Cross-border narratives have always made for popular cinema. Whether it is pre-unification East and West Germany, “akhand Bharat” split into two countries, East Pakistan breaking away to form an independent state, these stories often romanticise the past. But mostly, they dole out generic stereotypes: the aggressor-versus-victim rhetoric, extreme jingoism, exoticising minorities, even though the subtext of the film reiterates that borders are the cause of human tragedy.
The cinema of the subcontinent is no different. Both India and Pakistan are guilty of producing war films, the (more contemporary) terrorist/agent genre, and period pieces that only served to demonise the other. Plain, simple love stories involving an Indian and a Pakistani have been few and far between — Bollywood offered Henna (1991), Veer Zara (2004) and Total Siyapa (2013), while Lollywood produced Tere Pyar Mein (1999), Lakhon Mein Ek (1967) and Kartar Singh (1959). Last month, Bachaana, a new Pakistani film served audiences a new love story with a twist.
Lahore-based filmmaker Nasir Khan’s debut feature film is the story of Aalia, a girl from Aligarh who is framed by her husband, a drug pusher, and how a Pakistani taxi driver, Waqqas aka Vicky, saves her life. Set in Mauritius, the film is more a thriller than a romance, with its chase sequences and dreaded villain. Sanam Saeed, known for her performance in the popular Pakistani TV serial Zindagi Gulzar Hai, plays Aalia with aplomb. “She’s a modern girl and the language they speak (in Aligarh) is very similar to ours. And, their talaffuz (pronunciation) is spot-on. So it didn’t feel any ‘different’ playing her. If it was a south Indian or Maharashtrian character, I might’ve had to work harder on it,” she says. Mohib Mirza, an award-winning TV and film actor, plays Waqqas.
Khan, a McGill alum, formerly directed telefilms and a sitcom for Hum TV, before he rose to prominence with his documentary, Made In Pakistan (2009), which toured the festival circuit. “I have always been inclined towards the silver screen but it requires the kind of funds I didn’t have. I have been saving for years to make my first film,” he says.
The film has been received well in Pakistan but Khan is determined to see the film release in India as well. Khan and his co-producer Rizwan Saeed, together with Eveready Pictures, wanted a simultaneous release for Bachaana in Pakistan and India but the sub distributors in Mumbai feared backlash from right groups. “They wanted to be sure if the political climate was favourable. Indian media had started comparing Bachaana with Bajrangi Bhaijaan. That held them back,” says Khan, who had the option to release the film in other parts of India but he was not interested. “If your film isn’t released in Mumbai, then your film doesn’t exist for India; it won’t get noticed, and no broadcast channel would want to give it air time,” he says.
Usman Ghafoor is a Lahore-based journalist