In 1965, under military General Ayub Khan’s rule, a ban was imposed on Bollywood films set against the backdrop of the ongoing Indo-Pak conflict over Kashmir.
After that, Pakistanis had to make do with illegally smuggled VHS tapes. On April 22, 2006, the colourised Mughal-e-Azam (1960) premiered at Lahore’s Gulistan Cinema. Akbar Khan’s Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story (2005) and Umesh Mehra’s Sohni Mahiwal, an Indo-Russian co-production, followed soon after. Mahesh Bhatt’s Awarapan (2007) and Sunny Deol’s Kaafila (2007) were also allowed access because the Indian films had been shot abroad, had a Pakistani co-producer and featured local artistes. In 2007, General Parvez Musharraf lifted the ban and My Name Is Khan (2010) was officially released.
However, there continued to be casualties, the latest being Saif Ali Khan’s Agent Vinod. The film’s distributor Abdul Rashid is apprehensive that it could hurt national and religious sentiments with its references to Pakistani officials, the ISI and shots of Karachi taken without permission. Rashid’s India Mortgage Guarantee Co. had imported 30 Indian films in 2010 and 15 in 2011.
This is the second Saif-Kareena Kapoor starrer after Kurbaan (2009) to be banned, despite its star producer asserting that unlike past blockbusters, this one doesn’t indulge in commercial Paki bashing, but has a heroine who is a good Pakistani. Sighs Saif, “It’s a shame the movie is banned there with no offence to anyone. The idea is to have open films between the two countries.”
Saif Ali Khan in a still from Agent Vinod
His co-producer Dinesh Vijan is equally disappointed: “Pakistanis make up a significant part of our audience and we had consciously attempted to make this film with the right sentiments. The ban will only mean loss of revenue for both industries and encourage piracy, which we’re trying to combat together.”
How big is this territory? “It’s only one per cent and can earn us a maximum net gross of Rs. 1 crore,” says overseas distributor Ganesh Jain of Venus. Trade analyst Amod Mehra agrees: “We are not making films for Pakistan, we are making them for India and the overseas market. What we earn in Pakistan is a bonus.”