcoming three years to witness a remarkable purge of investments.”

Furthermore, the guideline set by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz to establish the Saudi Council of Economic and Development Affairs is crucial to the country’s future economy –the council’s role is not restricted to issuing recommendations but also to revising decisions of 50 previous sessions headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.

Saudi Arabia:First World-Class Theme Park Underway

Pinoy Community Day Cobra Amusement Park Dammam Saudi Arabia (Dec 9 2011)

Riyadh- The Saudi kingdom’s General Authority for Entertainment officially announced a four-year project to launch the Kingdom’s first entertainment theme park.

Mr. Ahmed Bin Aqeel Al Khatib, the kingdom’s royal advisor for the Authority for Entertainment, revealed that the anticipated theme park will compete with worldwide class entertainment parks.

According to Mr. Khatib the process for drafting the theme park’s blue prints had begun, in addition to the initial phases of site locating. The theme park will allow for small and medium-sized enterprises to find investment opportunities.

Speaking in a press conference following the recent live show by iLuminate, a world famous entertainment company with state-of-the-art technology and electrifying entertainers who perform in the dark, in Riyadh, Mr. Khatib confirmed that the national committee for entertainment is part and parcel of the Kingdom’s 2030 vision.

The kingdom’s vision aspires to double local GDP. Moreover, the entertainment committee’s agenda for 2016 was released; it features 266 entertainment programs scheduled in 14 Saudi cities during a period of three months. The world-class programs are managed by international companies together with the Entertainment Authority.

Mr. Khatib added that Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s visit to the U.S. had resulted in the signing of major entertainment companies, such as ‘Six Flags.’

The projects signed with the American Six Flags include creating a number of theme parks across the Kingdom.

Six Flags Entertainment Corporation is the world’s largest regional theme park company with $1.3 billion in revenue and 18 parks across the United States, Mexico and Canada. For 55 years, Six Flags has entertained millions of families with world-class coasters, themed rides, thrilling water parks and unique attractions.

“We are honored to have this opportunity to bring Six Flags to Saudi Arabia,” said John Duffey, President and CEO of Six Flags.

“We look forward to supporting Saudi Arabia’s efforts to expand tourism by creating new world-class entertainment destinations in the Kingdom.”

By the Help of ‘Blackfish’ SeaWorld’s Killer Whale Programs are Over

A trainer shows the crowd an orca during a show at the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, March 19, 2014.
A trainer shows the crowd an orca during a show at the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, March 19, 2014.

“Blackfish” a documentary made in 2013 by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, a mom for twin sons; Cowperthwaite was encouraged to do the documentary because of the death of a killer whale trainer. The latter did not expect her work to help persuade the U.S. theme park operator to stop breeding killer whales and end its signature “Shamu” whale entertainment shows.

The Los Angeles-based director said on Thursday she believes that ‘Blackfish’ struck a nerve, she added “I originally came into the film trying to explore the trainer relationship and experience. I thought of myself as a story teller that would pull back the curtain on some things, but I didn’t think the documentary would effect change.”

Many credits were swiftly given by animal activists and others on Thursday to “Blackfish” for what Cowperthwaite called a “giant step” by SeaWorld both in halting its orca breeding program and investing $50 million to advocate for an end to commercial whaling and seal hunting.

“Huge respect to @blackfishmovie for putting orca captivity at @SeaWorld on the agenda” Greenpeace UK Oceans said on Twitter. Melissa Silverstein, founder of the website “Women and Hollywood,” said SeaWorld’s action shows the impact of film.

“If you think a movie can’t make a difference, see @blackfishmovie,” Silverstein said on Twitter. “Congrats on getting @SeaWorld to change its policies towards Orcas.”
After screenings on CNN, on demand digital services and in schools, “Blackfish” has been seen by more than 60 million people, Cowperthwaite said, while before it has taken only a meager $2 million at the North American box office,

Former SeaWorld trainers and whale experts were interviewed by Cowperthwaite to paint a moving portrait of the Orlando theme park’s orca Tilikum, who killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, and how he was captured in the wild in 1983 at the age of two.

The Hollywood Reporter described “Blackfish” as a “damning indictment of the SeaWorld theme park franchise.”

