KARACHI: In times of increasing jingoism, it is rare to witness artists and journalists from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh to converse ideas of appreciation and collaboration on one platform.
On the third day of the Karachi Literature Festival, keeping political hindrances aside, a panel discussion titled ‘Cinema across borders’ celebrated film as a significant, inseparable part of a shared culture between the three countries.
The talk was moderated by columnist Umber Khairi and participated by iconic film actors Nadeem Baig, Shabnam, Asif Raza Mir and Mustafa Qureshi as well as Indian journalist Priyanka Jha.
The session began with a minute of silence in remembrance of the late Indian actor Om Puri, setting the atmosphere open to acceptance and peace. “The very fact that we opened the floor for discussion remembering Om Puri shows that an artist and art do not have boundaries,” said Nadeem Baig.
In the context of the recent ban on airing content in both countries and allowing Pakistani actors to feature in Indian films, Mr Baig said the film industry should work on a barter system. “If two Indian films are released in Pakistan, two of our films should be released in India as well,” he said, adding that restrictions limited the scope of national cinema. “We should place our industry first. As long as we are protecting and promoting our own talent, culture and heritage, there should be no limitations to art,” he added.
Recalling the golden years of Pakistani cinema, Shabnam said: “Back in 60s when Chanda was running against an Indian film in Dhaka, the Pakistani film did more business.” Art and sports should not get into politics, she said, stressing that competition should be on screen and not behind.
Echoing her thoughts on the decline of national cinema, Asif Raza Mir said the film industry was still suffering the loss caused by Gen Ziaul Haq. “Before Gen Zia’s era, our films were competing against Indian films. Today our industry is dependent on Indian films for business — cinemas were created because of them — and suffered heavy loss when they were banned,” he said. Suggesting a constructive solution to lead the industry forward, he said the country must go beyond borders and explore common cultures in the region like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Contributing similar insight from the other side of the border, Priyanka Jha brought India’s popular sentiment to the forefront. “People really enjoyed Mahira Khan’s performance in Raees and Fawad Khan incontestably has a huge fan following,” she said. Film being a combination of art and business could not prosper within confined borders, added Ms Jha. “This is the reason why Hollywood is far more successful because it respects talent irrespective of nationality.”
Alternating the flow of discussion headed towards collective collaboration, Mustafa Qureshi voiced a contrasting opinion on the matter. “It is a sad state of affairs that Indian movies can now be screened in Pakistan but ours can’t. We are in fact strengthening their [India’s] economy by contributing millions of dollars to buy their films and they still refuse to work with our actors and screen Pakistani content,” he said.
Lamenting the lack of a proper institution offering education and training on film in Pakistan, Nadeem Baig urged the government to establish a medium that helped produce competitive talent in the country. “The industry in Mumbai flourished after the Poona academy was established. Film is a powerful and benefitting media to educate and entertain people, we [artists] request the government to help us take the industry forward,” he said.
Concluding the session on a positive note, Shabnam said: “Even after almost 17 years of retirement, I cannot describe how it feels to see people give the same respect and love in Pakistan.”
“We need to stop criticising the past and progress with good thoughts to promote our respective talent,” advised Priyanka Jha.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2017