My dear friend Anupam Kher had a very busy evening on Tuesday.
He was on every major news channel trying to keep his temper in check as supporters of a liberal policy-approach to Pakistan — or were they simply freebie fanatics impatient to head to Karachi for a lit-fest and some Mughlai cuisine? — argued nonsensically about Anupam “looking for it” by constantly speaking against the intolerance debate and for making alleged anti-Pakistani statements.
This is, according to me, pure hokum. I have nothing against Pakistan personally — and I have come across lovely people and great artistes from across the border. But why should we visit a country that is selective about its hospitality? Do we need Pakistan’s approval for what Anupam Kher or anyone else says in their home country before being invited there?
It’s shameful that we continue to host actors and musicians from across the border, and not just for one event, we even provide them with alternative careers in Bollywood since they don’t have opportunities at home. And yet when it comes respecting our great artistes, they fall short by a wide mark.
If, as the cultural ambassadors of cross-border peace believe, politics should not be mixed with art, then why was Anupam denied a visa allegedly for his strong political views on the culture of rhetorics on intolerance? It’s a little selfish to be attending a literary festival in a country which continues to send terrorists to plunder our country. How can we break bread with those who want to break our country?
This brings us to the debate that occupies Bollywood’s most liberal minds. Should we welcome Pakistani’s actors and musicians when the attitude from the other end is, at the most, one of suspicious cordiality?
Singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya, who may be the self-appointed motor-mouth of the music world, seems to have found unexpected support for his campaign to ban Pakistani artistes from Bollywood. When he says we don’t “need” Pakistani artistes in Bollywood he echoes the sentiments of a lot of folks from the Indian entertainment industry.
Singer Anoop Jalota opened up a Pandora’s Box when he confessed he had no intentions of going to Pakistan to perform, not now, not ever.
Other even more iconised Indian singers and musicians have said the same to me in secret. “Suppose something untoward happens?” a legendary singer shuddered.
And bravado be damned.
One can understand their reluctance to come out in the open with their absolute refusal to be seen on Pakistani soil. After all, in some circles of our country’s intelligentsia, it is eminently fashionable to wear ‘We Love Pakistan’ t-shirts. Just as talking of eating beef has suddenly become a popular form of protest among liberal Hindus.
Reality, as they say, bites. Sometimes in morsels. Even Salman Khan with all his overtures across the border in Bajrangi Bhaijaan didn’t finally make it to across Pakistan to promote the film.
The truth is, there is fear, apprehension, suspicion, hostility and yes, hatred among people on both sides of the border.
Bollywood is not willing to take risks any more.
Similarly, we are not willing to send Lata Mangeshkar to Pakistan even if the government there promises her safety. Even today at age 84, she gets hordes of requests on twitter from fans in Pakistan to visit the country.
A very well-known Bollywood filmmaker, who hero-worships Lataji and Ashaji reasons, “We’d never want them to risk it. I think eminent artistes like Gulzar sa'ab and Naseeruddin Shah, who keep visiting Pakistan and speak of the warmth they receive from the people there, miss the point . The ones who are liable to target our artistes are not the ones who invite Gulzar saab and Naseer saab home for biryani and intellectual conversations . The terrorists ranks are separate lobby. They are not fans of Lataji, let me assure you of that.”
A well-known music composer famous for his toe-tapping robust raga-reggae unions says, “I’ve had at least 5-6 invitation to perform in Pakistan. To be frightfully honest, I am scared. And I’d be petrified if Lataji went. It’d be like sending the Kohinoor to bhendi bazaar."
Get your act together, Pakistan. Then only we’ll think of Bajrangi Bhaijaan as more than just a glorious bout of fantasy.