Since the Uri Attack, I have very consciously blocked out all conversations about the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan. Even when Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena issued a diktat to all Pakistani actors to leave India and the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association (IMPAA) subsequently banned all Pakistani technicians and artistes from working in India, I kept my head buried in the sand.
I am a fauji’s daughter. My father served in the Indian Navy during the 1971 war. I grew up in various Navy Nagars along the coast.
My most abiding memory from kindergarten is planning the destruction of Pakistan with my classmates. If memory serves me correctly, water from the Ganga was our weapon of choice and a friend’s father (a naval aviator) was going drop it over Pakistan. For days, we refined this top secret mission while playing hopscotch. This is one of those childhood memories that makes me very sad now. Not only did our five-year-old minds understand hate, but Pakistan was an enemy we wanted to completely obliterate.
Fast forward to the summer of 1999. As the Kargil War proceeded, I started spotting familiar names in the news. Names that were accompanied with the words ‘late’ and ‘martyred’. Friends, not much older than me, died in active duty fighting an enemy I knew well. A year later, while I was still coming to terms with their untimely deaths, I received news that a close friend was shot at by militants along the border.
There is not a smidgeon of doubt in my mind about how I feel about our neighbour.
And, yet when Pakistani actors and musicians were banned, I was torn. Over the years, I have met many Pakistan artists — Bilal and Faizal from the band Strings, Ali Zafar, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and most recently, Fawad Khan. Each one of them came across as unfailingly polite, eager to work in India and immensely talented.
As Bollywood grows, the call of Hindi films is getting stronger and it’s only natural that artistes and technicians from across the world are answering. Nargis Fakhri moved to Mumbai from New York; Jacqueline Fernandez came from Bahrain. Oscar-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter (Titanic, Charlie’s Angels and more recently, Jobs and Ant Man) came to India to shoot Leena Yadav’s Parched and the go-to hairdresser for Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma is Gabriel Georgiou, an Australian of Greek descent.
Pakistani artistes are answering the same call. They are talented and we have use for their talent. Forget working together to promote ‘love and peace’; it’s basic economics. If Fawad Khan ‘sells’, why shouldn’t a Bollywood director cast him?
Earlier this week, I saw an open letter by an army veteran and popular prime time TV face supporting the ban on actors. Major Gaurav Arya (retd) wrote:
You cannot make films, play cricket and do business as if everything is fine, because it is not. It makes the soldier wonder aloud, “Why should I alone bear the weight of conflict?”
If India is playing hockey with Pakistan days after the Uri attack, then why can’t Rahat Fateh Ali Khan record a song for a film? The Indian Embassy is still functioning in Islamabad; news channels on which Arya regularly appears, still invite Pakistani analysts; and trade continues between the two countries, so why is Bollywood under so much pressure to distance itself from its Pakistani artistes?
There is a view that Pakistani 'artistes will be able to pressure their government and army to act against terror organisations'. I appreciate the sentiment but to think that Fawad Khan and co will be able to coerce the Pakistani Army not to engage with terror outfits is extremely naïve. In which country has an actor or a singer been able to pressurise their government or army? More than a hundred Hollywood heavyweights including Matt Damon, Uma Thurman, Samuel L Jackson, Jessica Lange, Martin Sheen wrote a letter to George W Bush in 2002 urging him to not start a war with Iraq. What happened next did not shock anyone. The US attacked Iraq and forever changed the geopolitical scenario in West Asia.
Just because I am against the ban doesn’t mean that I am pro-Pakistan or anti-India. It just means that I have finally realised that I don’t hate Pakistan, merely the elements in its politics and army that shelter terrorists.
The author tweets @karishmau