At the peak of the anti-JNU, anti-nationalist debate, Vivek Agnihotri — a vocal supporter of the current government — managed to secure the release of his rather topical film, Buddha In A Traffic Jam, which attempted to alert the public to the dangers of Naxalites secretly infiltrating every pore of our education system. (I’ll leave you to discover the paranoid hysteria dripping from the film, for yourself.)
Its merits (or lack thereof) apart, one interesting aspect about it was the fact that the film used poems by celebrated Pakistani writer Faiz Ahmad Faiz. No one batted an eyelid, of course. Could it be that what so many of us say — the fact that art truly has no borders — is actually true? Alas, that doesn’t appear to be a view shared by a majority of our people.
With India-Pakistan relations finding themselves pushed to breaking point over the issue of cross-border terrorism, there is still no evident government policy regarding the travel, stay or continued work of Pakistani artists in India. Yet, it seems like the citizenry have decided to take matters in their own hands.
Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil bore the initial brunt of the anti-Pakistan jingoism sweeping India, never mind the fact that film stars one Pakistani actor, but has probably helped with the livelihood of hundreds of Indian technicians and daily-wage workers. The Jio Mami 18th Mumbai Film Festival 2016 has turned out to be next on the agenda.
After screening at Cannes earlier this year, restored Pakistani film Jago Hua Savera, written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, was scheduled to be screened in the Restored Classics section at Mami, later this month. However, in light of the ‘current situation’ — as per a press release from the festival authorities — the film has now been scrapped from the line-up. This was following a complaint filed by a Mumbai-based NGO, which seemed to have concerns that the film would cause outrage among people.
Let’s run through that one more time. At India’s premier international film festival; one that is often attended by many foreign guests, dignitaries and film lovers; a cult cinema-related event that sees cinephiles stand in lines for, quite literally, hours, before they manage to secure a seat for a film that the average citizen is likely to dismiss as not worth their time; at such a festival, an obscure NGO was afraid that a Pakistani film from 1959 would spark outrage. And mind you, this is a film that used talent from erstwhile East Pakistan, West Pakistan and India when it was made, and is set in what is now Bangladesh.
So misdirected is the grovelling of the anti-Pakistan brigade that they’ve now begun to target things completely out of their depth. Here is a film that has emerged from the forgotten depths of a cinematic culture that is in severe doldrums. Jago Hua Savera isn’t just a restored film from across the border; it is a piece of world cinema history that deserves to be showcased at India’s most revered film festival (a festival that, if you remember, has stayed afloat simply because the people who attend the festival year after year are so passionate about it.)
It is severely saddening, when we think of just how dispensable and devoid of value art is considered by a vast majority. And it is even more hurtful when phony outrage encroaches into the realm of an event that is designed because some people see cinema as a unifying factor, not a divisive one. Alas, the times have changed, and this is what we’re now left with — the mutilation of art and culture at the hands of jingoism.