“Indian films, Pakistani actors. We patronise their art, they discard ours. We give their actors opportunities, they respond by banning our films.” These lines form part of a long phraseology that justifies keeping artistes from the other country at bay. They also reflect a deliberate ignorance about the common cultural fount from which artistes from both sides of the Radcliffe Line draw their inspiration.
Despite the similarities in the cinematic sensibilities of Indians and Pakistanis -- down to the gaalis (cusswords) the characters use in their day-to-day lives -- a common grouse has been that while our films have shaped the careers of talented performers like Fawad Khan, Ali Zafar and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Pakistanis have been lax in reciprocating our gestures. This is again a statement that reflects ignorance about the Pakistan film industry.
Even a basic research on the films of our neighbourhood will show that both in terms of numbers and content, cinema of Pakistan has suffered due to state neglect and lagged behind that of India. To quote a Dawn article, the industry produces only 30-40 films a year, compared to the more than 1,600 films produced in different languages in India. Further, 60-75 per cent of box office revenues there come from the Indian cinema. As a natural corollary, talent from there -- no doubt in abundance -- is likely to find natural expression here.
Taking into account these constraints, we cannot overlook the notable attempts in the last 15-20 years among Pakistani filmmakers to give prominent role to Indian artistes in their films. Here are some of them:
Kirron Kher and Shilpa Shukla in 'Khamosh Pani'
Two independent-minded women in Charkhi, Punjab: Ayesha, a Partition victim who has overcome an identity crisis, and Zubeida, who finds her identity amid the oppressive regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. One has chosen life instead of a suicide imposed on her by her family in the name of honour, and the other has refused to surrender her individuality at the altar of Islamisation. One has embraced Islam after being brought up as a Sikh in pre-Partition Punjab and believes in its inclusiveness, and the other, thanks to her education, knows that Islam is fully compatible with democracy. The film rather poetically ends with Zubeida walking through a busy street in Rawalpindi in the year 2002, with the camera fixed at the names of two stores -- ‘Crescent’ and ‘Liberty’.
Naseeruddin Shah in 'Khuda Ke Liye' (2007)
Considering the importance of music to the central narrative, this film could well have been named ''Mausikhi Ke Liye'' (For The Sake of Music). For Maulana Wali, the character played by Naseeruddin Shah, music is intrinsically linked to his spirituality. This is in contrast to his radical antithesis, Maulana Tahiri, for whom it is ''haraam''.
As Mary, the lead character, approaches Maulana Wali to request his appearance in a court, we are introduced to his musical taste before we see his physical self, preparing for his evening namaz. We hear the voice of K.L. Saigal, the song Aye-Katib-e-Taqdeer is playing on the Maulana’s gramophone.
As he makes his declamation on religion in court, we see him quoting Bulle Shah: ‘Saiyonee Mainu Raanja Kho, Heer Na Khoi’ (Lost in the thoughts of Raanja, I have become one with him; call me Raanjha, not Heer.). Here, we see him comparing Heer’s love for Ranjha with the devotion of a believer towards the Allah and the Prophet.
In the scene, Nasseruddin begins his dialogue delivery in a slow, measured manner. His accent then speeds up as he quotes the Hadith, then again slows down as he gives his interpretation. The high point of his monologue is where he speaks of the divine’s gift to Dawood: mausikhi. His eyes lit up, for him devotion to music forms a part of devotion to his god.
In a film with many talking points, the Maulana stands as a surrogate to the director, Shoaib Mansoor; the former’s testimony acts as a statement on the latter’s liberal persuasion.
Nandita Das in 'Ramchand Pakistani' (2008)
Pakistani Dalit woman Champa lives in Nagarparkar, very close to the India-Pakistan border. Her seven-year old son and her husband inadvertently cross the border and are imprisoned by the Indian security forces. Despite not having much of a voice in her village, her grit and optimism see her keep alive the hopes of her son’s return. The determination with which she goes about repaying her husband’s debt, her refusal to become victim to her Dalit identity and the quiet relief she experiences at her son’s return are the highlights of the film.
Naseeruddin Shah in 'Zinda Bhaag' (2013)
This is the first Pakistani film in more than 50 years to be sent for an Academy award. Set in the 21st century Lahore, it is about the aspirational class, the youth, for whom a ticket to the West guarantees a pathway to prosperity. Legal options closed, they opt for the risky dunky (illegal) route.
Naseeruddin Shah’s character, Haji Roshan Din ‘Pahalwan’, is emblematic of the future that awaits the youngsters if they choose to stick to their current lifestyle, petty crimes being a component of it. Pahalwan, having not gone the dunky way, has become a godfather of his neighbourhood, a strong man involved in extortion and smuggling. He is the kind of Haji the Maulana of Khuda Ke Liye admonishes in the court scene - devout outside, debased inside.
The piece de resistance is the scene where Taambi, among Pahalwan’s minions, expresses a desire to part ways with his gang. A usually eloquent Pahalwan threatens Taambi more with his facial expressions here. His dark eyes, his reclining face become more menacing as Pahalwan warns Taambi against leaving him. The scene ends with the former breaking impromptu into the 3 Idiots song: ‘Murgi Kya Jaane Ande Ka Kya Hoga’ [‘The chick doesn’t know what life awaits it once it comes out of the egg’.] Spreading terror through tenor!
Bringing to mind Naseeruddin’s roles in films like Bombay To Bangkok -- where he appears in just one scene -- and Mithya , Zinda Bhaag shows the gravitas the acting genius can add to a negative role in a mainstream film, given the right script.
Om Puri in 'Actor-in-Law' (2016)
An aspiring actor who ends up as a lawyer, employing his performing skills in the courtroom. As in previous films, the influence of Bombay cinema is obvious, especially in the scene where the lead character does a Sunny Deol through the ‘Tareekh pe tareekh’ dialogue from Damini .
Om Puri here plays a patriarch who disapproves of his son’s acting ambitions; his Punjabi-tinged Urdu is not much different from the Hindi spoken by his characters in Indian films.
Naseeruddin Shah in 'Jeevan Hathi'
This is an upcoming dark comedy on the television media, directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, the director duo of Zinda Bhaag . Naseeruddin plays the owner of a television channel.