A recent book pulled off a surprise — it discusses the depiction of Pakistan in Hindi films
No country has aroused the kind of extremes Pakistan has in Hindi cinema. For long, filmmakers equivocated, preferring to use euphemisms such as ‘doosra haath’, ‘videshi taqat’ and ‘sarhad paar se’. It all changed over the last decade or so with Anil Sharma’s Gadar being categorical in naming the enemy country. If Gadar, despite being promoted as Ek Prem Katha was more about hatred, Yash Chopra with Veer-Zaara took another route, but Pakistan continued to be in the thick of things. Of course, films such as Maa Tujhe Salaam, LoC and later Kurbaan pulled no punches either. And a few years before them came a clutch of films that depicted Pakistani characters in a negative light — notable examples being Sarfarosh and Hindustan Ki Kasam.
However, no writer worth the name had studied the depiction of Pakistan in our cinema, until very recently The Magic Of Bollywood: At Home And Abroad, a Sage publication, pulled off a surprise. The book, edited by Anjali Gera Roy, opens a little window to the subject with the chapter ‘Dada Negativity And Pakistani Characters In Bollywood Films’. It is penned by Kamal Ud Din and Nukksah Taj Langah.
Some day, the door shall open too.
For the moment, let’s be content with the window even if it can’t give you the complete view. At least this window offers us a multi-layered glimpse. As the authors point out, in the initial days following Independence, the focus was on Partition and the trauma related to the tragedy. Then the attention shifted to Kashmir, a paradise on earth caught in the crossfire between the oft-feuding States. The dream merchants though, for long could not think of anything but romance when it came to Kashmir. Shakti Samanta’s Kashmir Ki Kali was a case in point. However, even the depiction of Kashmir underwent a change with films such as Yahaan and Fanaa being alive to the terror being perpetrated in the State from across the border. Yet, it is in writing about the depiction of Pakistani Muslims that Kamal and Taj’s effort stands out. They say in the book what is only heard in hushed whispers otherwise: Hindi films have often tended to equate Muslims with Pakistan, more so the villainous ones! Thereby they anger people on both sides of the divide. In fact, Sharma’s Gadar was notorious for making the marriage of Muslims and Pakistan and their divorce from India complete.
If other films from the 1990s such as Angaar and Sarfarosh readily come to mind, those in the 1960s, namely Chhalia and Kabuliwala, do not recede from the memory either. Both the films had hot-tempered, lawless characters as Pakistani pathans! As the authors point out, Hindi cinema tends to use a binary of good versus evil, which in jingoistic times ends up projecting Pakistan as a monstrous, demonic country and India as the upholder of all virtues.
However, for some skewed reason, the authors have paid greater attention to Hindustan Ki Kasam, a film that arrived with big hype and departed with barely a whimper — doesn’t thereby hang a tale? The film relates the story of two brothers, one brought up in Pakistan with false notions of jihad and nationhood; the other grows up in India to be liberal writer, a patriot! You do not need extraordinary skills to understand that Hindustan Ki Kasam as indeed Gadar and LoC were examples of politically expedient cinema that hit the box-office when the Right wing forces were calling the shots. The authors fail to bring about a parallel between the prevalent political climate and the cinema of the age.
Ditto with Kurbaan (released in 2009), which tackles the larger theme with the presentation of the U.S. as the neutral space, though following 9/11, America’s war on terror influenced Pakistani Muslims as well as Indians. Here, though, the authors do well to point out the ambiguity regarding the lead character’s association with Sunni or Shia sects and happily point out the Sufi tenor of the film by talking of the shrewd usage of a combination of Hindi and Arabic words in the opening lines, ‘Shukran Allah Wallah Hamdulillah’.
So, you see, it is not all black or all white. The truth, when it comes to depiction of Pakistan in Hindi cinema, lies somewhere in between. At times just love and romance. At others sinister villainy.
And thank God, somebody has finally made an attempt to study the projection. You can find blemishes with the effort but not with the idea.