In the wee hours of the 28 & 29th of September, India went ahead and conducted surgical strikes in Pakistan as part of a retaliation strategy for the Uri attacks which killed scores of Indian soldiers. What began as a mere military interventional exercise unfortunately escalated and affected not only bilateral relations or trade & water sharing treaties but even films. Accept it or not, Indian movies are a part of Pakistani households. Linguistic, societal & cultural similarities make them a very familiar space for ordinary Pakistanis to relate to and naturally as the most sought after international movie genre.
When I sat down to write this piece, I did not want this to be a mere compilation of what producers, actors & film unions have spoken or done. Instead, I looked at exploring and talking to film enthusiasts, whom I personally know, from both sides of the border.
Dua Abdul, a resident of Lahore and an avid fan & follower of Indian movies is a very dear friend of mine. When I was thinking of who to contact with reference to this issue, she was the first name that struck my brain. Dua says, “I live in Lahore’s most elite area, Defence. We have our own cinema here which mostly shows Indian and English movies. In fact, when the government introduced a facility for Indian movie screenings in cinemas a few years back, many modern and new cinemas opened in the city. The Pakistan film industry was dying and the cinemas were in a bad condition. Many workers associated with this business and who were working in these cinemas lost their jobs as the cinemas were shutting down. So by allowing Indian movies in cinemas, at least these people found a way to earn their livelihood. I am talking about the technical staff who makes it possible to watch a movie on the big screen and the workers who manage the cinemas. Thanks to Bollywood, Lahore now has many modern cinemas equipped with modern technology. A ban on Indian movies was a major blow to these cinema owners who were losing millions per week as Indian movies cater to all age groups, unlike Hollywood movies which attract a certain age group here. In fact, rumors were circulating that some cinemas were closing down as the owners were facing losses. These were cinemas which indulged in advance booking for a week when Indian movies were on air. People were not generally happy with the ban as now they know how it feels to see Shah Rukh Khan on a big screen rather than a pirated DVD with bad quality. So everyone is happy that the ban is lifted and we can watch our favourite actors on big screens again”
Kundan Ahuja, a student and movie enthusiast and critic by passion says, “Whether it’s about India putting a ban on Pakistani films or vice versa, I personally believe that as artists, there should lie no boundaries. Just because there is a certain political tension between the two countries, that does not mean you stop an actor to act in India or Pakistan. In some recent films we have had German and Polish actors playing parts, where does the indigenous feel go then? Because I don’t think that the problem can be anything but insecurity. And if you’re insecure of artists from Pakistan, so should you be from other nations across the globe. I think, as a medium, art is a very powerful way of promoting harmony between people. No amount of social, political and economic awareness can promote harmony as art does. And when an actor is playing a part, he is the part. That’s about him/her. He’s not a Pakistani then. I think Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan are one of the most talented actors I’ve seen in a while but their audience is being restricted in this political turmoil”.
Kundan continues by telling, “Am I happy that the ban is lifted? Of course! But I’d be happier if India lifted the ban on Pakistani films too. It is very saddening that as two countries so proud of their somewhat common past, of their individual cultures we aren’t able to take a step ahead and promote each other’s art. It’s just like a book by an Indian author not allowed in Pakistani market or vice versa. How deprived will these two countries remain of art”.
This attempt of getting two simple movie lovers on board was with a very simple purpose. Leadership in both the countries, India and Pakistan, are so conditioned to politicise things that sadly even films did not escape their wrath. We have had some serious concerns and are still encountering a lot them. Banning art, banning sport or banning anything else in no way is going to contribute to either of these countries’ ego or might. I wish to reserve my opinion in this issue because morally & ethically as a writer I am here to tell stories and not state and enforce my opinions.
The lifting of the ban has clearly gone down really, really well with people on both sides of the borders. Should one pick hints out of this and continue aspiring for more & more normalcy and peace in relations between two countries who are called as nothing but “siblings cut from the same nerve”?