The ban on Pakistani artistes in India has become one of the major issues being debated after the Uri attacks, that left 18 of our military personnel dead, and the consequent surgical strike across the Line of Control by the Indian Army.
The ban is one that seems to have deeply divided the Hindi film industry.
After Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena issued its dictum to all Pakistani actors to leave Indian soil within 48 hours (in the aftermath of Uri), the Indian Motion Pictures Producers' Association (IMPPA) too passed a resolution banning all Pakistani artistes and technicians from working here until bilateral tensions ease.
Bollywood actors, filmmakers et al have now found themselves at the receiving end of a microphone, being asked to declare their stance on the issue.
And what does Bollywood have to say on the subject?
Don't support the ban: Salman Khan, Karan Johar
Salman Khan isn't known to take political stands, but on this issue, for once, the superstar did have a straightforward opinion. When he was asked whether or not actors from across the border should be banned here, Khan replied: "They are artists. We have killed the terrorists. Artists are not terrorists. These are two different subjects. They come to our country after acquiring visa, and it’s our government who allows them with the work permit in our country.” He had also said, of the current tensions between the two countries: "[The] ideal situation would have been love and peace, but now it has happened, so obviously it was a reaction to some people’s action. In this day and age, I feel handling things with love and peace would have been better, especially for common people. But after Uri attacks, it seems (like) proper action because they were terrorists." Incidentally, Khan's NGO Being Human has stated its intention to help the families of the soldiers who were martyred in Uri.
In his now much-circulated interview with Barkha Dutt, filmmaker Karan Johar also addressed the issue. With his upcoming film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil featuring a cameo by Fawad Khan, Johar has been the target of the MNS' protests, and he told Dutt, "I understand the anger and the anguish that surround us and I empathise, my heart bleeds for the lost lives. There is nothing that can justify this terrible feeling of terror. Then you are faced in a situation such as this (asking for ban on Pakistani artistes). If this was truly a solution, then 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 and this cannot be banning talent or art"
Make peace, not war: Mahesh Bhatt, Ranbir Kapoor
Mahesh Bhatt had a succinct statement: "Kill terrorists not talks". Sharing his views on Twitter, Bhatt addressed a short note to our leaders: "Do not let the actions of a few violent men dictate the future of many people, like me who want peace".
Ranbir Kapoor admitted that anything he had to say might come off sounding preachy, then added, "We are living in some hard times right now. I hope that [people] don’t get swept away with the bitterness and negativity, the violence that’s happening around the world and around us.”
It's the government's prerogative, not any group or individual's: Om Puri, Varun Dhawan, Pahlaj Nihalani
Om Puri's latest project is the Pakistani film Actor In Law. The veteran actor told PTI about the move to ban Pakistani artistes: "When the government is taking an action, we all should stay quiet. It hardly matters if we send back the artists from Pakistan, who are working here, or let them stay. The actors have not come here through any illegal way. They have a valid visa. But, if the government will ask them to leave, then it is different."
Central Bureau of Film Certification Pahlaj Nihalani also raised a pertinent point in an interview with IANS, questioning what authority a body like IMPPA had to announce a ban on anyone. “Who are these people asking for a ban?" Nihalani asked. "By whose authority are they asking for this ban? Not one producer member of IMPPA is working with a Pakistani artist. The ones who stand to lose heavily from such a ban are Karan Johar and Ritesh Sidhwani, who have almost completed films with Pakistani artistes."
Dishoom may have been banned in Pakistan but its lead actor Varun Dhawan said he would follow the Indian government's lead when it did finally make a decision on whether or not Pakistani actors would be allowed to continue working here. "I follow the Indian government rules," Dhawan said. "Whatever the government thinks needs to be done, I support that. I totally stand with government of India. If banning actors can stop terrorism, they should do it. But that is something government needs to decide on first."
It was a sentiment Nawazuddin Siddiqui reiterated. "Our government has a lot of experts who look after these matters and policies. Being an artist I have no opinion on this controversy. This is not my job. The government decides it and it is their duty," Siddiqui was quoted by PTI as saying.
