The Cinema Owners Exhibitors Association of India — members of whom are part of states like Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra and include both single screen and multiplex owners — on Friday 14 October, decided that they will voluntarily boycott films with Pakistani artistes (the first film to suffer is Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil).
If you calm down, and take a moment to fully read the above paragraph, you'll notice that the word 'voluntarily' is the most important one. Unlike the Udta Punjab episode (which was also not really a ban), Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is not being "banned".
COEAI president Nitin Datar told IANS after a meeting of members: "We have nothing against Karan Johar. It's just that we won't allow the release of any film which will have Pakistani actors or technicians in it."
The COEAI has over 400 members. "We have collectively taken this decision that we won't showcase such films in our single screens. As of now, we will be following this decision in Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat," Datar added.
So first and foremost, this decision affects only three states out of 29 states. So if you live anywhere but Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat, you can still possibly watch Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, and your battle will be not with cinema owners, but with so-called "nationalists" who may cause some trouble on its release day.
Secondly, if you do live in these three states, chances are multiplex owners may still release Karan Johar's films as the 400 members of the association do not constitute ALL owners of cinemas in the three states. There are some multiplexes that have done tie-ups with Dharma Productions regarding distribution of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
Which brings us to the third and most important point. This boycott is not mandatory. Neither is it state-ordered, nor it is being enforced on anyone. This is a decision taken by 400 people of a community of cinema owners, who in no way, represent the entire country.
Again, to reiterate, the only threat in this matter is vandalism and destruction of property that may occur in case cinema owners do decide to screen the film, but that still doesn't mean Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is banned. These cinema owners can still apply for police protection, and Dharma Productions has the full right to escalate this matter to the courts.
And finally, here's a quote from a Union Ministry official that should put things into perspective.
"Government of India has no problem in giving visa to any Pakistani artiste," a Home Ministry official told IANS.
"We have no problem in granting visas. If a person applies for visa and he fulfills the conditions, he gets it. It's not that we don't have to issue visa to Pakistani nationals," he added.
In the wake of this faux-nationalist sentiment, the real thing we should be outraging about is how we think the solution to ending cross border terrorism is banning a film from being screened.
A blanket cultural ban, albiet mandatory, is not a sign of patriotism. Stopping the screening of a film that stars one Pakistani actor and is the work of hundreds of Indian technicians and crew members, is not patriotism.
(With inputs from IANS)