Pakistan’s continued love, hate for all things Bollywood

Pakistan’s entertainment industry, going by media reports, is increasingly conscious that political relations with India are unlikely to improve anytime soon, lengthening any prospects of collaborating with Bollywood

Mahendra Ved Feb 14, 2021
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Pakistan’s entertainment industry, going by media reports, is increasingly conscious that political relations with India are unlikely to improve anytime soon, lengthening any prospects of collaborating with Bollywood. It’s a case of ‘Bollywood door ast’ (Bollywood is far away).

Expectedly, India is blamed and understandably, too, because the Pakistani artists have lost the opportunities that Bollywood used to afford them. Not big-brotherly, but it’s certainly one-sided. This is acknowledged, even if grudgingly, by Pakistanis.

Indian films vs Pakistani dramas

Pakistani actor and producer Adnan Siddiqui who played Sridevi’s husband in Mom (2017) along with Pakistani actress Sajal Aly as their daughter, says, “This shouldn't have happened. Politics and entertainment are two different things."  Appearing on the show Hello! Mira Sethi, Siddiqui said: "I have nothing to do with politics; my job is to entertain people and I will continue to do that."

He fondly recalled: "It was my third film and Sridevi's 300th and for her to still be so humble was a big thing. I cannot forget the first day on the set, she was sitting outside her vanity van when Boney (Kapoor) – the film's producer and the late actress' husband - introduced me to her. She stood up to greet me and gave me a warm welcome. She was very hospitable."

He also recalled a delicate moment. "The first day on the set, there was a pooja going on. For Sajal and me, we weren't sure how to stand there. So I observed people and just stood there in respect."

Siddiqui and Sethi agreed: such cultural interaction "humanises" both sides.

There is also the Indian films vs Pakistani dramas equation. "We watch their (Indian) movies," said Siddiqui, cheekily adding, "not their dramas. 

"They watch our dramas very enthusiastically. And it's still happening but under wraps.”

"I would like to add that when it comes to tolerance, I feel we Pakistanis are more tolerant," Siddiqui claimed and turning to the camera, he addressed Indians with a smile: "Bharat walon, thora sa tolerance level barhain” (People of India, increase your tolerance level).

Working together

It is astonishing, however, to see how Indians and Pakistanis bury their differences and work together for a British venture.

Sajal Aly has bagged a role in the British film What’s Love Got To Do With it. It doesn’t matter if the director is Shekhar Kapur, an Indian, and producer Jemima Goldsmith, the British first wife of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan.  The mixed star cast includes Emma Thompson, Lily James and Shabana Azmi. There’s speculation over the theme, though. “We do wonder, though, what the film is about. Jemima’s love? Nah… that’s a tough target to chase down.”

Joint Pakistani-Turkish production

Besides Siddiqui-Sethi's plea, Pakistan has found another way to beat the Bollywood ban by reaching out to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Pakistani programmes are being dubbed into Arabic. The first Pakistan-Turkey collaboration is a television series, which is in the works titled Lala Turkey. It dates back to the Khilafat movement launched in undivided India a century ago to protest the end of the Ottoman Empire, post-World War I.   

Part of the movement was spearheaded by Maulana Mohammad Ali Johar and Shaukat Ali Johar, and Abdur Rahman Peshawari who had gathered funds and men and had fought for the flailing Ottoman Empire. The series is based on the Lala Peshawari or more popularly known as Lala Turki, a Kashmiri migrant, who had settled in Peshawar. The series will help Pakistan to please Turkey and also touch upon its Kashmir dispute with India.  

Its episodes will be telecast simultaneously in both countries in 2023. Maliha Rehman writes in Dawn, this will help Pakistan to “finally reach the lofty heights of internationally acclaimed online content providers.”

Islam’s renaissance also gets projected in the Pakistani-Turkish venture since the spark was lit by the success of the Turkish series Diriliş: Ertuğrul, which was telecast on PTV last year with Urdu-speaking Turkish actor “flashing his sword as he vanquished the wicked, Pakistan has been smitten.”

All this should mean jobs, so how many Pakistani artists will be part of the series? “At least 50 to 60,” says Adnan Siddiqui. “It’s a story that spans both Pakistan and Turkey so a lot of Pakistani actors will be needed.” One would have to ignore the fact that the Khilafat Movement encompassed much of undivided India.

Flak for Priyanka Chopra

Priyanka Chopra made countless enemies among Pakistanis, especially on social media, when as the UN Goodwill Ambassador, she endorsed India’s annulling of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019.  Now her ‘Unfinished – A Memoir’ is being targeted.

Forget the fairly laudatory review of the book put out by Associated Press (AP). Readers’ comments on Dawn.com are just the opposite. Sample those that were recorded in the first six hours of the review being posted: “Despicable the way she favoured war, was rude to a questioner on TV and then tried to give it a spin” …. “She is looking old” … “Not old, but too old...” “Nobody cares” ….“Still she is a warmonger racist herself”….  

In Pakistan, there’s no getting away from Bollywood’s good, bad, ugly, and sad. And in the present times, it’s the political discourse involving its stars.

For one, there is a surprise at Kangana Ranaut playing former prime minister Indira Gandhi. It doesn’t matter that she has also played Rani Jhansi Lakshmibai (Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi), and Thalaivi is supposed to be the biopic of former Tamil Nadu chief minister. But Indira Gandhi?

“Unbelievable, we’d say! A fervent admirer of a bigoted political party such as the BJP, Kangana Ranaut is all set to play the part of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in a movie that’s being dubbed by the actress herself as ‘not her biopic.’

“According to Kangana R, It is a political drama that will help my generation understand the socio-political landscape of current India.”

But she is warned: “Well, well, well… Beware supporters of the Congress Party and proponents of secularism in India, this gal ain’t out there to show Indira G in a good light. As they say, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Heera Mandi

“Trust me this will be the fakest depiction of Lahore you will see on screen,” says a reader on Bollywood biggie Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heera Mandi, Lahore’s red-light area. Coming so soon after his completing Gangubai Kathiawadi, on the one in Mumbai, has raised mixed interest.

Readers and social media participants are debating whether Bhansali would confuse Mumbai culture and lingo with the one that prevailed in Lahore of yore. Would it be chaste Urdu and Punjabi of pre-Partition Lahore? Some ask Bhansali to stick to Mumbai. They speculate how genuine Lahore would be when most Bollywood films depict Lucknowi Urdu and men in a sherwani that differ from Punjab.

All in all, the discourse is enlightening and diverse. It reflects love, hate, indifference, and contempt. But there is no getting away from Pakistani fascination with Bollywood.

(The writer is President, Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA). The views are personal.  He can be contacted at mahendraved07@gmail.com)

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