Our barbed boundaries: Who’s losing what as Pakistan-India wind up cultural exchange?

In late September this year, Mumbai’s biggest studio Film City was searched by an incensed crowd. They were looking for Pakistani actor Fawad Khan, apparently because he belonged to the ‘terrorist state’ of Pakistan. Uri, in Indian-held Kashmir, had been attacked and 19 Indian soldiers had died. Pakistan was to be blamed and all Pakistani actors working in Bollywood needed to be kicked out of India, pronto.

Art had no boundaries, people had proclaimed time and again, when Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Strings, Shafqat Amanat Ali and Atif Aslam had topped the Indian music charts. They nodded approvingly when Pakistanis further came into the spotlight in mainstream Bollywood. Ali Zafar rode into India, Fawad Khan swept through Bollywood, Mahira Khan signed up as King Khan’s leading lady and a burgeoning mass of Pakistani actors set their sights upon India’s lucrative silver screen. All these people are biting their tongues now.

When it comes to India and Pakistan, art certainly has boundaries; barbed sharp-edged ones which are not uncrossable but can tear those trying into shreds.

The activists, probably members of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena party, did not find Fawad at Film City because the actor had long wrapped up work for his latest Bollywood project and returned back home in July. But they reflected a semblance of the ire that soon began to pour out from Indian media and Bollywood itself. Shortly thereafter, the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association passed a resolution that barred Pakistani artists from working in India.

Pakistani actors were invited to sign on to projects in India. They may have stood to gain from the extensive platform and finances but they also invested their time and efforts into the movies. There’s no reason for Bollywood to suddenly clamber on to a high horse when, so far, their associations with Pakistani actors have been mutually beneficial.

The Indian film fraternity promptly divided and continues to make headlines as more and more artists voice their opinions. Some, such as Karan Johar, Salman Khan, Om Puri and more recently film-maker Anurag Kashyap, have objected to cinema being made a political scapegoat when all other trade between India and Pakistan continues normally. There are others — Anupam Kher, Ajay Devgan, Akshay Kumar, Farah Khan and Sajid Khan among them — who feel riled by the death of their jawans and have asserted that Pakistanis no longer have a place to work on their territory.

Anupam Kher held that, as a sign of goodwill, the Pakistani contingent could at least condemn the Uri attack just as he had condemned the Peshawar attack in the past. But when was India ever blamed for having orchestrated the massacre in Peshawar? How could Pakistani actors condemn an act of violence for which their own country was being blamed? In addition, the attack took place on soldiers in Kashmir, a territory Pakistan does not accept as India’s. It would have been deemed unpatriotic of them and moreover, rendered them in danger of being vilified once they returned to their home-base.

Instead, Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan posted public Facebook messages where they talked of peace. But diplomatic, carefully worded messages are hardly ever enough to stop vitriol stemming from a history of contention.

Mahira Khan gave up on a range of meaty roles in Pakistan simply because her time was taken up with Raees’ shooting
Mahira Khan gave up on a range of meaty roles in Pakistan simply because her time was taken up with Raees’ shooting

The hashtag #banPakartists continues to run rampant on Twitter and news that doesn’t make much sense filters through every now and then. For instance, the suggestion that Fawad Khan’s character in Karan Johar’s latestAe Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM) was going to be replaced by Saif Ali Khan was entirely implausible. The movie has been getting considerable flak for featuring a Pakistani and has been running the risk of being pulled from some theatres in India. However, given that the news came through a mere two weeks prior to the movie’s release, it would have been technically impossible for the actors to be replaced.

The social media censuring has, however, managed to pummel Karan Johar into making a public statement that of course, in the current circumstances, he won’t ‘engage with talent from the neighboring country’ any time soon. His cross-border friendship with Fawad Khan and talk of artistic freedom can bite the dust for now — not when his movie could incur losses by getting banned through half of India.

Yet another piece of propaganda came proclaiming that Mahira Khan’s role in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Raees, set to release in January 2017, was going to be now taken on by another actress. It left the movie’s director Ritesh Sidhwani flummoxed, prompting him to state that he ‘didn’t know where the rumours were coming from’ since he had ‘already shot with the girl for 45 days and finished the film.’ Could Ritesh also soon suffer a change of heart a la the fickle Mr Johar? One wouldn’t be surprised — that’s just how ridiculous Indo-Pak cross-border tension can get.

In other news, Ali Zafar’s appearances in the trailer of Dear Zindagi, releasing this November and co-starring SRK and Alia Bhatt, have speedily been cut out. Will his scenes also be reduced in the movie? Possibly, probably.

Needless to say, cross-border trade shows such as Aalishan Pakistan and Shan-e-Pakistan have also gotten postponed.

