Should tensions between countries obstruct curb the freedom of art and giving due recognition to the talent of individuals simply if they belong to other country? Is talent not something that transcends boundaries?
The cross border conflict between India and Pakistan has reached to an unprecedented level, and it appears that apart from politics, it is only the film fraternity that is being made to bear the brunt. An atmosphere of negativity and animosity has increased in the last couple of years leading to politicization of ‘hatred towards Pakistan’ on almost everything including Pakistani artists who have made a mark on the Indian scene.
Following the escalation of tensions in the Kashmir valley in 2016, Indian Motion Pictures Producer Association (IMPPA) imposed a blanket ban on engaging Pakistani artists in Indian movies. Despite the controversy, several Pakistani actors managed to sneak into Bollywood, overlooking the ban. They came quietly, performed and won the hearts of the audience without making much noise.
But, as luck would have it most of them had to go back to their country without being applauded and awarded for their talent. This is because the mere mention of the P word is enough to start an ugly war of words on the news channels, invoking hyper nationalists to give their ‘hate’ and bizarre opinion on how tension between India-Pakistan can only subside if the entry of artists from that country is banned.
Bollywood has been driven and inflicted by nepotism, where talentless star kids and relatives slip conveniently in most mega-budget movies. In such a scenario, talent from other countries rarely gets highlighted, particularly as no filmmaker wants to face the fury of the angry moral police, nationalist, and BJP supported fringe group.
The tragedy is that Indian talent is excluded because prospective artists are not related to any of the big names and foreign talent is kept out because of our nationalist brigade. Indian audiences have to remain content with mediocre productions.
Most of us remember the spineless public ‘apology’ rendered by filmmaker Karan Johar for casting Pakistani actor Fawad Khan. The controversy worked well for the publicity of the movie, but, proved suicidal for Fawad’s career. The actor’s portion was butchered and he was never highlighted in the publicity drive. Owing to threats made by Shiv Sainiks, Karan and other filmmakers realised that it was best not to meddle with the authorities. Risking the filmmaking business was not an economically beneficial idea.
For most Pakistani actors, working in Bollywood is a huge career leap, as it means moving to a bigger industry. It is similar to Indian actors making it to Hollywood. But, most of these actors have to go back empty-handed, as neither the media, nor the audience nor the filmmakers have given them sufficient respect let alone their dues.
Take the movie Hindi Medium, which marks the debut of Pakistani actress Saba Qamar. The actress who has worked in countless Pakistani dramas left a lasting impression in the minds of movie lovers. Facing a well known actor Irrfan Khan opposite her, Qamar gave a spotless performance playing a typical Chandni Chowk woman trying to get her daughter admitted into a swanky English medium school.
However, the actress was neither involved in the film’s publicity nor was she given her dues by the filmmakers including Irrfan who conveniently forgot to mention Saba’s contribution, while promoting it.
Seasoned Bollywood producer Boney Kapoor, who is gearing up with his latest movie MOM, starring wife Sridevi has been dodging the question of casting acclaimed Pakistani actors Adnan Sami and Sajal Ali. “We have two talented actors Sajal and Adnan, who are unfortunately not here (to promote the film) but their contribution to the film is immense,” said Boney Kapoor, recently. That is as fast as he would go.
Due to the negative political atmosphere, it was impossible to bring the two actors. Sadly even Boney and Sridevi who are one of the most powerful personalities of Bollywood, refused to stand up to the authorities, so as to ensure a smooth launch of the movie.
Pakistani actors such as Madiha Imam in Dear Maya, Ali Zafar in Dear Zindagi, Mahira Khan in Raees have not been highlighted before or at the launch of the respective movies. Fawad Khan was dropped from the movie Raat Baki, opposite Katrina Kaif.
Ever since relations between India-Pakistan have gone downhill, it is a topic of constant debate whether India’s art and sports should be separated from its diplomatic relationship. Interestingly, while Pakistani actors have been shooed away, nobody has raised a voice against India and Pakistan cricket teams battling it out in ICC Championship 2017 at Edgbaston.
It seems there is one rule for arts and another for sports. Perhaps the nationalist brigade is conscious of the international backlash and ridicule if it were to stop its team playing Pakistan. Since Hindi movies are not Hollywood material, it is easy prey for the nationalist brigade.
Looking at the abusive environment, rising tension and risk of the movie not getting released in the theatres, the film fraternity has itself taken a diplomatic stance. Nobody can afford to mess with the bhakts, who have encouraged a new norm of arts diplomacy, that of being a sycophant.
The world of entertainment has been striving for diversification. While most Indian actors dream of finding a foothold in Hollywood, it is double standards that in India actors from any other nationality should be banned.
Priyanka Chopra has made a mark in Hollywood, where she has worked in Baywatch and action series Quantico. This has upped her position in the international film fraternity and offered her a chance to earn more money. She must thank her stars that despite Trump’s attempt to curb the inflow of migrants, he hasn’t stopped artists from other countries to come in the US for work.
The west genuinely strives to bring diversity in the casting pattern, and thus welcomes talent from across the borders. One wonders if Indian film fraternity will also acquire similar magnanimity and help artists from all across the world to earn a living here. Bollywood after all is very big in many countries.
There are historic precedents. Raj Kapoor allowed several Russian artists in his films and tried to make way for Indian films in the USSR. Till date, India is recognised in Russia by way of Bollywood and Raj Kumar. Aamir Khan’s movies 3 Idiots and Dangal popularised Indian films in China, a country with which we also have some tensions. Yet China didn’t black these films out.
Now it is the turn of India to show that it can value talent wherever it comes from and welcome artists from all over including Pakistan. But, to do so Indian filmmakers first need to stand up to the tyranny against free flow of talent that is being propagated in the name of nationalism government.