Let us lead by example: Saif Ali Khan, Rahul Aggarwal, Nagesh Kukunoor
Saif Ali Khan's Phantom was banned in Pakistan. However, the actor said he believed Bollywood should lead by example: "The world is open to our film industry and our film industry is open to talents from around the world especially (across the) border. We are artists who talk about love and peace,” he said.
Rahul Aggarwal's father TP Aggarwal was among those who were present at the IMPPA meeting in which the resolution to ban Pakistani artistes was passed. However, Rahul himself has expressed his disagreement with the decision and quit his role at IMPPA. Of his decision, he told BBC Asia, “Art is above politics and we should use it as a means to bring people together”.
Filmmaker Nagesh Kukonoor said art should be kept away from politics. "I have always believed that art should stand alone. Even if you take the worst periods in a nation's history, World War II, art still had its voice. I don't think the two should be mixed. Having said that, the India-Pakistan situation is an extremely complex one. We are all part of the same country. 60-70 years is a very short period to actually find some kind of peaceful common ground," he said.
The situation is too fraught for objectivity: Kangana Ranaut
When Kangana Ranaut was asked where she stood on the ban against Pakistani actors, she replied that it was too emotionally fraught a time for the nation for there to be any objective stance. "Right now, we are experiencing grave emotions of the loss of the lives of our soldiers," she told ANI. "So the country is not in that (frame of mind). It's very hard to be objective right now... (though) we hope that love and art prevail. Right now we can't expect people to be objective. It's such a big loss."
Back the ban: Randeep Hooda, Madhur Bhandarkar
Sarbjit star Randeep Hooda was of the opinion that if our strategy is to isolate Pakistan in the aftermath of Uri, then allowing a cultural exchange to take place does not make sense. "We are trying to isolate Pakistan economically and diplomatically, so the cultural isolation must follow," he tweeted.
It is only by isolation that the people of Pakistan will be able to pressurise their govt & army to act against the #terror organisations..
— Randeep Hooda (@RandeepHooda) October 1, 2016
Madhur Bhandarkar also spoke out in support of the ban. He told PTI: Definitely artists are not terrorists, and I believe that art has no boundaries, but the situation today is very different. When you see our soldiers have been killed, and the whole scenario... I feel a lot of Pakistani artists who work here they should have condemned the attacks on India over the years. When they can condemn the US attack, when they can condemn Istanbul, Paris (attacks), all those attacks then why not India? That is my problem. When Peshawar (attack) happened, everybody in India condemned it. So, if the Pakistani actors feel it is happening over here, they should at least tweet about it. Right now I think nothing is bigger than the country."
Actors don't matter. The country does: Nana Patekar
In the wake of Salman's support of Pakistani artistes, Nana Patekar was asked for his opinion the issue. He told the Financial Express: "Pakistani actors and others come later, first comes my country. Actors are like bed bugs in front of the country, we don’t have any worth. No hero can be better than the soldiers. We actors are just common people, the real heroes are our soldiers. Don’t pay attention to what we say, don’t give this much importance to anyone. And those who keep on speaking, they don’t deserve that much importance.”
Meanwhile, an opinion piece by actor Mita Vasisht has gone viral on social media. Vasisht was on the Times Now Newshour show, where the ban on Pakistani artistes was being debated. Frustrated as she wasn't allowed to speak by the host Arnab Goswami, Vasisht walked out, mid-broadcast.
Vasisht, whose father served in the Army and was part of the wars with Pakistan in 1965, '71 and '99, wrote in The Daily O: "I am not interested in Fawad Khan or Pakistani actors. Their presence or absence in Bollywood is not important. Bollywood producers cast them because they wanted to and if the producers' body is now screaming for their ouster from the country in order to display their angst about our soldiers in Uri, wouldn’t it be better if they put their energies into collecting funds for the families of the Uri martyrs? Shouldn’t our energies be directed towards actually connecting with them — the widows, children and parents of those killed? Asking how they are and what can we do for them?"
Read more coverage on the debate on Firstpost: