Ban on Pakistani artists: Vivek Agnihotri on why you cannot separate art from politics - Firstpost
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Ban on Pakistani artists: Vivek Agnihotri on why you cannot separate art from politics

"Art, literature, entertainment has no religion and nation. However, artists, authors and entertainers do have religion and nation."

- Charlie Chaplin.

The other day, I was invited to a panel discussion on Arnab Goswami’s News Hour. Since one hardly gets to speak in that hour-and-a-half, this show gives me lot of time to listen to a lot of arguments and introspect on issues. That night the debate was on the ‘Ban on Pakistani Artists’. I tried to gather all the arguments made by a lot of my colleagues in Bollywood and I found myself disagreeing with almost all of them.

‘Don’t ban Pakistani artists, they aren’t terrorists’

First, none of our governments — Centre or state — have declared such a ban.

Second, we all know that artists are not terrorists.

All of us talk at home, at work, in parties, on TV channels about terrorism and Pakistan, but then we move on with our lives. Very often, we discuss these issues, like we discuss the weather, believing that we have no control over them. I believe a country is not made by its government. It’s a product of its collective vision and collective endeavor. The government is us and not an alien power over us. If we feel we have no control over anything, it’s because the elites who control the narrative have made us believe that we are hapless. This is not true.

File image of Vivek Agnihotri. Image provided by the author

File image of Vivek Agnihotri. Image provided by the author

Isn’t it true that despite Pakistan’s hostility towards us and its consistent efforts to break up Kashmir we have been running campaigns like ‘Aman Ki Asha’? For the past 30 years, they have been funding, training and supporting terrorists to cause mayhem in India. These terrorists, with the backing of Pakistan’s military, Inter-Services Intelligence and the government have attacked Parliament, Mumbai, Pathankot and killed thousands of our innocent citizens and soldiers.

As a result of Pakistan’s sinister designs, we have never been able to single-mindedly focus on development as most of our resources and political currency is wasted in fighting insurgency and separatism in Kashmir. Still, we have created dedicated channel of Pakistani serials and made their artists our heroes. Not because of the government, but due to the collective efforts of each citizen of India.

Since the barbaric Uri attack, where 19 of our soldiers were burnt to death, while sleeping, our government has been trying to isolate Pakistan in the world — politically, militarily and economically. When such efforts are on, then it is an undeclared state of war. In such a situation, how can the citizens of Pakistan be allowed to work in India? When Pakistan is threatening us with nuclear attacks and the splintering of Kashmir, how can we be at peace, doing the business of mutual entertainment? Also, in a war or war-like situation isn’t it a citizen’s duty to support its government’s strategy?

We are Mahatma Gandhi’s country and we have learnt that the most powerful tool to fight for the truth is non-cooperation. It’s India’s turn to assert itself through no-exchange of people, resources and communication. That they happen to be actors is inconsequential.

Terrorism isn’t a political point. It’s a moral issue. A human issue. It’s time we take a stand! Speak. Discuss. Act. It’s high time now!

‘They are on a legal visa’ and ‘Condemning terror is their Freedom of Expression’

It’s a sad commentary that when our forces are fighting Pakistan bred terrorists and losing lives almost every day at the LoC, we are only talking about visas, work permits and money.

Fawad Khan, Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan have a mass following. And when they talk, people listen. We should constructively ask them and all the artists from Pakistan who work in our country to take a stand on these issues. Do you support the act? Or don’t you? And if not, what would you like to say to your fellow countrymen? In addition to creating works of art, the artist is also a citizen and a human being. Terrorism isn’t a political point. It’s a moral issue. A human issue. It’s time we take a stand! Speak. Discuss. Act. It’s high time now!

'Art and artists should be protected from politics'

Should we subject art and artists to political interference or protect art and artists from politics at the cost of isolating the political character of art and its broader and meaningful connection with life? Art does not exist in a vacuum. Artists need the resonance of their work in the society that subscribes to their work. So this very argument doesn’t hold good. Art and artistic expression are very important in forging group solidarity, a sense of belonging and common purpose. They also are means of overcoming fear and anxiety in trying situations.

During the 1965 and 1971 wars, our artists collectively helped boost the morale of our army. This was the era when we were making a lot of anti-establishment, leftist movies but when we got into the war situation, the same artists created a collective and united narrative, articulating who we are, where we came from, what we stood for and what we were against. Art forms part of the text and texture of a society’s politics. In fact, I am of the view that our artists are dangerously isolated from the politics and the society of our times.

'Our job is to only entertain'

Not really.

Then what’s the difference between circus and art? Our job is to inspire, enlighten and stimulate emotionally or intellectually. To give insights. But this is where most of our Bollywood’s work fails. Being an avid traveller, I have learnt that If you are travelling to a new country, pick up their latest magazines and a few films and you will get a fair idea about their society, politics, food, architecture, fashion and relationships.

Unfortunately, if someone is travelling to India and picks up four or five of our mainstream films, he or she will learn more about London and New York than India. This shows that gradually, Bollywood has not only isolated itself from politics but also from the society to which it caters, and especially from the common man and his concerns. This is why, in this moment of national crisis, whereas the first concern should have been safety of the country, its soldiers and the fellow citizens, the first concern for some was ‘Pakistani artists’. This also justifies the common man’s anger towards Bollywood.

Bollywood doesn’t take our society seriously and society also doesn’t it seriously.

I also have a problem with our media. It attaches too much importance to what some of our artists and Pakistani artists are saying. In such sensitive political matters, we should look for competent comments rather than utter ignorance. It’s time to collectively and unitedly create a narrative that is against terrorism. I am asking all of us to think carefully and clearly.

For if we are all being herded into actions that will make the world even more dangerous than it is now, we will later regret that we went along silently and did not raise our voices as citizens to ask, "How can we get at the roots of this problem? Is it right to groom innocent children to become suicide bombers?" As artists we can all do something: We can speak up.

The author is filmmaker, writer and motivational speaker. He is the founder of#IAmBuddha and School of Creativity. He tweets at @vivekagnihotri

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