Given the tumultuous history between India and Pakistan, it had seemed unbelievable when Pakistani actors had, for the first time, become household Bollywood names. It is, however, quite believable — and inevitable — that they couldn’t possibly have lasted the long haul in India.

Politics meet sour grapes

One wonders, though, if the wave of patriotism currently engulfing Bollywood’s actors suggests a classic case of sour grapes?

“Women are willing to jump down from the rooftops for Fawad Khan,” Shoojit Sircar, director of Piku and producer of the recent Pink had commented some time before the Uri attacks in an exclusive interview with Images on Sunday. His leading lady inPink, the young, very promising Tapsee Pannu, had declared that the hero she really wanted to work with was Fawad Khan. “TheADHM trailer has just come out and he completely dominates in it. All the other stars just fade out,” she had enthused.

It would only be natural for the Indian fraternity to feel irked by Fawad, who had happily sauntered where no Pakistani had managed to tread before. In a matter of just a few years, he had gotten colossally popular in India, signed on big projects, been featured on umpteen magazine covers, gotten rave reviews not just for his movies but also for his Pakistani TV dramas aired on the Zindagi channel, hosted the IIFA awards, won a Filmfare by beating star-son Tiger Shroff, and boasted a huge besotted female fan following. Why wouldn’t they want him to go, giving up on the accolades and projects that belonged to ‘their’ country?

Similarly, playing leading lady to SRK is a coveted slot and quite a few egos must have gotten wounded when Mahira Khan had crossed borders and slipped into the role.

“Dear Fawad Khan. It’s time. Go back to Pakistan,” an Indian journalist had written in an online letter, shortly after the Kashmir debacle, talking about how India had given him “more money in two years than what he could have earned in Pakistan in 10 years.”

But Fawad’s acting trysts in India have spelt box office success for his products as well. It’s a known fact that Pakistani actors charge lesser than their Indian counterparts and Fawad’s considerable acting skills, good looks and on-screen magnetism have been an impetus in making his Indian projects a hit. This was probably why Karan Johar chose to feature the actor in ADHM. Had the political climate remained stable, Fawad would possibly have been the highlight of the movie.

Tit for tat — but does it make sense?

As the situation snowballed, cinema owners in Pakistan made a call of their own and decided to restrict the screening of Bollywood movies until tensions abated. “As a nation, we felt very hurt by what was happening, which is why we chose to voluntarily shut down Indian movies for some time,” explains Jamil Baig, the area coordinator for Nueplex Cinemas.

The ban on Bollywood clears the path for local releases in cinema like the upcoming Lahore Se Aagey
The ban on Bollywood clears the path for local releases in cinema like the upcoming Lahore Se Aagey

Humayun Saeed points out, “At some point in the future, when we have a thousand cinemas and are churning out hundreds of movies a year, Bollywood will get eliminated from our screens on its own.”

Mr Baig and his peers helming the rebirth of cinemas in Pakistan must have expected that matters would improve in a few days. Now that tensions continue to prolong, they’re probably feeling dismayed. Cinemas need a new movie every weekend in order to keep finances rolling and this content is provided to some extent by Hollywood but to a much larger extent, by mass-centric Indian movies. The 10 or 12 movies currently being produced by Pakistan’s nascent film industry simply don’t suffice.

As actor and producer Humayun Saeed points out, “Our cinemas will end up shutting down or, at least, new screens won’t be put up. This isn’t the time to shut down Bollywood because we need to build more cinemas and have more investors enter the industry. At some point in the future, when we have a thousand cinemas — rather than a mere 90 — and are churning out hundreds of movies a year, Bollywood will get eliminated from our screens on its own.”

“Additionally, competition from Bollywood movies encourages our film-makers to maintain standards with their own projects. Personally, nobody would benefit more than me should Bollywood remain banned. My movies would release and become all-out hits due to utter lack of competition. But I am looking at the bigger picture right now.”

On that note, director Wajahat Rauf is probably one of the happiest film-makers around at the moment. His Lahore Se Aagey releases on November 11 and should the ban persist, he’s bound to hit box office gold. The one possible spanner in the works: there’s a chance that ADHM will release in Pakistan, on the basis that it features a local actor, and will proceed to pave the way for Indian movies to return to our screens again. It makes economic sense, if not patriotic. But perhaps this is a time when business concerns should be given precedence over emotion?

“It all depends on whether relations deteriorate or improve,” surmises a glum Jamil Baig.

Fire fire!

But are relations really improving when every day, yet another Indian celebrity jumps on to the ‘ban Pakistan’ bandwagon?

