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.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

In a first, some of the finest Indian theatre can now be seen on your screen

A new cinematic production brings to life thought-provoking plays as digital video.

Though we are a country besotted with cinema, theatre remains an original source of provocative stories, great actors, and the many deeply rooted traditions of the dramatic arts across India. CinePlay is a new, ambitious experiment to bring the two forms together.

These plays, ‘filmed’ as digital video, span classic drama genre as well as more experimental dark comedy and are available on Hotstar premium, as part of Hotstar’s Originals bouquet. “We love breaking norms. And CinePlay is an example of us serving our consumer’s multi-dimensional personality and trusting them to enjoy better stories, those that not only entertain but also tease the mind”, says Ajit Mohan, CEO, Hotstar.

The first collection of CinePlays feature stories from leading playwrights, like Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani, Badal Sircar amongst others and directed by film directors like Santosh Sivan and Nagesh Kukunoor. They also star some of the most prolific names of the film and theatre world like Nandita Das, Shreyas Talpade, Saurabh Shukla, Mohan Agashe and Lillete Dubey.

The idea was conceptualised by Subodh Maskara and Nandita Das, the actor and director who had early experience with street theatre. “The conversation began with Subodh and me thinking how can we make theatre accessible to a lot more people” says Nandita Das. The philosophy is that ‘filmed’ theatre is a new form, not a replacement, and has the potential to reach millions instead of thousands of people. Hotstar takes the reach of these plays to theatre lovers across the country and also to newer audiences who may never have had access to quality theatre.

“CinePlay is merging the language of theatre and the language of cinema to create a third unique language” says Subodh. The technique for ‘filming’ plays has evolved after many iterations. Each play is shot over several days in a studio with multiple takes, and many angles just like cinema. Cinematic techniques such as light and sound effects are also used to enhance the drama. Since it combines the intimacy of theatre with the format of cinema, actors and directors have also had to adapt. “It was quite intimidating. Suddenly you have to take something that already exists, put some more creativity into it, some more of your own style, your own vision and not lose the essence” says Ritesh Menon who directed ‘Between the Lines’. Written by Nandita Das, the play is set in contemporary urban India with a lawyer couple as its protagonists. The couple ends up arguing on opposite sides of a criminal trial and the play delves into the tension it brings to their personal and professional lives.

Play

The actors too adapted their performance from the demands of the theatre to the requirements of a studio. While in the theatre, performers have to project their voice to reach a thousand odd members in the live audience, they now had the flexibility of being more understated. Namit Das, a popular television actor, who acts in the CinePlay ‘Bombay Talkies’ says, “It’s actually a film but yet we keep the characteristics of the play alive. For the camera, I can say, I need to tone down a lot.” Vickram Kapadia’s ‘Bombay Talkies’ takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions as seven personal stories unravel through powerful monologues, touching poignant themes such as child abuse, ridicule from a spouse, sacrifice, disillusionment and regret.

The new format also brought many new opportunities. In the play “Sometimes”, a dark comedy about three stressful days in a young urban professional’s life, the entire stage was designed to resemble a clock. The director Akarsh Khurana, was able to effectively recreate the same effect with light and sound design, and enhance it for on-screen viewers. In another comedy “The Job”, presented earlier in theatre as “The Interview”, viewers get to intimately observe, as the camera zooms in, the sinister expressions of the interviewers of a young man interviewing for a coveted job.

Besides the advantages of cinematic techniques, many of the artists also believe it will add to the longevity of plays and breathe new life into theatre as a medium. Adhir Bhat, the writer of ‘Sometimes’ says, “You make something and do a certain amount of shows and after that it phases out, but with this it can remain there.”

This should be welcome news, even for traditionalists, because unlike mainstream media, theatre speaks in and for alternative voices. Many of the plays in the collection are by Vijay Tendulkar, the man whose ability to speak truth to power and society is something a whole generation of Indians have not had a chance to experience. That alone should be reason enough to cheer for the whole project.

Play

Hotstar, India’s largest premium streaming platform, stands out with its Originals bouquet bringing completely new formats and stories, such as these plays, to its viewers. Twenty timeless stories from theatre will be available to its subscribers. Five CinePlays, “Between the lines”, “The Job”, “Sometimes”, “Bombay Talkies” and “Typecast”, are already available and a new one will release every week starting March. To watch these on Hotstar Premium, click here.

This article was produced on behalf of Hotstar by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.