As the clattering monsoons recede, a more sinister shade looms large beyond the horizon. From the east emanates talk — dangerous talk — that so often spirals out of control when it falls on hawkish ears this side of the frontier. The warpath I fear may be before us.
Reminders of that nuclear winter, which was far too recent, abound in the air once more. As unlikely as that possibility may be, a wiser mind than mine once conjectured that it is easier to endure a terrifying event than to imagine it, to wait for it endlessly. I for one fear where those imaginations might lead us.
In a tit-for-tat, the Pakistani cinema owners suspended the exhibition of Indian films on their expensive celluloid screens. They were responding to a recent directive by the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association (IMPPA) that barred hiring Pakistani talent.
The last time such a suspension took place it carried on indefinitely. The cost was paid for by the Pakistani cinema industry, which at the time plummeted to near extinction. One hopes that is not the case this time around.
For the time being, Bollywood is persona non grata. Soon to return, I hope, but you never can know about such things. Therefore, I wish to take this opportunity to thank Bollywood. Not for all the songs that I dance to in my shower, nor for all the tunes that bring joy to mehndis all over Pakistan. Not for ‘Kaala chashma’ when it plays on the radio on my way back from work, nor for ‘Munni badnaam hui,’ which makes boys my age yearn for a better tomorrow.
I wish to thank Bollywood for making PK — a surreal story that placed an alien on Earth who showed us with clarity the fault in our stars. Surreptitiously, it made us laugh at ourselves. Through the eyes of an alien, it reminded us that whatever our beliefs may be, both us and those we consider the ‘other’ contain ignorance and humanity in equal doses.
I must also thank them for Kapoor & Sons — a dystopian drama that reminded us that not all families are happy, not all brothers are friends, and not all husbands are faithful. It gave us a fright and a serious bout of cognitive dissonance when it humanised for us those whom we had only known to laugh at. It took the most darling son of our land and forced us to empathise with his character on screen. I’d like to think it gave us all a kernel of courage to be ourselves and accept others as they are.
And I know I am indebted to them for making Queen. Not just because it made me laugh, but because it left me with a sensation of utter joy. It not only showed us a journey of self-discovery, it made us celebrate it. When her fiancé deserts her on her wedding day, Rani Mehra (Kangana Ranaut) decides to go on her honeymoon trip to Europe alone. Young and defenseless, and most importantly without a man by her side.
What we discover over the course of the film is that you need not wait to be married to start living your life. That the discovery of happiness lies not in another person but primarily in you yourself.
It showed us that there is more than just one way to have a happy ending. In the end when she returns her ring, she pauses, turns to her fiancé and says to him, ‘Thank you’. That was her happy ending. Everyone can, and perhaps should, pen their own.
And yes, Bollywood is also the trashy item numbers, the mindless comedies, and the unapologetic plagiarism of western films. But I forgive them these sins for every now and then they summon the courage to tell us stories that make us recalibrate our way of thinking. Under the guise of entertainment, they introduce us to ideas and images that make many on our side of the border uncomfortable. If it weren’t for them I wonder whether we would ever challenge our beliefs and societal articles of faith.
I look forward to the day, and I don’t think it’s far, when Pakistan is able to do the same. Till then I will miss having Bollywood on our screens.