Crossing lines

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Crossing lines

Recent Indo-Pak tensions have prompted bans that may prevent artistes from finding fame across the border

By Khalid Mohamed

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Published: Wed 29 Oct 2014, 3:16 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:50 PM

MIXING IT UP: (top to bottom) Pakistani actor Fawad Khan has been receiving adulation for his recent performance in Khoobsurat

MIXING IT UP: (top to bottom) Pakistani actor Fawad Khan has been receiving adulation for his recent performance in Khoobsurat

Protests and threats have been around the corner. After all, the liaison has been uncertain. The presence of Pakistani artistes and singers in Bollywood has been so undefined and ad hoc that you can never be sure about what could happen the next morning. And so, just when Fawad Khan — after his charismatic performance in Khoobsurat — was receiving flying kisses as the new poster-boy of show town, came the spoiler.

A fortnight ago, the Mumbai wing of the national ruling party BJP announced that it was in no mood to permit performing artistes from across the border to earn their slice of fame and fortune in Bollywood. “How can they earn money in India,” it was asked, “but pay taxes in Pakistan?”

Apparently, the ‘ceasefire violations’ by Pakistan on the Jammu and Kashmir border have sparked the threat. Right away, Yashraj banner’s Kill Dil came under fire, since it features Ali Zafar in the cast, along with Govinda, Ranveer Singh and Parineeti Chopra. This action thriller marks the comeback of the gifted director Shaad Ali, who had vanished into the woodwork after Bunty Aur Babli, nine years ago.

The clout-wielding Cine and TV Artistes’ Association supported the quixotic call for a ban instantly. Concurrently, a bunch of film industry heavyweights protested that the ban shouldn’t be enforced on projects that were already in production, but could be imposed from this point onwards.

In this welter of dos and don’ts, several questions could be raised: if permission has been granted over the years to Pakistani actors and singers, why should it be revoked in a manner that can only aggravate the political tension between the two countries? Also, why pick on artistes? Shouldn’t the Indo-Pak friction be settled in the political enclaves exclusively?

Admittedly, these are idealistic questions. After all, in the interexchange of populist culture, there has been an imbalance. Pakistan has never really welcomed Indian actors and singers with open arms. Indeed, some singers who have travelled across the border to perform at concerts have levied serious allegations of ill treatment.

Be that as it may, the incontestable fact is that India’s dream factory has become richer, thanks to public concerts and discs cut by legendary singers such as Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Reshma, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen. Quite curiously, the Aamir Khan film Sarfarosh (1999) had portrayed its villainous element, Naseeruddin Shah, as Gulfam Hassan, a ghazal singer from across the border. Curious, because such a representation merely served in casting a shadow of suspicion.

The impact made by the late pop crooner Nazia Hassan (Disco Deewane), the nasal twanged songstress-actress Salma Agha and, more recently, in the field of playback singing, by Raahat Fateh Ali Khan, Shafaqat Aman Ali and Atif Aslam cannot be underappreciated either.

To be sure, the acting talent hasn’t quite been in the same class. Pakistan’s Mohammed Ali and Zeba Khan, often described as equivalents of Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu, showed up in cameos in Manoj Kumar’s infamous, wacko film Clerk. Raj Kapoor’s discovery, Zeba Bakhtiar (who never could equal her debut in Henna) also eventually faded into a premature sunset boulevard.

Subsequently, heroines Meera, Veena Mallik, Sara Loren, Meesha Shafi and Humaima Mallik couldn’t quite make the cut. Iman Ali, the excellent leading lady of the radically outspoken Pakistani films Khuda ke Liye and Bol, was expected to be showcased by director Imtiaz Khan of Jab We Met, Rockstar and Highway, but has returned home, if reports are to be believed. A pity.

Of the leading men, Ali Zafar who was fabulous in his debut-making Tere Bin Laden, delivered ordinary performances in London Paris New York, Chashme Baddoor and Total Siyappa — perhaps burdened by mediocre scripts and direction. Fawad Khan, extensively publicised as a ‘dreamboat’ had signed on another film, Battle for Bittora, with Sonam Kapoor, but after the threatened ban, his B-town career hangs in the balance.

Meanwhile, quite ironically, more and more Indian viewers are getting hooked on to the elegantly produced and enacted Pakistani serials, telecast in India by Zindagi channel.

Perhaps, the only thing one can do in this cat’s cradle of culture policing is to resort to a quote by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, made in the course of an interview: “I don’t understand politics. Borders don’t matter. I just want to sing.” The great Sufi singer has gone but his music hasn’t.

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