Culture Wars

Allow Pakistanis to work in Bollywood, filmmakers tell actors' association

A number of film producers and actors unions don't want Pakistani actors and technicians to be hired for Indian films.

Tensions at the Indo-Pak border in Jammu and Kashmir are having a ripple effect in the Mumbai film industry. For the past week, a group of film actors have been trying to prevent Pakistanis from working in Indian films. Now, another group of filmmakers and activists has risen in protest of such “narrow nationalism” with an online petition.

Last week, the Cine and Television Artistes Association – a union-like registered organisation for film and television actors in India – sent letters to the four major film producers’ associations asking them not to hire foreign actors who lacked employment visas. CINTAA particularly singled out Pakistani actors, asking producers not to work with them on account of the current political stresses between the two countries.

Three of the four cinema producers’ associations have already made statements in support of CINTAA’s position against employing Pakistani talent, and said that they will soon hold a joing meeting to discuss the issue.

On October 8, the Association had summoned Pakistani actor Ali Zafar, a temporary member of CINTAA who stars in Yash Raj Films’ next production Kill Dill, to present his documents and visa papers. The union suspected that Zafar was working in India without valid permits, and will review his papers at a board meeting on Saturday.

But according to the group of 11 activists and documentary filmmakers opposing CINTAA, inadequate visa papers are just one small aspect of the Association’s grouse against foreign actors. The main reason, according to their petition, is an anti-Pakistani sentiment stemming from an “unnecessarily jingoistic attitude”.

Extreme nationalism

The petition, started by Delhi-based documentary filmmaker Yousuf Saeed,  has as its signatories filmmakers like Anand Patwardhan, Shohini Ghosh and Iram Ghufran. It is titled “Let us welcome foreign artistes in the Indian entertainment industry”, and has been signed by more than 20 others since it was started.

“We are definitely in favour of the artistes complying with Indian laws of immigration and work permit, but monitoring its compliance should be left to the Indian government authorities,” the petition states. “How can a private entity such as CINTAA dictate terms to the artistes without taking into account the larger opinion of the Indian arts and entertainment industry, and of course, the audience?”

“When CINTAA refers to ‘foreign’ artistes, it basically means Pakistanis, so this becomes a slightly communal issue,” said Yousuf Saeed, whose 2007 film, Khayal Darpan, explores Hindustani classical music in Pakistan.

Bollywood films routinely feature foreign faces – often Europeans performing as dancers or extras – but they have not been targeted by CINTAA, says Saeed. “All the statements that the Association members and other producers have made in the media on the issue of foreigners are actually against Pakistani talent being used in India,” he said.

On its part, the Association claims that Pakistan has been singled out because its citizens are rarely given the ‘E-visas’ or employment visas that are mandatory for any foreigner to work in India.

“Unlike other foreigners, most Pakistani artistes come to India on business visas or merely visit visas, and then they work here and money here,” said Gajendra Chauhan, an actor and the president of CINTAA.

In the case of actor Ali Zafar, who submitted his documents to the Association last week, his visa grants him permission for "commercial performances" in India up to November 18. Chauhan claims Zafar will not be targeted if his papers are found to be satisfactory, but he is still determined to close all avenues for Pakistani actors to work in India.

Us versus them

CINTAA and the many other associations for technicians, actors and other artists were formed to protect the rights and interests of workers in the film industry and are recognised by Indian law. But these associations also function on a strict “member-to-member workmanship” ethic, which means that any performer or technician can only work with others who are also members of a particular association or its affiliates.

Foreign actors, too, are expected to register with an association after showing all their papers and documents. If they do not register in this manner, the association can make it impossible for them to find a producer or crew to work with.

But on the question of Pakistanis coming into the country, Chauhan’s stance is that of hardliner.

“We have an abundance of talent here in India. Why should we welcome their talent when so many Indian artistes are not allowed to perform in Pakistan?” said Chauhan, whose main problem is the lack of reciprocation from Pakistan on political and cultural ties. India granted Pakistan Most Favoured Nation status back in 1996, but Chauhan is still waiting for Pakistan to return the favour.

Chauhan also believes that the union information and broadcasting ministry should take steps to block Zindagi, the hugely popular television channel by Zee that airs Pakistani shows. “Our government has tried for so long, but if the other side is simply not interested in peaceful ties, then it is time to take things head-on,” said Chauhan.

Raising a voice

Yousuf Saeed and the other petitioners decided to protest because Chauhan and CINTAA are not isolated in this hostile attitude towards Pakistani actors. The heads of three major associations – the Indian Film and Television Producers Council, the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association and the Western India Film Producers Association – have all  voiced similar anti-Pakistan sentiments.

“Both Indians and Pakistanis have a long history of collaborating for films, music and culture, and Pakistanis watch loads of Bollywood films,” said Chintan Girish Modi, one of the co-petitioners who founded Friendships Across Borders, an initiative to promote Indo-Pak ties, earlier this year.

The petition notes that Salman Khan’s Kick was the all-time highest earning movie in Pakistan and that the recent Pakistani film Zinda Bhag had an Indian cinematographer, editor, sound designer and actors.

“We object to them [CINTAA] singling out one country and being racist about it,” said documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan. “Such mentality is growing in the country and needs to be fought at every level.”

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