Despatch from Lahore | International

Symphonies that transcend political boundaries

During the virus lockdown, artists from India and Pakistan find novel ways of collaboration

Despite the existence of shared history and heritage, cultural relations between India and Pakistan have not always been good. The friction seen in state-to-state ties had seeped into cultural collaboration years ago. For instance, back in 2016, in the aftermath of the Uri attacks, objection from some nationalists to the presence of actors like Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan in Indian films led to a complete ban on Pakistani artistes.

Years later, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns imposed in the two countries have led to novel ways of collaboration between singers and performers. However, the efforts have not gone down well with industry bodies.

Such endeavours made the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) to issue a statement: “We are pained to inform all members that despite being fully aware that FWICE has issued a total non-cooperation circular advising all members not to work in any manner whatsoever with all Pakistani artists, singers and technicians, some members are blatantly violating the non-cooperation circular.”

Asserting that the collaborations were spontaneous, singer Ali Sethi, who initiated some of the efforts, pointed out the fact that music from the two countries were widely liked and shared across the border. “We all listen to one another’s music, so it felt natural to celebrate our shared heritage at a time when so much of the world is suffering. I think it brought joy to people.”

Filmmaker and actor Sarmad Khoosat called the federation’s objection petty and unsustainable. “The whole point of digital streaming and social media is to make content and interactions available and accessible for the whole globe. Censoring or controlling it is almost a violation of rights. Having said that, I am not sure if this can be sustained as a policy in this day.” He added: “I wish the performers and other allied professionals would be more vocal if they have a reaction towards it.”

‘Art survives such pettiness’

Stressing that art is not bound to follow the dictates of political boundaries and diplomatic ties, Pakistani painter and artist Salima Hashmi, a daughter of renowned Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, says: “I am a very old lady and I have seen these diktats come and go over 75 years on both sides of the border — yet miraculously, music poetry, art and all creative endeavours seem to overcome this periodic pettiness and people come together with even greater love to celebrate all that they have in common!”

Salman Sufi, who has led some of Pakistan’s most progressive gender-equality initiatives and who also collaborated with Indian artistes on Instagram, said the SAARC invite of a video call by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi should have trickled down to the offices of such organisations who are still living in a pre-corona era. “If the Prime Minister of India and Pakistan can engage to help both countries, why can’t citizens, regardless of their profession, do the same? Time for such organisations to use their platforms for cohesion and harmony or simply remove the word ‘art’ from their dictionary.” Islamabad’s representation at the meeting was through Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aide.

Mr. Sufi’s #LetsTalk is an initiative that connects people who are traumatised and scared for their lives due to the coronavirus spread. “This virus has no nationality and doesn’t care much for the borders we created around the world. So why should we restrict our fight-back policy to national borders?”

Stressing the need for people from both sides to present a united front against the virus, which does not differentiate based on one nationality, journalist Aamna Haider Isani said. “The gravest impact of COVID-19 will be on global economics and the psyche of mankind, both of which will have to adapt to a new world order.

Here, art has a huge role to play in keeping hope and morale alive. It’s tragic to see certain Indian organisations continuing to use politics to keep human-to-human distances intact. Isn’t the social distancing enough that we have to drag in virtual distancing as well?”

Faiza Sultan Khan, consulting publisher at Bloomsbury Publishing, made a poignant point when she said: “These nationalistic panels of hate-mongers will never have as much power as one great song.” To agree with her statement, one does not have to look beyond the heartwarming response Farida Khanum, the legendary Pakistani ghazal singer, received when she sang “Aaj jaane ki zid na karo,” during an Instagram live with Vishal and Rekha Bharadwaj last month.

(Mehmal Sarfraz is a journalist based in Lahore)

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 9:53:13 AM |

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