Ae dil hai mushkil: Finding out the cost of hostility from artistes on both sides of the border

Traditionally, India and Pakistan have kept their cultural exchanges alive through wars and deep sulks. But now, political pressure forces Indian filmmakers to take hardened positions.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul | Updated: October 23, 2016 12:26 pm
ae dil hai mushkil, ae dil hai mushkil release. ae dil hai mushkil ban, fawad khan, pakistani actors, pak actors, india pakistan, pak actor ban, india news,pakistan news “We understand that Indians are angry that their soldiers were killed in Uri but why target artistes for it? We don’t support terrorism,” says Usman Peerzada, a prominent theatre figure in Pakistan who has visited India several times (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

Clogged roads during rush-hour, the mad frenzy of an urban city, a vibrant street food culture and a rich dose of glamour. When Nasir Khan was in Mumbai this February for the sound-mix and colour-grading of his film, Bachaana, the city felt no different from Karachi, which the Lahore resident often visits. Conversations with locals during the long hours spent at the studio and the rickshaw rides back to his hotel lent a certain intimacy to his 17-day stay in Mumbai. In short, Khan felt “at home”.

Today, back in Pakistan, the filmmaker is struggling to explain to his friends that the India they hear about, which had overnight labelled him an “outsider”, is not what it really is. “Until now, people on both the sides of the border knew that differences between the two countries were largely political. But this ban by the Indian film industry (where they have pledged not to work with any Pakistani actor) has made Pakistanis feel unwelcome,” he says, adding that heated debates on news channels and fast-spreading rumours about the treatment of their artistes are all deeply disturbing to most Pakistanis.

In the wake of the nationalistic fervour triggered by the terrorist attack in Uri this September, the Indian film and entertainment industry has been subjected to intense pressure and, as many allege, succumbed without a fight.

It began late last month, when the Zee Group announced that they would stop airing syndicated Pakistani dramas on their channel, Zindagi. The network’s head, Subhash Chandra, said in one of his tweets: “Zee has been the only supporter of Pak artists. They either condemn terrorist acts, if they cannot do that, leave.”

This sentiment gathered force when the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPPA) called for a ban on working with Pakistani artistes. Pushed against the wall by threats from Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India (COEAI) went a step further and asked its members to boycott the release of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which has Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in a key role. The situation has been on a downward spiral ever since. On Saturday, the MNS rolled back its threat of blocking the film following a “deal” with the producers that they would not engage Pakistani actors in the future and pay Rs 5 crore as “penance” to the Army welfare fund. But it’s not over yet. The cinema owners’ association is still to end its boycott of the film.

Cinema owners in Pakistan have retaliated by taking off all Indian films playing in their theatres and announced an indefinite ban. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), too, has asked all TV and radio channels to stop airing Indian content.

This severing of cultural ties between the two countries is bound to cause a dent in the revenues of the entertainment industry. A number of films with Pakistani artistes as part of their crew are currently in production. After Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Johar’s mega Diwali release, Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees, with Pakistani actor Mahira Khan playing the leading role, is lined up for release. The production of a film, with actress Sridevi in the lead and two Pakistani actors in key roles, has been halted for now. There is one film with a music director from across the border and several others that have recorded songs with Pakistani singers.

Though the stand-off between the MNS and film industry has been resolved for now, the exhibitors continue to be defiant.

According to Mukesh Bhatt, head of The Film & Television Producers’ Guild of India, if the problems continue, Bollywood stands to lose over Rs 300 crore. If COEAI and its nearly 700 theatres go ahead with their boycott call, Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil can suffer a loss of up to over Rs 75 crore this festive season.

The damage, however, isn’t limited to India. Trade pandits point to a larger figure when they take into account the ban on Indian content in Pakistan. Zain Wali, a distributor of Indian films in Pakistan, says the country is the third largest territory — after US-UK and UAE — for Hindi films. According to figures, close to 20 Hindi films release in Pakistan every year, raking in revenues of Rs 100-200 crore. Big-budget Indian films make as much money as Pakistan’s highest grossers. In July, the Salman Khan-starrer Sultan earned over Rs 30 crore in Pakistan.