Willie Nelson, Heart and Bare Naked Ladies were withdrawing from music events organized by SeaWorld by the end of 2013, and Joan Jett and others were asking SeaWorld to stop blasting their music during its “Shamu” whale shows. Even participation levels at SeaWorld parks dropped and the company’s shares fell by about 11 percent in the past year.

Cowperthwaite, who has visited dozens of schools in the past three years, said perhaps children had the biggest influence in changing minds at SeaWorld.

“I think they have been the ones to guide their parents on where to go for vacations. They’re the ones who say, ‘We can’t go there anymore,'” she said.

SeaWorld has been critical of the movie over the years and made no mention of it on Thursday. However, Seaworld Entertainment Inc Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby acknowledged in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that “a growing number of people don’t think orcas belong in human care.”

Pakistan’s latest ‘Waar’ movie destroys box-office rivals

In this photo taken on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013. people buy tickets to watch Pakistani movie "Waar" at a local cinema in Islamabad (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)
In this photo taken on Thursday, October 31, 2013, people buy tickets to watch Pakistani movie “Waar” at a local cinema in Islamabad. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat—When the hero of the movie—a Pakistani army major—cold-bloodedly kills a terrorist at point blank range during an interrogation, there is a huge applause in the cinema. The movie audience at CineGold, a luxurious cinema in a posh part of Islamabad, do not dwell on the fact that the hero of Pakistani action thriller Waar might be a bit “trigger happy.” Rather, they applaud as he kills one terrorist after another in a two-and-half-hour action movie that was indigenously produced in Pakistan.

The movie Waar (“attack” or “strike” in Urdu) is set during the Pakistani security forces’ operations against terrorists and militants over the last ten years of the war on terror. One of the producers of the movie told Asharq Al-Awsat that the movie is a reflection of true events, in so far as it pieces together and narrates different events and operations that Pakistani security forces carried out in different parts of the country.

For instance, the movie starts with scenes based on a real operation carried out by Pakistani security forces in north of the country, to secure the release of a Chinese engineer from the custody of tribal militants.

So far, the movie has been a huge success. According to one announcement, the Pakistani film (which has dialogue in both English and Urdu) did record business during the three days of Eid, grossing PKR 40 million.

It is the largest amount earned by any Pakistani movie at the box office to date. Star-studded Indian movie Boss, according to the entertainment industry insiders, played second fiddle to Waar in the same period, earning only PKR 10 million.

Artists associated with the production of the movie told Asharq Al-Awsat that Waar has made history in Pakistani cinema, taking in nearly PKR 190 million (USD 2 million) at the box office to date, though it is perhaps worth remembering that the film reportedly cost PKR 200 million to make in the first place.

Distributed by ARY Films, Waar was written and produced by Hassan Waqas Rana and directed by Bilal Lashari, a young and rising talent. The cast includes a mix of industry veterans and newcomers: Pakistani superstar Shaan Shahid plays the lead role in the movie, an army officer called back into service as the last hope of Pakistan’s security agencies in their battle against Indian-sponsored local terrorists.

The producers of the movies are planning to distribute it abroad for an international audience after its achieved huge success in the local market. “After the gigantic success of Waar in Pakistan, we are now going to take it to the global stage. I believe that Waar has started a new era where we will be making world class movies and our talent will be appreciated,” said one local film critic.

The movie is billed as an action-packed thriller, with Pakistani security forces shown chasing the terrorists and militants into the country’s tribal areas. In one scene late in the movie, we see the protagonist, Mujtaba (Shaan Shahid), jump out of a military helicopter as he makes his way to the main terrorist’s hideout, bumping off any opponent he runs into. He even rescues a couple of children, while the rest of his covert action team serves as cannon-fodder backup.

Mujtaba is out to take revenge for the killing of his wife and son by the same terrorist mastermind who serves as the villain, who carried out a major terrorist attack on a national event in Islamabad, where country’s prime minister was also present.

And, typical of Pakistani movies, the terrorist is defeated and killed, while Pakistan’s security forces achieve one success after another throughout the course of the film.

Pakistan’s housewives take Indian soaps to heart

Star-Plus-DramasIslamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Despite the strife between India and Pakistan, elements of each country’s culture sometimes cross the political divide between the two, finding fans on the other side of the border.

