Picture this: ties go behind the screen
If you were fond of movies and were there in 1965, you will probably remember the year as being an especially happy one. Vijay Anand’s Guide, starring Dev Anand, had been released to box-office and critical success. Satyajit Ray had been conferred the Silver Bear for Best Direction at the Berlin Film Festival for his 1964 film Charulata. On the more ‘popular’ side, Mehmood’s Bhut Bungla saw the legendary songwriter-singer duo of Rahul Dev Burman and Kishore Kumar team up for the first time. Perhaps less memorable, if you were a filmi fan, would be the fact that after September 6, 1965, when war between India and Pakistan broke out, an official ban was imposed between the two neighbours on each other’s movies. So despite its runaway success in the Punjab, the M.J. Rana Pakistani-Punjabi blockbuster Jeedar would not be seen in Punjab on the other side of the border. The ban remained in place — till Friday, when Khuda Kay Liye, directed by Shoaib Mansoor became the first Pakistani film to be shown in Indian cinemas in the last 43 years.
‘Soft diplomacy’ — through films or sports or any other form of entertainment — does not necessarily amount to two non-neighbourly neighbours to become jigri dosts. But it does not make sense either to impose an ‘artificial’ prohibition on cultural exchanges when a certain thaw between the people of the two countries is there for all to see. In 1987, ‘cricket diplomacy’ between India and Pakistan saw President Zia-ul-Haq, never quite New Delhi’s favourite, come across to Jaipur to watch one of the matches in the India-Pakistan series. This was also a time when Pakistani TV soap operas were in demand for Indian VCR-owners and were readily available in unofficial ‘recorded’ tapes. The story of Indian ‘Bombay’ movies being all the rage in Pakistan is quite well known by dint of the country’s thriving pirated DVDs today. So in a way, it is a no-brainer that Khuda Kay Liye — starring Pakistani stars Shan and Iman Ali and India’s Naseeruddin Shah — should have (and would have) passed cross-border considerations — especially with Pakistan recently easing its earlier ban on Indian films played in Pakistani cinemas.
The film itself, a tale of a struggle between moderate Muslims who ‘keep their faith’ and post-9/11 forces that see them with grave suspicion, has been a huge hit in Pakistan. With a subject matter that clearly interests not only India but many other countries keen to hear a voice from the ‘other side’, Khuda Kay Liye should get non-Pakistanis from the subcontinent queuing up before the ticket counters. Considering the extreme — but natural — imbalance between Indian and Pakistani cultural exchanges (after all, Pakistan can hardly match India’s gargantuan movie-making machine), this is a good opportunity for Pakistan’s film industry to showcase their wares. If Pakistani musicians have already created their niche and fan base here in India, there is no reason why films from ‘the other side’ won’t click.