Most of these films eventually air on TV networks, further adding to the revenue. Popular Indian film stars have a strong following in small towns and rural areas of Pakistan. However, the TV viewership is chiefly geared towards Indian TV soaps, which are syndicated and aired on Pakistani networks. “The social demographic in both the countries is similar, therefore the tear-jerker shows work as well in Pakistan as they do in India,” explains an official from an Indian TV network who does not wish to be identified.

Each episode of an Indian serial can rake in anything between US $700 and $1,500, depending on the popularity of the show. “With reality shows, we buy the rights to entire seasons,” Mohammad Jerjes Seja, the CEO of Pakistan’s ARY Digital Network, which has aired seven seasons of Bigg Boss so far. “We were to launch the ongoing season last week but had to replace it with local content after PEMRA issued the order. So we too stand to lose,” he explains.

Experts, however, say that it would be misleading to evaluate the damage purely in terms of numbers. The greater damage, they say, is the loss of goodwill.

Much like Bachaana director Nasir Khan, several Pakistani artistes, especially those who have had a long-standing relationship with India, are disappointed at the recent statements made by members of the Indian film industry. They believe it has been unfair on India’s part to sacrifice cultural exchanges at the altar of nationalistic sentiment.

“India and Pakistan have always shared a troubled relationship but the cultural exchange never stopped. Even during difficult times, we continued to screen Indian films in theatres and TV shows on our channels. India, too, didn’t shut its doors on Pakistani artistes this way. We understand both the sentiment of the people and the possible pressure the industry is faced with, but we do feel hurt at this penalising of our artistes,” says Parvez Karim, a screenwriter in Pakistan.

Usman Peerzada, a prominent theatre figure in Pakistan, points out that Indian artistes have regularly visited Pakistan and been welcomed there. “A few years ago, we brought a group that performed the Mahabharata. We were initially unsure about the possible response but people loved it and the shows were packed. We have welcomed a variety of artistes in the past and never have we closed our doors on them because of what was happening at the border. This is the only way to keep alive the goodwill between people,” says Peerzada, who has been invited to the National School of Drama several times. “We understand that Indians are angry that their soldiers were killed in Uri but why target artistes for it? We don’t support terrorism. In fact, people in Pakistan are as much the victims of terrorism as Indians. We, too, are losing our people in blasts and attacks aimed at civilians,” he says.

Peerzada confesses that he too had to bend “in these circumstances” and cancel the Pakistan tour of a couple of Indian theatre groups. “I can promise their safety here but I cannot guarantee what they may face back home,” he says.

While the two countries have always had cultural exchanges, the trend of Bollywood engaging Pakistani artistes began in the early 2000s. Bhatt was among the first filmmakers to use talent from across the border. In fact, his production house, Vishesh Films, introduced Rahat Fateh Ali Khan as a playback singer in Paap in the early 2000s. In the years that followed, Atif Aslam made a debut in India with Onir’s Bas Ek Pal (2006) and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy introduced Shafqat Amanat Ali with Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006).

“When the UPA government came into power with Manmohan Singh, they launched an initiative that encouraged cultural exchange as a means of building bridges between the two countries. Bollywood has since worked extensively with artistes from Pakistan,” says Bhatt.

Pakistan, too, has often used talent from India, with 10-12 filmmakers flying to Mumbai for post-production and editing of their films. “Pakistanis use Dubai, Thailand or India as their post-production destination. India works best for us because our cinemas share the same language,” explains director Reema Kahan, who first came to India in 2005 to work on her film, Koi Tujh Sa Kahaan. In the years since, she has brought three of her films to India for sound mixing and colour grading, spending close to US $50,000 on each project.

For his debut, Bachaana, a love story between an Indian and a Pakistani that Nasir Khan shot in Mauritius, he hired half his crew from India for their “technical prowess”. The filmmaker also screened his documentary, Made in Pakistan, at the 2010 edition of the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image’s Mumbai Film Festival. So it “pains him” to see that a classic from his country, Jago Hua Savera, was excluded from the ongoing edition of the festival. “Isn’t cinema supposed to cut across boundaries?” he asks. But as Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif, in his recent column for The New York Times, wrote, “being a peacenik has become unfashionable”.

So even those who had once stood up to talk peace are now speaking another language.

After back-to-back meetings with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Bhatt pledged that the Producers’ Guild would not work with or sign any Pakistani talent in the future.

