Getting an Indian visa has become as tough as getting an American one, says popular Pakistani singer Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, who was on a four-city tour of the country. But he maintains that films and music are the two "strong" bonds between India and Pakistan.
"Visa has become an issue in the past four to five months. It (Indian visa) is now as difficult as getting an American visa. Insha Allah things will change," Shafqat, 44, told IANS in an interview after his Delhi gig, the sixth till date.
"We are hoping it is one of those good-days-bad-days thing. Sometimes we go to the embassy and ask for a day's visa and they permit us for a month. Sometimes we have all the papers ready, but they deny us a visa even when we tell them that the person who has invited us is going to be bankrupt," said Shafqat, who shot to limelight in India with the song "Mitwa" in "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna".
Well-known Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who has sung hit Bollywood songs like "Teri Ore" and "Bol Na Halke", was also denied a visa last month and his concert in Gurgaon had to be rescheduled.
"If your papers are in order and you know the right people then you don't face such problems. However, it is high time we did something to bring peace to both the countries and get over such issues," added Shafqat, who is fondly called Rock star Ustad, a nickname coined by Bollywood musician Salim Merchant.
Shafqat is in India with his band for a four-city concert aimed at bridging the gap between India and Pakistan through music. Held at Pune, Bangalore, Delhi and Chandigarh, the cross-border concerts are supported by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and NGO Routes2Roots.
"Music is one thing where you don't have any competition. There is no favouritism that comes in the way. You just have to enjoy it. Music is something that can't provoke you to hate or fight. It can only provoke you to love and to work for peace," he said.
"There were a few bad instances that happened between both the countries but even then music and the films were the only bond that we had and it didn't break, it stayed intact. This bond is very strong. When more artists from India go perform there and vice versa, it will definitely pave the way," he added.
The son of legendary Pakistani singer Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Shafqat represents the seventh generation of Patiala gharana singers. A graduate from Government College University, Lahore, and a recipient of the role of honour from its music society, he has been learning classical music since the age of four.
Respected in music circles in Pakistan and India, he is praised for his classical-contemporary blends like "Ankhon Ke Saaaer", "Khamaj" and "Akhiyan".
Asked about his fusion style, he said: "It runs in the family. My ancestors tried something which was considered taboo. When dhrupad was really popular, then khayal gayaki was a big no no, but they converted to khayal gayaki. Then they tried thumri, then ghazal and here I am following the legacy by moving with the times without uprooting myself from my base and my race."
A former vocalist for Fuzon band, Shafqat topped the charts in Bollywood with his debut "Mitwa" and followed it up in movies like "Dor", "Hello", "My Name Is Khan", "Aashayein" and "I Hate Luv Storys".
"Bollywood is a very powerful medium. It is very popular among youth there (in Pakistan). It's playing a very important role... if only we can use such a medium in a way that it could talk more about peace than anything else," said the artist, who has his Indian favourites in Hemant Kumar and S.D. Burman.
Shafqat's future projects include "Patiala House" and "a couple of other Bollywood films" that he didn't want to divulge now.
So has the singer with long locks thought about insuring his voice?
"It's a good idea. I never thought of it but now that you have mentioned it, I'm thinking that I should do that. May be I'll get my hair insured too," he quipped in his witty style.