The Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India (COEAI) seems to have decided to wear its patriotic credentials on its sleeve. In what can only be described as a counterproductive move, single screen and multiplex owners who belong to this association across four states — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat — have decided not to screen films starring Pakistani artistes.
This is apparently in deference to public sentiment. This is a short-sighted move for several reasons. For a start, these films also star Indian artistes. They are being made to suffer because of the COEAI’s misplaced patriotism. Indian producers have sunk large amounts of money into these films and they are likely to incur huge losses. The argument put forward that these losses will be less than those suffered if the theatres are vandalised is specious. If any theatre owner apprehends such a threat, he or she should seek police help.
This is an extension of the sentiment expressed by Film and Television Institute of India chairman Gajendra Chauhan that Pakistani artistes should not be given visas as they are taking away jobs and could pass on sensitive information. The COEAI’s cites the Uri and other terror attacks as the motivation behind its decision. There’s no evidence to suggest that the Pakistani actors in the films in question have any terror links. It is also unclear how the COEAI came to the conclusion that public sentiment is against films starring Pakistani actors. This hypersensitivity is immature to say the least.
India is not so fragile as to be threatened by a film or two that features Pakistani artistes among others. Pakistani artistes should not be punished for the actions (or inactions) of Islamabad. If this trend continues, where do we stop? In fact, the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association has taken a more positive position and has even asked the producers of these films to move the courts. Actors from various countries have come to seek work in Bollywood and this should be seen as a projection of India’s soft power.
The COEAI’s move smacks of insecurity where there need be none. If a particular actor fits a certain role, the producer has every right to chose him or her, it is not written in stone that the person should be an Indian. Hollywood attracts talent from all over the world, including India. Acting talent is not nationality-specific. The actors constitute no threat to security and if certain people don’t like the idea of Pakistani actors in films, they should not go to see them. The COEAI does not need to second-guess public sentiment; this is only creating more problems for Indian producers, directors and theatre owners than it is for Pakistan.