He now says that the move follows a long period of “tolerance”. “The Pakistani artistes need to put pressure on their government to take action against terrorists and ask them to stop harbouring them. Until that happens or unless Pakistan takes concrete steps to curb terrorism, we will not work with artistes from across the border,” he asserts.

The video by Karan Johar, released earlier this week, where he “assured the people of India” that he will not work with any Pakistani artiste in future, has further hurt sentiments. While the liberals in India view the video as feeble kowtowing under sustained pressure from the MNS and other such outfits, their counterparts in Pakistan see in Johar’s video a breach of the unspoken contract between the artistes of the two countries to use culture as a means to build bridges.

“We can see Karan Johar took this extreme step under political pressure. But we also know that Indian political parties often resort to Pakistan-bashing whenever an election is nearing, and people fall for it. In contrast, Pakistani parties don’t fall back on anti-India rhetoric for votes,” says an artiste who has worked in Bollywood but does not wish to be named.

Maharashtra, in particular, has witnessed several anti-Pakistan waves, with the Shiv Sena and the MNS fuelling such sentiments. In the past, they have forced the cancellation of several shows by Pakistani artistes, including one by the popular band Junoon. The Pakistani cricket team has not played in Maharashtra since 1987. Recently, their kabaddi team could not participate in the World Cup finals in Mumbai.

Randhir Roy of Panache Media, which brings international artistes to India for live shows, says that with a single cancellation, the loss to the organisers can run into lakhs. He says when ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali’s shows last year were called off under threats from the Shiv Sena, they had sold out all tickets for Rs 22 lakh. “When the shows were cancelled, we returned the money to the audience but the organisers lost the money they had spent on the set-up, lighting etc.”

Roy recounts how pained Ali had been by the incident. “We were sitting in Delhi the following morning and Ghulam Ali sahab turned to me and asked, ‘Why is there such hatred towards me in the hearts of people here?’ It was very sad to see him this disturbed, and it took some amount of explaining that the cancellation of shows was a practical decision, and not because his fans had turned haters. I could console him then but I know that Maharashtra will never see Ghulam Ali perform live again. And that’s the bigger loss.”

