The ultranationalist campaign to equate every Indian interaction with a Pakistani to an act of treason is getting more heated. This is playing out with special intensity in the Hindi movie industry, which is divided down the middle on the ban by the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association ban on Pakistani artists in Hindi films.
The organisation is not as powerful as others, notably, the Film & Television Producers Guild of India, but it has managed to bring out into the open simmering anger over the presence of Pakistani actors and singers in Hindi films. Talent from India and Pakistan has featured in each other’s entertainment industries for several decades, but the attack on an Army camp in Uri on September 18, in which 19 soldiers died, has hardened positions in India like never before.
War has already broken out, as is evident from a barrage of statements and tweets. In the latest (but no means the last) round of opining on the IMPPA ban on Pakistani artists in Hindi films, Amitabh Bachchan said that industry associations and the government have the right to impose restrictions, Nana Patekar declared that the nation comes first, and Pahlaj Nihalani noted that artists should not be made soft targets.
The writer Chetan Bhagat waded into the debate by tweeting that while the overnight ban on Pakistani artists was harsh, India should not feel guilty since it was Pakistan that had caused all the trouble in the first place.
Fawad Khan remains the face of everything that is wrong with India’s engagement with Pakistani artists. The handsome and talented actor continues to irk a section of Indians who simply cannot imagine why someone needs to be imported from across the border when their country is brimming with performers. Khan’s presence in a few scenes in Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil has jeopardised the release for the romantic drama, planned for October 28. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has declared that the movie cannot be release in its present form, and can be screened in theatres only if Fawad Khan is excised.
The IMPPA ban applies to future projects, but its implications are already being felt most keenly by Johar and Shah Rukh Khan’s January 2017 release Raees, which co-stars Pakistani star Mahira Khan. Without a firm and public assurance of protection from vandalism to cinemas that will exhibit these movies, the filmmakers are in a dilemma. If they proceed, they put lives and property at risk. If they don’t, the bigots will have won.
While some industry insiders have made statements aimed at making filmmakers guilty about hiring actors, singers and musicians from across the border, others have noted that the IMPPA ban will cost the Hindi film industry – and India – dearly.
During a television discussion, Om Puri pointed out, “Do you want India-Pakistan enmity to turn like Israel and Palestine, and fight for ages?” The actor is being savaged for his remarks about the Army, and a Mumbai citizen sent the police a letter urging them to book Puri for sedition.
Exhibitor and distributor Akshaye Rathi asserted that India would suffer if Ae Dil Hai Mushkil were to be stalled. “The man has taken his fees for acting in the film and is happily back at home in Lahore now,” Rathi wrote about Fawad Khan in the DNA newspaper. It is the film industry, which pays the Centre and state government entertainment taxes, that will pay the price, Rathi wrote.
Not all the reactions have been subdued. The singer Abhijeet dived to the depths of the gutter by insinuating that Fawad Khan was Karan Johar’s muse in more ways than one.
Indian filmmakers who speak against the ban on Pakistani artists are being subjected to the old loyalty test: either you are with us or against us. Nana Patekar drew a connection between speaking out against the ban – as Salman Khan has done – and boosting the morale of troops stationed along the border. Actors are “mere termites” compared to the soldiers who “the biggest heroes in the world”, Patekar said. Actor Anupam Kher has insisted that Pakistani artists condemn the Uri attack.
Should actors share their political opinions with the world at all? After all, readers frequently complain that some movie celebrities are airheads who don’t know the name of their president or the number of states in the country. Filmmaker Vikas Bahl said only half-jokingly said the Hindi film industry is now called upon to voice its views on everything under the sun.
"Honestly, I don’t know why Bollywood has to actually comment on everything,” he told IANS. “Because they are so many issues, and so many people in the country are well-versed with the issue. They [those who must comment] have been working on the issue for so long.”
But if we want actors to stick to acting, then industry bodies like IMPPA need to stay away from politics too. By forcing the movie trade to decide whether it will risk its business prospects by opening its doors to Pakistani talent, IMPPA has added its own toxic dose to an already poisoned environment.