Life in the time of the coronavirus

March 22, 2020

Here’s how the fashion & entertainment industries in Pakistan are dealing with the impact of the coronavirus.

On March 13, the Fashion Pakistan Council announced the indefinite postponement of Fashion Pakistan Week Spring/Summer 2020, scheduled to take place in Karachi from April 11-13.

Until last year, when you wished for life as is seen in the magical world of movies, it probably never crossed your mind that your wish could come true. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a Pretty Woman or Holiday type fairy tale, or an It Could Happen to You type overnight jackpot/unbelievable stroke of luck. No sir. As luck would have it, we hoped for life as is seen in the movies and got Contagion, Outbreak and World War Z, if you believe in zombies. Six months ago we could never have thought that a deadly virus could hold the whole world in lockdown so yes, zombies seem to be a possible reality today.

Life, as we know it, has changed.

The coronavirus, which has put the whole world in an apocalyptic lockdown, emerged in Wuhan, China late last year; by end December the Chinese authorities confirmed that they were treating dozens of cases. The virus was named by the WHO as 2019-nCoV on January 7, 2020, and by January 11 it had taken its first life, a 61-year old man in Wuhan. On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic. Roughly 218,700 cases and 9186 deaths (also known as COVID-19) have been reported in over 170 countries, as of March 19, according to the New York Times. Today, three months after emerging in China, the country has managed to control its contagion and is reporting zero new cases whereas the pandemic is spreading like wildfire through countries that delayed response; Italy being the gravest case.

The gravity of the situation has started to hit Pakistan now and everyone has been impacted, the fashion and entertainment sector included. Social activity has been on a decline all over the country, with Karachi being the quickest to rise to action and Lahore eventually catching up.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s screening of Sitara was the last public event one attended, on March 9, after which Karachi went into partial lockdown. Public gatherings, meetings, conferences and congregations were all cancelled or postponed, malls and busy market places shut down, restaurants allowed to stay open only for home delivery and take away. Those with an understanding of the gravity of the situation locked themselves away in isolation but a larger portion of society continued to fraternize as they had been sent on a long vacation. Just think of the crowds than congregated at the Seaview Beach when schools decided to close down; these crowds would have continued to mingle if a ban hadn’t been implemented on them.

Wajahat Rauf recently announced that the filming of Parde Mein Rehne Do, his next film starring Ali Rehman Khan and Hania Aamir, had been put on hold.

On March 13, the Fashion Pakistan Council annolunced the indefinite postponement of Fashion Pakistan Week, Spring/Summer 2020, scheduled to take place in Karachi from April 11-13. There was no official announcement from the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (there was no date announcement for when fashion week would take place either) so one safely assumed that the PFDC-led fashion week, held in Lahore, would also not take place.

March normally kicks off the lawn season, starting with lawn-centric activities and meetups, before rolling into Ramzan and ultimately Eid. All lawn activity was cancelled, with Alkaram’s Moroccan getaway recreated on Seaview Karachi and Zainab Chottani’s lawn reveal on March 7 being the only two events before social isolation was advised. It’s been a week since malls and public places were shut down, resulting in brands putting their marketing efforts into online retail. Ramzan and Eid are generally the most lucrative months for the fashion industry but things don’t look so great this year. People aren’t interested in buying clothes if they have nowhere to wear them to.

The same sense of despondency is being mirrored in the entertainment industry, with shoots and recordings shutting down temporarily. Cinemas were already in the doldrum, with just a fraction of screens actually up and running, but the corona pandemic also put the near future of local releases – which the industry was relying on for resuscitation, also in jeopardy.

Fizza Ali Mirza and Nabeel Qureshi, who had previously announced the release of two films for 2020, stopped scheduled production for Fatman. Thankfully, the shoot for Quaid e Azam Zindabad, starring Fahad Mustafa and Mahira Khan and scheduled for an Eid ul Azha release, had already wrapped by the time the pandemic shut everything down.

“Surrounded by concern regarding COVID-19, we FilmWala pictures have made the decision to postpone the shoot of our film Fatman. We take the health and safety of both our crew and actors seriously and we are taking preventative steps to ensure the wellbeing of our community in this time of a national crisis.”

Quaid e Azam Zindabad, starring Fahad Mustafa and Mahira Khan, had wrapped up shooting before the pandemic kicked in; the film is still scheduled for Eid ul Azha.

“While we know there is disappointment in having to wait a little while longer for Fatman, we would love to tell our audience that Quaid e Azam Zindabad remains on the original release plan of Eid Ul Azha 2020, InshaAllah. In the meanwhile let’s pray for a healthier and safer world!” both the director and producer sent out official messages.

“Showcase films has decided to halt shooting of our film Parde Mein Rehne Do in light of the current situation,” Wajahat Rauf posted about his 2020 release, starring Ali Rehman Khan and Hania Aamir. “While we all have deadlines and the risk of facing significant financial losses, the risk of corona spreading here like it has in other countries is unimaginable. We thank our cast and crew for being extremely supportive and hope we can all get through this together and without damage. Stay safe!”

These are all necessary and responsible actions; but they all have the potential to prove to be irreversibly disastrous for the fashion and entertainment industry. Buying is at an all-time low; people are in social isolation and not spending on clothing or recreation. How long will brands manage to survive this pandemic; how may will crack under the pressure and shut shop? One hopes things start getting better before another crisis begins.

Life in the time of the coronavirus