After the heart-rending terror attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri on September 18, drama in Mumbai has been unfolding like a never-ending soap opera. The twists and turns in the story can give some of the most successful soaps a run for their money. While it is necessary to have diplomatic debates on terrorism and its consequences, such situations also bring along demands to end cultural tie-ups between the two countries.
Over the last week, many threats were imposed and open letters were written to Pakistani artistes working in India, asking them to leave the country if they do not condemn their own country. While Twitter was raging with many such statements and supporter posts, the worse came as a threat from the film workers association of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) on September 23 as a deadline for all Pakistani artistes working in India to leave the country in 48-hours. Threats were made to filmmaker Karan Johar, whose next Ae Dil Hai Mushkil stars Pakistani heartthrob Fawad Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Raees with Mahira Khan. Media honcho, Dr Subhash Chandra joined the Twitter bandwagon with a series of tweets condemning any relation with Pakistan on the creative front. In one of the four tweets he posted, he said, “Will not shut down Zindagi channel but revamp programming without serials from Pakistan, we will have Indian subjects of Muslim community.”
Keeping up with his tweet, Zindagi on Tuesday even announced a new line-up of shows on the channel. Next week onwards, Zindagi will enhance its slate of shows–stories from India, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Latin America and Korea, amongst others, will now be available on the channel. Addressing the conference Dr Subhash Chandra, ZEE & Essel Group chairman, said, “It’s unfortunate that we have to stop all programming from Pakistan. We, at Zee, have tried to bridge the gap for the past 24 years. However, the one-way street is not working. We took a decision in our hearts right after the Uri attack. Our team met and agreed for the same. We, at Zindagi, want to respect the sentiments of our viewers, and of our country, and that is why we had to take this step.”
“Zindagi has been the reason for the rise of a number of stars from Pakistan but when we requested them to at least condemn the attacks without naming their country, none of them came forward,” Dr Chandra further added.
Even when the police have assured every possible security measure, amidst the looming threat, the only pertinent question is–will a ban on artistes or halting cultural exchange help? Does the constant fear of being targeted not affect the artistes?
It hugely does, opines singer Kailash Kher, who often performs with musicians from the subcontinent. “These are the most unexpected things that can happen to an artiste. How can an artiste whose heart lies in the art he is associated with, think about terrorism or condemn one’s country for something he’s not responsible for. It puts a question mark on our law and order enforcement, more than anything else”, says Kher. “Threat cannot come from anybody. The government isn’t issuing a notice and asking them to leave. Anybody cannot just wake up and issue threats on the back of the power they hold. When an artiste visits another country, he comes with proper paper work, visa and permit in place, thinking the country will be hospitable to them,” he adds. According to him, a situation like this sends across a wrong message to the world about the level of security in our country.
He isn’t wrong. While the two countries have often collaborated for films, music, TV shows and other cultural activities, there have also been many instances when these were stopped. Earlier, Shiv Sena and MNS had blocked the concerts of Ghulam Ali and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Singer Ali Azmat, who lend his voice to popular songs like Garaj Baras (Paap 2003) and the sufi number Maula, was allegedly denied Visa to India many times. According to reports in Pakistan, he even gave up the idea of coming to India in 2013. The Pakistan TV channels too are banned in India. According to reports from 2010, stand-up comedian Shakeel Siddiqui, who often appeared on the hit comedy show Comedy Circus on Sony Entertainment Television, was threatened and allegedly even beaten up by MNS workers. He was pushed to the brink and left India only to comeback in 2014 for Comedy Classes on Life OK and more recently Comedy Circus Bachao on Colors.
Fawad, according to sources, left the country a month ago to be with his wife who is pregnant with their second child. A source from Colors revealed that they shot with Siddiqui a month ago and did not giving any detail of his exit from the country.
Security is a surely a concern when threats loom on artistes from across the border. Nikul Desai, the director of the comedy shows that features Siddiqui, says that Optimystix (the production house) makes sure of Siddiqui’s security. “Usually, we don’t talk about the problems he has faced/faces, but at the back end, we make sure that he is safe and sound,” says Desai, not willing to talk too much on the issue.
Johar, in an interview to a news channel, had said that he understands the anger and the anguish that surround us and he empathises with it. “My heart bleeds for lost lives. There is nothing that can justify this terrible feeling of terror. Then you face a situation such as this (asking for ban on artistes from Pakistan). If this was truly a solution, one would take it. But this is not a solution. I don't believe it is. The larger forces have to come together and sort the situation,” he said.
Some like Ashok Ahuja, distribution head, Carnival Motion Pictures and the former business head at Percept Pictures Company that was instrumental in releasing Pakistani films like Khuda Kay Liye in April 2008, marking Fawad's entry in India) and Ramchand Pakistani (August 2008)–supposedly, the first films from Pakistan to release in India after a gap of four decades–think that these situations and demands are mostly momentary. “It shouldn’t happen even momentarily but usually after a few weeks/months, or may be years, it comes back to normal,” he says as he recalls how after releasing the two Pakistani movies, the company had planned to sell it to broadcasters. “But, by then 26/11 had happened and none of them agreed to buy the movies. Much later, it was aired on Doordarshan.”
While he too is saddened by the state of affairs, he doesn’t think it affects the business of Indian projects a lot. “What will happen if Fawad isn’t around for the promotions of Ae Dil..., he is just playing a supporting role,” he says and adds that even Mahira’s absence will not make any difference as Shah Rukh Khan is shouldering Raees.
Divya Radhakrishnan, a veteran from the advertisement industry, too thinks along the same lines. Without affiliating with any political thoughts, she says that taking shows from Pakistan off-air on Zindagi will hardly cause any setback. “Zindagi was like creating an opportunity to showcase shows from Pakistan. It wasn’t something that always existed and amidst tension, it’s being uprooted. It is easily replaceable,” she says.
Kher recalls his visit to Pakistan in 2012 and the support and security he received there. “A bunch of people stood with us to take care of our security with arms in place,” he says as he adds that the Indian system should stand by the artiste too. “Every time a concert is cancelled, it just not break the heart of the fans but also the artiste who has spent so much money on procuring permit papers, coordination with organisers etc. Artistes are here to spread love and that should be respected,” Kher says.