The latest of these is Star Plus, an Indian entertainment channel, which has emerged as one of the most popular in Pakistan. Its success has been driven by middle class housewives, drawn to a programming schedule dominated by glossy soap operas.

Pakistan’s leading public opinion polls firm, Gallup Surveys, recently released a report ranking the most popular entertainment channels in the country. The report was compiled on the basis of the Gallup TV Ratings Services, the only national TV ratings data available for Pakistan.

“Star Plus had an average reach of around 7 million Cable and Satellite Viewers in the month of May. Second in line was state-owned PTV Home with approximately 4 million viewers. Urdu 1 continues make great inroads in the Pakistani Entertainment channels market. However, its growth has been recently arrested with the launch of other channels showing similar foreign content,” says the report.

Hassan Zaidi, a leading arts critic and organizer of many international film festivals in Pakistan, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Star Plu’;s popularity is not a recent phenomenon. “For the past many years, Star Plus has been the most popular channel in Pakistani society,” he said.

An official from Gallup told Asharq Al-Awsat that Gallup Pakistan’s TV Ratings service is based on a panel of over 5,000 households spread across both urban and rural areas of Pakistan.

“The Gallup Ratings are currently the only barometer measuring audience size in terms of population size. It also allows data mining (with statistical validity) for analysis at the demographic level. Gallup TV Ratings also provides unique insights due to its 20 years of trends data available for all the major and minor TV channels in Pakistan,” the official said.

As well as its success in Pakistan, Star Plus is one of the most popular channels in its homeland, India, and its stylish Indian soap operas are one of the main draws of its largely middle-class audience in Pakistan. Even though much of Pakistan is relatively socially conservative, the themes of these popular soap operas are mostly related to family and domestic conflict, often placing daughter-in-law against mother-in-law, wives against their husbands’ sisters, and extra-marital relations at the heart of their storylines.

Pakistani television critics say that the popularity of Star Plus in Pakistan is primarily because these soap operas find a devoted audience among Pakistan’s middle class housewives: “Indian soaps seem to target a particular niche in Pakistani society. . . . This is basically a question who watches TV in Pakistani society? TV is being watched by middle-class house wives and lower-middle-class people,” Hassan Zaidi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Indian soap basically shows domestic strife in their drama, which is attractive for this class of people, especially the housewives,” he added.

Other critics said that canny program scheduling has boosted the soap operas’ popularity. The soaps are telecast twice during the day—once during primetime at 8 pm, and again in the morning. Most of Pakistan’s housewives are busy with household chores in the evening, so they have to skip the drama serial in the evening. But they can always catch up with the latest developments in the soap operas in the morning, when they have more free time.

Hassan Zaidi told Asharq Al-Awsat that during the past five years, Pakistani television viewers have also been particularly attracted to foreign content. “This foreign content in particular included the soap operas on Indian channels including Star Plus,” he says. “Secondly, the second most popular channel in Pakistan . . . is an Urdu channel which is broadcasting dubbed versions of Turkish soap operas.”

Interestingly, in the Indian soap operas that have found favor with Pakistani audiences, the storylines, characters, names and habits are largely alien to Pakistani culture. For instance, most of the characters in Indian soap operas have Hindu names, and the cities which are shown in these soaps are Indian cities.

Pakistani critics say that this is understandable: “People were very fed up of watching the same people over and over again. . . . Same actors, same stories, and same themes. . . . So that started shifting toward foreign content five years back,” said Hassan Zaidi.

In addition, the production values in the imported soaps are also often higher than those of drama serials produced within Pakistan: “Turkish and Indian dramas’ production value is high and they are presenting something new,” said Aurangzeb Laghari, one of leading actors on Pakistan television, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Laghari told Asharq Al-Awsat that Pakistani television viewers are attracted to the new and innovative production techniques used by Indian soap operas, while in contrast “Pakistan is a suppressed society and when people here watch India drama, in which there is a lot of fashion and exposing of the body, people are attracted t it.”

He also complained that in Pakistan art and culture has deteriorated to a large extent, and “here we are facing a situation where people dub a drama from a foreign language and translate it into Urdu just because in this drama there are fashionable ladies.”

Hassan Zaidi, on the other hand, said Indian soap operas have gained popularity in Pakistan because they strike a universal chord by making family and domestic strife their basic themes, “and this theme is particularly attracting Pakistani housewives,” he says.