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Indo-Pak thaw: win-win equation?

Pak may clear Taj Mahal for public screening, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2006 19:02 IST

The colourised version of K Asif’s epochal Mughal-e-Azam is ready to invade Pakistan nearly half a century after it conquered the hearts of moviegoers in India. The film’s long overdue release in Pakistan, of all goes well, could resonate all through the remaining decades of the century – and beyond.

Mughal-e-Azam has received a certificate from Pakistan’s censor board and now has the right to be commercially distributed in a country that has for long held out against allowing Indian films to compete with local cinematic products.

That’s not all. The Pakistani censors are also reportedly close to clearing a more recent Mumbai-made film, Akbar Khan’s Taj Mahal – A Monument of Love, for public distribution. The scenario is clearly changing at a fair clip.

Mughal-e-Azam and Taj Mahal belong to different ends of the Bollywood spectrum. Even as the Akbar Khan magnum opus is chronologically separated from the K Asif classic by well over four decades, it pales in comparison with the super-successful historical saga from the past.

Taj Mahal – A Monument of Love turned out to be a damp squib at the domestic box office. Will Pakistani moviegoers give the producers and distributors of the film some cause for cheer by contributing substantially to their coffers?

After Mughal-e-Azam, the Pakistani censors are reportedly close to clearing a more recent Mumbai-made film, Akbar Khan’s Taj Mahal – A Monument of Love, for public distribution.

With the gradual opening up of the Pakistan territory as a viable market for Hindi films – if that is indeed what the formal censor certification of

Mughal-e-Azam

leads to – producers on this side of the border can actually begin to factor viewers on the other side into their overall calculations. From a purely commercial standpoint, that would be a breakthrough of immense import.

Of course, Mumbai films have a huge presence in Pakistani households already, but since the mid 1960s all that film-lovers in Lahore and Karachi have got to watch are pirated VHS tapes/CDs/DVDs of Hindi blockbusters. Fly-by-night operators, functioning out of Mumbai and offshore locations in the Persian Gulf countries, have made a killing from the grey market of Hindi films.

If the public distribution of Mumbai movies is legalised in Pakistan, the governments on both sides stand to benefit, as do producers who have for long been deprived of the share of profits that should rightfully accrue to their accounts.

Once that begins to happen on a regular basis, a long-nurtured dream could take the shape of reality. Greater cooperation between the two neighbouring nations in the film production sector would become easier and more sustainable.

The Kara Film Festival, held in the port city of Karachi every year, has repeatedly shown that moviegoers in Pakistan have a special fondness for Hindi films and given the opportunity would come out in hordes to support releases featuring their favourite Bollywood stars. That support would only be bolstered if some of these films were to have contributions from the pool of talent that is available in Pakistan.

On India’s eastern border, Indo-Bangladeshi filmmaking is a common occurrence these days. It is fuelled by the simple fact that people on the two sides share much in terms of culture and language. Similar Indo-Pak experiments would have far wider ramifications for an obvious reason: Hindi films have a bigger market than Bengali-language cinema and, therefore, there would be more to be made if the two countries decide to go in for officially sanctioned co-productions.

The Bhatts of Bollywood have a special equation with Pakistani actress Meera. But the Indo-Pak story is much bigger than just one star or one production banner. It has the potential of going beyond stray individuals and into the minds and hearts of all Indians and Pakistanis.

With Mughal-e-Azam all set to hit Pakistani screens, a new beginning is being made. It is now up to the films industries in the two countries to make the most of the opportunities that are likely to present themselves. After all, a film industry couldn’t be doing itself any harm if it forayed into spaces where its products have potential takers.

First Published: Feb 17, 2006 20:00 IST