Winning minds and hearts amid tensions

Turbulent relations between India and Pakistan always find a resonance in public, political, personal, artistic and cultural life of both countries. This has been going on since the 1947 partition and freedom from Britain. Though the colonial rulers had redrawn the geographical boundaries, the common culture, tradition, cuisine, family values and the way of life these people had shared together for centuries without much strain remain intact for most of the time. But they get punctured in times of conflict when emotions run high and mutual recriminations peak.

At the moment we are living in such an atmosphere. If we leave the volatile border situation to military generals and political leaders to resolve, the events that are unfolding at Indo-Pak border and the respective government’s aggressive rhetoric seem to have a churning effect on the psyche of the two neighbouring countries.

Since both Indians and Pakistanis are more sensitive than many in other countries and their response to any emotive issue is spontaneous, celebrities, men and women in public life often run into controversies which are seized by religious fanatics, regional chauvinists, jingoists and opportunists to serve their own ends.  

A side-effect of the ongoing Indo-Pak border tensions is the split in Bollywood over a call to ban Pakistani artists and technicians working in Mumbai. It all started with Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPPA) passing a resolution prohibiting the Pakistani artists from working in India, ostensibly over the Uri terrorist attack.

What is strange is, the IMPPA has moved after Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a multi-pronged campaign to isolate Pakistan. It can be construed that the Mumbai movie mughals might have taken the decision to express their solidarity with the Modi government in taking on Pakistan. Whatever the reason may be, the decision has divided the film fraternity, from directors and producers to actors, with some criticizing it and some others supporting it.

While Salman Khan, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal and Om Puri have opposed the ban, celebrities like Nana Patekar have thrown their weight behind the ban. With social media playing an active role in fuelling the controversy, the field is wide open to assent and dissent and to indulge in mud-slinging.

The issue is not who is supporting or who is opposing the ban or a call given by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena ordering Pak artists to leave the country within 48 hours but why do we overreact and drag those who are not a party to the conflict into the fray. In fact, neither the state nor the central government has asked the Pak artists to leave. If they feel it is inappropriate to stay in view of the deteriorating Indo-Pak relations they should leave; but the decision should be left to them. When there is no official fiat, the demand for their departure is nothing but pressure tactics and intimidating them.

Salman Khan’s statement that “they are artists … they come to India with visa … the government gives them the work permit” reflects this argument though the actor has drawn flak not only from his film fraternity but also from local political leaders.

Singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya has gone too far in questioning Salman’s loyalty to India.  With more and more people jumping into the fray, the issue has taken a different colour and every word is either misunderstood or interpreted in myriad ways.

Not to lag behind, on the other side of the border, Pakistanis has banned all Indian TV shows and prohibited theatres and private TV channels from showing Hindi movies. It is common knowledge that a lot of illegal Indian TV and film content makes rounds in Pakistan.

If India wants to win over ordinary Pakistanis and turn them against their own government and expose its propaganda war against this country, we should let Pak artists stay and work here. Such gesture will send a strong message to the people on the other side and fits into Modi’s ‘soft’ campaign against Pakistan. That’s a counterview worth pondering by Pak bashers.

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