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Should India and Pakistan exchange cultural notes?

Artistic collaborations between both countries have been frequent but every now and then someone objects, urging for a lock-down

Should India and Pakistan exchange cultural notes?
Naseeruddin Shah enthralled viewers in Pakistan with his presence in Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi’s Zinda Bhaag; the veteran Bollywood actor had even flown in before his shoot schedule to coach the rest of the cast.

The relationship between Indian films and their Pakistani viewers is a very strange one — it swings between love and hate, packaged in an over-dramatic television soap opera. Currently the issue at hand is visa issuance to Pakistani artistes for working in India. Gajendra Chauhan, President CINTAA (Cine and Television Artistes Association) feels that Pakistani artistes should not be allowed and we would have listened to his spiel had it been based on facts. Not only did he not know that it is the Indian government that provides Indian visas (it was his belief that Pakistani artists got visas from the Pakistani government!) but in his hatred for the colour green, he mentioned that Indian artistes are ill-treated in Pakistan. No sir, they are not.

“Pakistan has always welcomed artists from all over the world since we believe art has no boundaries,” Chairperson of United Producers Association in Pakistan, Samina Ahmed spoke to Instep. “Indian films and Indian dramas are shown in Pakistan and although we (UPA) protest against the screening of Indian films in cinemas, it is helping the industry revive.”

“I don’t know what made Mr. Chauhan give such a statement because had Pakistan not treated Indian artistes well, they would never have returned,” the veteran actress added. “Many Indian actors have worked in Pakistan, be it in plays shot abroad, in movies or in advertisements. Some of these artistes have been as well-known as Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri while some have not been very well known. In fact actors of the caliber of Shabana Azmi and the late Farooq Sheikh even performed in theatre plays in Pakistan, which proves that we are  good hosts! The question is: Did we ever stop them? No, because we don’t want bad mazgi, and mixing politics and entertainment doesn’t seem right to us.”

Samina Ahmed does have a point. Pakistan has been a happy hunting ground for Indians for the past 15 years – it was way back in 2000 that Shahzad Gul’s Ghar Kab Aao Gay brought Indian choreographer Saroj Khan as well as playback singers Udit Narayan, Sadhna Sargam and Jaspinder Narula to Lollywood. The same year, Sonu Nigam, Kavita Krishnamurthy joined Jaspinder Narula as they recorded songs in pseudonym for Sajjad Gul’s Tere Piyar Main — tracks of both the movies were chartbusters. Two years later, Javed Sheikh signed Kumar Sanu, Sonu Nigam and Kavita Krishnamurthy (in their own names) for his Yeh Dil Aapka Huwa while Rashid Khawaja’s Salakhein, Imran Malik’s Tere Bin Jiya Na Jaye, Reema Khan’s Koi Tujh Sa Kahan and Javed Fazil’s Main Ek Din Laut Kay Aaaon Ga followed suit – Indian actors, Pakistani music composers, hit numbers.

As for actors, the Indian import began through Naseeruddin Shah who made a guest appearance in Shoaib Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye (2007) and had a major role in Zinda Bhaag (2013) which had a predominantly Indian crew. Later Indian actress Neha Dhupia appeared for an item song in Kabhi Piyar Na Karna while most of the cast of Faisal Bukhari’s recent release Sultanat was Indian. British-Pakistani actor Alyy Khan, who is now settled in Pakistan, had acted in a handful of Bollywood films including Stumped, Luck By Chance and Don 2, opposite none other than Shah Rukh Khan!

There is no need for a ‘visa controversy’: Seen here promoting his upcoming film Kill Dil on Kaun Banega Crorepati, Ali Zafar maintains that he has always complied with the necessary visa requirements in his four-year stint in Bollywood.

There is no need for a ‘visa controversy’: Seen here promoting his upcoming film Kill Dil on Kaun Banega Crorepati, Ali Zafar maintains that he has always complied with the necessary visa requirements in his four-year stint in Bollywood.

Renowned film and TV producer Rashid Khwaja, who is also the Founder Chairperson of United Producers Association, believes that there is no comparison regarding cross border exchange since it goes in India’s favour.

“Only four Pakistani films — Salakhein, Khuda Kay Liye, Bol and Ramchand Pakistani — have been released in India in the last 10 years while on the other hand, more than 400 Indian flicks have been released in Pakistan in just four years. So yes, we are not getting a fair share but we don’t complain as Bollywood is a huge market and it is always good to learn from them. However, I am surprised at CINTAA because I believe that in the modern era of computers and Internet, they seem to be operating through a register, otherwise a simple search on the Web would have informed them that Indian artistes are working in Pakistan in astonishing numbers.”

Rashid Khawaja doesn’t just stop here. “The problem is not with the associations in India but with the media which doesn’t highlight their actors’ work in Pakistan. They don’t inform their people that Indian actors and actresses work in Pakistan regularly. No one in India knows that Sonam Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapoor are brand ambassadors for a leading mobile company in Pakistan; Jacqueline Fernandez and Juhi Chawla have sold products through TVCs and that Bollywood actors are more visible on billboards in Pakistan than our own people. How many Pakistani artistes, including the hugely popular Ali Zafar and Fawad Khan, have billboard presence in India — none! Instead of criticizing Pakistani artistes in India, they should show a big heart and welcome them.”

So what are the pressure tactics that right wing Indians apply on Pakistanis in the alien land? Pakistani actor/singer /musician Ali Zafar explains that if one goes through proper channels, nobody can trouble you at all.

“I have always made it a point to work in accordance with the laws of the land wherever I work,” he said. “At a time when artistes used to go to London and perform on visit visas, I declined on the basis that I will never travel and perform without the proper documentation. Same has been the case with India; from my first movie I hired the best consultants and management teams to guide me through the immaculately legal way to work. It made me pay double taxes — once in India, once in Pakistan — as there is no tax treaty between the two countries. Which is why when the letter came from CINTAA asking me to present my documents, my stuff was in order and I presented the documents to them within 24 hours along with an explanatory note from the Indian High Commission. To my reply, CINTAA responded in agreement and showed their satisfaction.”

Over the last 30 years countless Pakistani artistes have worked in Indian cinema. Humaima Malik, Imran Abbas and Fawad Khan are the recent most debutants to have been featured within a month and with Ali Zafar’s Kill Dil releasing in November, was there any need for a ‘Visa Controversy’ at all? Rashid Khawaja feels that before making illogical comments, the President of CINTAA should at least have checked his facts.

“Who says Pakistani artistes go on a tourist visa to India? Have they ever checked how the visas are issued in the first place? A Pakistani has to present papers from their Indian sponsor without which a visa application can’t even be submitted, let alone accepted. Our actors only go to India after they get offers from across the border. While the Indians can get visas to attend private functions, meet relatives and for special occasions in our country, it is us Pakistanis who have to wait for days to get the approval from India.”

Ali Zafar, who has given four hits in as many years in Bollywood, believes that there are all sorts of people on both sides of the border and one should stay on the right path to achieve success.

“I have always been proud of my identity as a Pakistani and they (Indians) know it, for which they have respected me more,” he furthered. “I am who I am because of my country and I have no words for the love that people have given me in Pakistan, which is why I never stopped working here and am investing into development of our local industry. The love, respect and admiration that I have received in India is overwhelming as well as I have seen people go out of their way to not make me feel like an outsider. However, there are a few elements on both sides who will never be in favour of cultural exchange and we should join hands to defeat them if we want love and peace to prevail between the two countries.”

Omair Alavi

omair alavi
The author is a freelance journalist. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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