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First Published on: October 23, 2016 1:43 am
  1. I
    Ikok
    Oct 23, 2016 at 5:11 am
    Bollywood on destructiom path like the country itself.. Please elect this party again if India survived till next election
    Reply
    1. I
      indian
      Oct 23, 2016 at 3:48 am
      Our soldiers are dying because of stan's support for terrorists. All this writer sees is money lost.
      Reply
      1. K
        KatrKatrina
        Oct 23, 2016 at 4:15 am
        Why are Hindus living in Muslim Middle East countries and reaping benefits, why do they die to go there and live a life of luxuries, Hindus are ungrateful breeds
        Reply
        1. T
          Thomas
          Oct 23, 2016 at 4:45 am
          Why are there more moslims living in India than stan. Wasn't s carved out of India meant for moslems as their homeland? Parasites moslems are reaping the benefits of tolerant hindus
          Reply
          1. A
            Ajit Kumar
            Oct 23, 2016 at 5:39 am
            We can't have terrorism and business at the same time. Public send a clear message that this is not acceptable to them.
            Reply
            1. A
              Ajit Kumar
              Oct 23, 2016 at 5:45 am
              What you think about Muslims and their leaders in JandK.
              Reply
              1. A
                alam
                Oct 23, 2016 at 5:33 am
                INDIAN GOVT SHOULD ACTION FASTlt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Stop train to stan.lt;br/gt;Stop bus to stan.lt;br/gt;Stop trade with stan.lt;br/gt;Stop Water supply to stan.lt;br/gt;Stop electric supply to stanlt;br/gt;Stop visa issuance to stan.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Then see the result..........
                Reply
                1. C
                  chappal
                  Oct 28, 2016 at 7:50 am
                  But Dost.. Babri mosque is built on a destro temples.... and forget babri... indians revered ( hindus revered0 sites have been destro by Aurangzeb...... Kashi and mathura temples....so... the first one to destroy is a marauding sepoy or a king who HATES local religions.... and traditions...what has been built on hate has to go away.........SPAIN was built on HATE by the arabs ... hence htey lost Andalucia.... to the SPanish again....
                  Reply
                  1. F
                    Faiq Khalid
                    Oct 23, 2016 at 5:08 pm
                    Guys... Read your comments, full of hatred and you say you want to live in peace. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Your comments are visible to the entire World, and sadly the image being presented here of a common Indian is not of a peaceful one. Having met many Indians I know they are better than this.
                    Reply
                    1. K
                      K.Jayakrishnan
                      Oct 23, 2016 at 4:38 am
                      forget about the crores lost in films. Lives are being lost on the border. They are much more precious. Unless there is stoppage of open support to Terrorists by the Pak govt, there need not be any such exchange of artists. The writer forgets basic principles.
                      Reply
                      1. R
                        Rakesh Katyal
                        Oct 23, 2016 at 3:23 am
                        Poor artists. Deepti sounds as if Bollywood may collapse without them. But let me ask what did cultural exchange of last 70 years produce? Why the relationship didn't improve?
                        Reply
                        1. S
                          Satish
                          Oct 23, 2016 at 12:51 pm
                          “Until now, people on both the sides of the border knew that differences between the two countries were largely political. " - lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Totally wrong. There is hardly anything common between India and stan. India is idol worshiper, stan is idol destroyer. India does not support terrorism, stan is a headquarter of terrorists. India is governed by consution, stan is governed by a book written 1400 years ago. Indians celebrate festivals by making and consuming sweets, stan celebrates festivals by butchering innocent animals. Indians do not eat beef, stanis eat beef. India wants peaceful relations with all countries, stan wants to destroy India. ... The differences between these two countries are not only political. Both countries are totally different.
                          Reply
                          1. I
                            Indian
                            Oct 23, 2016 at 9:05 pm
                            Has entire business stopped between two countries? Has Modi withdrawn Most Favored Nation status from stan? Has sushma stopped helping s in getting visa? Why only Bollywood is suffering? What is hidden agenda?
                            Reply
                            1. I
                              Indian
                              Oct 23, 2016 at 9:01 pm
                              Has entire business stopped between two countries? Has Modi withdrawn Most Favored Nation status from stan? Why only Bollywood is suffering? What is hidden agenda?
                              Reply
                              1. I
                                Indian
                                Oct 23, 2016 at 9:04 pm
                                Who is reaping benefit of 50% reservation bheek?
                                Reply
                                1. I
                                  Indian
                                  Oct 23, 2016 at 9:02 pm
                                  Will stopping exchange of artists stop killings? Has entire business stopped between two countries? Has Modi withdrawn Most Favored Nation status from stan? Why only Bollywood is suffering? What is hidden agenda?
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    r r
                                    Oct 23, 2016 at 2:52 am
                                    we are not interesting in Pak Arab Guiams
                                    Reply
                                    1. S
                                      Subho Ghosal
                                      Oct 23, 2016 at 7:48 am
                                      Are there are no equivalent performers in India WRT stani performers ? Can we not promote Indian Artists ? lt;br/gt;What is so special that stani artists have that we do not have in our country ?lt;br/gt;If a country is hostile and killing our people and how can we accept that we welcome selected few as " un hostile "?lt;br/gt;Is it not some thing like " Good terrorist and Bad terrorist ? or Good Taliban and Bad Taliban ? lt;br/gt;Our generation do not believe in the hypocrisy of shared culture and what was 70 years agolt;br/gt;Enemy is an enemy and our doors for every person from enemy must be closed .
                                      Reply
                                      1. K
                                        komal
                                        Oct 23, 2016 at 11:51 pm
                                        I think u r wrong mr satish. What is Indian doing in Kashmir they killing innocent Kashmiris. Why u close ur eyes when its come on u. your people also eat fish and chicken. if cow is ur mom they why u people ur mother. yes we dont worrship of idols because we belive in one and only one God because God creat us not like u who made murtiyan and then worship of them. we are muslim and our belive is on God and u r hindu and u belive on idols. if u r peaceful nation then please free kashmir. thank u very much.
                                        Reply
                                        1. P
                                          Prateik
                                          Oct 23, 2016 at 6:20 am
                                          Lollywood is finished.HaHaHa
                                          Reply
                                          1. I
                                            Indian
                                            Oct 23, 2016 at 7:12 am
                                            Hi-ndus are working in Middle East because Middle East countries want it. ............ If Middle East is MU-SLIM why are Indian MU-SLIMS and PAK MU-SLIMS treated like dirt and not granted CITIZENSHIP???
                                            Reply
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