Pakistan's Bollywood fixation reveals its society's fault lines

Pakistani media and celebrities from the entertainment world cannot help but follow Bollywood shenanigans, writes Mahendra Ved for South Asia Monitor

Mahendra Ved Oct 12, 2020
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A thin line always exists within Pakistan’s domestic politics and diplomacy and cultural ties with India, the latter significantly represented by Bollywood, as the Hindi film industry is known the world over. Now, the film industry has taken academic relevance too with a counter-view presented by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who of late has been frequently commenting on the Hindi film industry by equating Bollywood with Hollywood, and commenting on "vulgarity" that these films showcase, which he stresses, is opposed to Islamic piety.

Blaming entertainment industry for crimes in any society, if coming from the highest in the government, is certainly unbecoming and inappropriate. For entertainment is an integral part of society, if not exactly a fundamental right. The ideal situation in the present century is that while not participating in it or seeking to control its levers, the state should facilitate it.   

Khan's views should cause worry as while ordering a fresh blueprint for reviving his country's sagging cinema industry on one hand, Khan appears to have tilted towards misplaced conservatism. And one is not talking of his earlier views showing preference for the Turkish brand of entertainment, currently represented by the immensely popular TV series Ertrugal that he has lauded for depicting "Islamic renaissance" in the 13th century.    

Looking inwards in a recent interview to a private TV channel, Khan blamed moral degradation in Pakistani society on “Westernisation through the entertainment industry.” He pointed to, in his perception, how the twin phenomena had “contributed to India becoming the ‘rape capital of the world.'”

Finding a basic ‘flaw’ in Khan’s argument and his apparent clubbing of ‘Westernisation’ with Bollywood and crime, Umair Javed, who teaches politics and sociology at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and writer, in his column in Dawn (October 5, 2020) wondered: “Was Bollywood insidiously at play in decaying American society 200 years ago?”

Responding to Khan’s lamenting of the destruction of traditional family values (read patriarchy) and violence against women in the eastern societies, scholar-writer Javed asks: “For starters, violence against women and other such acts clubbed together as moral degradation have taken place for centuries, prior to any form of globalisation, and certainly prior to the advent of Bollywood.

“The same forms of societal violence also took place even when societies such as ours were wholly organised along the lines of ‘traditional family structures’, again whatever these may be. Thus the correlation being drawn by local conservatives does not hold up to scrutiny.”
 
Kangana Ranaut and Bollywood

There were echoes across the border of the wordy duels that Bollywood star Kangana Ranaut has been having with Indian politicians and fellow-artistes. Amid a backlash against her abrasive comments on veteran actor Jaya Bachchan and other actresses like Urmila Matondkar, and Bollywood in general, Kangana has claimed that she has a record of never starting a fight, and is ready to quit Twitter if anyone can prove otherwise.

“Her behaviour is becoming bitter and bitter by the day, so much so that we think if things keep going on like this, she might have to consume a lot of sugar. The actress has alleged that 99 percent of those who work in Bollywood use drugs. Seriously? This, of course, hasn’t gone down well with many of her colleagues. One of them is Raveena Tandon. In her response to Kangana R’s accusation, she wrote on Twitter, “Few bad apples cannot spoil a basket. Likewise, our industry also has the good and the bad.” Right on Raveena T. And even if anyone believes what Kangana R is saying, surely she is not suggesting that she’s in the one percent minority.  

“Puff, puff…” the article in Dawn said. But Pakistani media and celebrities from the entertainment world cannot help but follow Bollywood shenanigans.

Kangana has earned disapproval from a celebrity not connected with cinema but has cricket connections. "You may not start fights, but you’re not exactly Mother Teresa, now, are you?" Shaniera Akram has tweeted. Shaniera is an Australian social worker based in Pakistan and is the wife of former Pakistani cricketer Wasim Akram.  

Kareena Kapoor Khan and her equally famous son Taimur

The nepotism issue in Bollywood is also keenly followed, although no comparisons with one’s own are attempted so far. The Express Tribune says the issue “doesn’t seem to die down. The media has taken a keen interest in actress Kareena Kapoor Khan’s statement that her son, Taimur, who is the most photographed kid in India will become a movie star just because of parents are or will grow up to be a successful person just because his parents are successful people.

“She insists that she and hubby Saif Ali Khan will not help him in any way, and he has to find his own path in life. Hmmm … So while Taimur is trying to find his path, suddenly the world will suffer from amnesia, forgetting that he is the son of two extremely famous individuals who are super-rich?”

Using Sushant Singh Rajput’s name to get publicity

Pakistanis never seem to forget a compatriot who has crossed over to India, especially if he/she has found a place in Bollywood.

Crooner-composer Adnan Sami has gone a step further. He has renounced his Pakistani citizenship and opted for India. So, he gets a taste of his tune.

“It seems that the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case and the hullabaloo around it will take some time to end. We say this because everyone who has even a modicum of a stake in Bollywood is weighing in on the topic. For example, Adnan Sami Khan (who was once a Pakistani, got all the fame from here and now lives in India) has said that the psychiatrists speaking about the late actor’s mental health are seeking free publicity. Just like you, Adnan SK, perhaps? Aren’t you too trying to get the attention of the likes of bigoted TV anchor Arnab Goswami? Reminds us of your song, Thorri si tau lift kara de…

Sonu Nigam and his love for Pakistani musicians

Away from things controversial, the media in Pakistan is all praise for art and artists and are sending cultural fly-kisses despite the borders and boundaries separating them. Bollywood crooner Sonu Nigam has been making headlines for appreciating talent and music from Pakistan.

He recently showered praise on an eight-year-old Hadiya's talent in Nescafe Basement's power-packed 'Bol Hu' performance, lauding the child and appreciating his musical piece visibly teary-eyed.

Sonu took to social media to shared a throwback picture, as he reminisced about his time spent with Pakistan’s Sajjad Ali, whose music and graciousness he said he holds in extremely high regard. Sharing a picture on Instagram dated back to March, the playback singer shared a warm note regarding the first digital live concert, melting fans' hearts from both India and Pakistan.

"Incidentally one of the most respected singers and musicians of all times and my personal favourite Sajjad Ali bhai was there too with his son and it was so sweet of him to wait till I arrive so we may meet for the first time in our lives," he posted.

"And then we chatted for an hour and a half. Sharing some memorable pictures of that beautiful evening. For people who don't know, his Katna Nai is one of my family's most favourite songs and so was covered by my exceptionally talented sister Teesha Nigam," the music composer added.

However, Sonu also revealed how he had reached out to Ali and was overwhelmed by his response.

"I wanted to go about it absolutely respectfully and thus I called Sajjad bhai to seek his permission for the same. It was very very gracious of him to not just give us permission for the same but not even charge for it! That's called true graciousness," he exclaimed.

We couldn't be prouder and happier for our shining stars!

As a random sampling of news and views -in just one month and no more -- from Pakistani media in September would show that no matter the differences, even violent ones, in other areas of conflict and rivalry, the common subcontinental culture binds more than divides, misdirected prime ministerial views notwithstanding.     

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