Boycotting Ae Dil Hai Mushkil: Art cannot be held hostage to India-Pakistan politics
Ae Dil Hai Mushqil.
It is indeed difficult to remind some hotheads of a maxim that has endured the test of time: Art has no boundary, no religion. As Canadian songwriter KD Lang said, "Art knows no prejudice, no biases. So just go, just go."
That's what I intend to do. A multiplex nearby will screen Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushqil this Diwali. First day, if not the first show, it will be. Just go.
Frankly, only a fool would miss a movie with lilting music, an impressive star cast and promos that promise great entertainment just because some zealots want it banned to hit Karan Johar for casting Pakistani actors.
Fundamentally, the idea of seeking a ban on an Indian film because it features Pakistani artistes is absurd. It is as insane as cutting the nose to spite the face. (Or typing out social media messages on Chinese handsets for boycotting Chinese goods.)
The film has been made for an Indian audience, with Indian money — financed perhaps by legitimate Indian institutions — and may have already been bought by Indian distributors for screening in Indian theatres. Banning it would be tantamount to hitting dozens of Indian interests to get back at just one Pakistani artist. Like nuking a whole Indian industry to kill one Pakistani pigeon that may have flown back after eating a few Indian grains. Great bargain, no?
The other argument, that a ban would teach Karan Johar a lesson, is hilarious. As Anurag Kashyap rightly pointed out, the film was launched around the time Indians were chanting Aman Ki Asha with Pakistan and our Prime Minister was busy making pit-stops at Nawaz Sharif's farmhouse, exchanging shawls and assorted fruit baskets. What's Johar's fault if he got swept away by the bon homie and cast Fawad Khan in his film?
For arguments sake, tomorrow if the Indian government decides to travel on the bus to Lahore, as Vajpayee did, or invite Nawaz Sharif to an oath ceremony in Uttar Pradesh, will it become legitimate again to cast Pakistani actors? Will the deshdrohis of today automatically turn into deshbhakts and vice versa?
Nobody knows when India and Pakistan will nuke each other out of existence. But starving art and culture of ideas from across border will definitely annihilate it.
It is petty of us to think that by letting Pakistani artistes work in Indian films we are somehow denigrating ourselves, harming national interest. In fact, when a Pakistani comes and seeks work and identity in our industry, wants to become part of our culture, reach out to our masses, it automatically underlines the fact that India is the dream destination for artistes from the neighbouring country.
It shows, we are the promised cultural El Dorado of the region. At the risk of sounding jingoistic, it won't be wrong to argue that Pakistanis queuing up in Bollywood showcase our cinematic superiority, a war won without a single shot being fired. So, let artists from the region come and work here, experience the grandeur of our film industry, its liberal values and tell their country of our cultural richness, our soft power.
Art can never survive in isolation. It needs a continuous supply of fresh ideas, contributions from cross-cultures. Indian music and poetry, for instance, borrows heavily from Persian and Sufi traditions. Khwaja Muinuddin Chishty and Amir Khusrau not just contributed heavily to Indian art but redefined it. Guru Nanak Dev, whose first famous words after enlightenment were ''there is no Hindu, there is no Muslim", based his hymns on syncretism and multi-culturism.
The point is: Nobody knows when India and Pakistan will nuke each other out of existence. But starving art and culture of ideas from across border will definitely annihilate it.
Our great film-makers and artists were always aware of the fact that India and Pakistan, though rivals and even enemies, had a lot to contribute to each other's art. Even the doyen of pop patriotism Manoj 'Bharat' Kumar, the man who turned subtle chest-thumping into an art form knew this. So, after all his Shaheeds,Upkaars and Purabs and Paschims, Bharat Kumar opened the doors of the film industry to Pakistani actors by casting them in his Clerk. India's greatest showman Raj Kapoor's dream was to produce a cross-border romance starring a Pakistani heroine, an idea that was implemented by his sons with Zeba Bakhtiar as Henna.
Meanwhile, music flowed freely across the border, making Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan, Noor Bano, Abida Parween, Nusrat Ali Khan as much a part of India's heritage as Mukesh, Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar were of Pakistan. (In 1987, every time Pakistani cricket team appeared on the field, its fans would raise a din in stadiums singing 'Aa Dekhe Zara', a RD Barman war-cry from Sanjay Dutt's Rocky).
So, now that we are on a banning/boycott spree, will we put plugs into our ears when we hear Noorjahan singing Chandni Raatein, or smash the radio set if an anti-national RJ plays Ranjish hi sahi? Will we ask Pakistan to strip its singers like Aamanat Ali Khan (Patiala Gharana) and Mehdi Hassan (Mewati Gharana) of their cultural roots? Will we ban Saare Jahan Se Achcha (astronaut Rakesh Sharma's first words to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from space) just because it was penned by Mohammed Iqbal?
Then why go after Karan Johar alone?
Art, it must be said at the risk of repetition, exists only to serve the purpose of art; it caters only to individual taste and yearnings. It can't be held hostage by politics, war hysteria and bigotry of a few. It can't be dictated by the mood swings of a country's diplomats. For, politicians come and go, hysterias rise and abate, but art survives forever.
There is, and will be, just one valid criterion for judging a work of art: its quality. And to find out whether Johar's latest cinema is what the promos promise, first day it has to be.
The hypocrites who think watching an Indian film in an Indian theatre insults our soldiers can always wait for the pirated version to appear on one of the banned torrent sites.