Happier times: Ali Zafar (R) with the cast and director of 2014’s Kill/Dil
Happier times: Ali Zafar (R) with the cast and director of 2014’s Kill/Dil

About two years ago, Ali Zafar had announced that he was going to focus more on his market in Pakistan. One assumed that this was because he wasn’t being offered promising work from India but perhaps Ali was on the right track after all. He has been visible at umpteen local ceremonies and is set to begin shooting his debut movie in Pakistan with director Ahsan Rahim.

In contrast, actress Mahira Khan gave up on a range of meaty roles in Pakistan simply because her time was taken up with Raees’ shooting. According to an inside source, right before the Uri debacle, she had expected to leave for India because certain scenes of hers in Raees were to be extended. These scenes never did get shot once all hell broke loose.

Adnan Sami Khan — once a Pakistani, now an Indian — presented his own twisted logic to the scenario. According to him, if one visited a neighbor’s home and the home caught fire, one needed to help and sympathise with the neighbor rather than run away and take cover. But what if the said neighbor accused one of having set the fire? What can Pakistani actors do when they are slandered when all they were doing was their work?

India, while an exciting option, will always be a volatile terrain for our actors. They may pursue cross-border work but it is unfeasible to make it the pivotal part of their careers. Similarly, Bollywood film-makers may find Pakistani actors interesting because of the novelty — and lower fees — they offer, but their movies run the risk of being slammed unceremoniously should political tensions suddenly arise.

Beyond art and cultural exchange, the Indo-Pak border flickers with flames. It simmers, burns and sometimes kindles into a roaring blaze unpredictably. That’s just the way it is, historically, perpetually.


Slow pace of award of contracts for projects irks ADB

ISLAMABAD: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has expressed dissatisfaction over the pace of award of contracts for foreign-funded projects in Pakistan that leads to project delays, cost overruns and inefficient utilisation of external loans.

This comes at a time when ADB President Takehiko Nakao and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde are visiting Islamabad to attend the 15th Ministerial Conference of Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation beginning from Wednesday.

Representatives from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Georgia will participate in the conference as observers.

The finance ministry said on Sunday that about 200 participants from 10 member countries and multilateral development partners would attend the event.

In its report — annual review of ADB-funded projects as of Dec 31, 2015 — the Manila-based lending agency noted that the time taken to award the first contract after loan approval was more than 13 months on average. “The last five-year average shows that signing of first contract after approval took more than a year,” the bank said, adding that it also included projects where these contracts were signed prior to loan approval, advance contracting and retroactive financing.

Projects in the energy sector and agriculture, natural resource and rural development (ANR) “took relatively longer time to complete their first procurement; average time consumed by the energy and ANR projects is 18.1 months and 16.8 months respectively,” said the report that was not made public.

More than 18 months had passed, but no contract was signed since approval of loans for three projects on Dec 31 last year, it regretted. These included Jamshoro power generation project, National Highway network development project in Balochistan and Fata water resources development project.

“Some of the key reasons for delayed procurement are related to unavailability of design, weak procurement capacities of implementation agencies, litigation, delay in establishment of project management units and project administration challenges,” the report said, adding that as a result the contract awards projection provided in the procurement plan could not be achieved.

This was learnt from the completed projects that during project processing and specifically before approval, the projects need to be scanned through certain readiness filters for efficient project implementation. The project readiness can be measured by looking into the status of four parameters — project design, procurement, safeguards and government approvals.

On the other hand, the ADB said the performance under the multi-financing facility (MFF) portfolio remained mixed last year. Except for the MFF in the ANR sector, more than half of the MFF amount remained uncommitted.

It said there was a substantial underutilisation in transport and energy sectors. However, contract award and disbursement performance for approved tranches in the transport sector was relatively better as compared to the energy sector.

The ADB said that all sovereign loans in Pakistan’s portfolio were approved, signed and reached effectiveness in 6.8 months which compared well with ADB-wide average of 6.9 months.

The bank highlighted some of the challenges on the government side such as lack of ownership by the project staff during processing, lack of understanding of ADB’s procurement guidelines and stipulations of project or loan agreements on procurement which were challenged when found contrary to the government laws and regulations.

The absence of a fully functional internal approval mechanism leading to procurement processes inefficiency, frequent transfer-posting of key project staff and lack of understanding on use of advance contracting were also identified as key problems.

Weaknesses on the ADB side mainly included lack of strong hand-holding of weak executing agencies after conducting procurement capacity and risk assessment and lack of full engagement of all stakeholders during processing leading to a communication gap between the ADB project team and that of the executing agency.

India down Pakistan in thriller; Malaysia reach semis

KUANTAN (Malaysia): Defending champions Pakistan were undone by a superb comeback by India as they fell 3-2 to their arch-rivals in a high-voltage preliminary round match of the Asian Champions Trophy here on Sunday.

Strikes by Mohmmad Rizwan Senior and Mohammad Irfan Junior in the space of eight minutes in the second quarter had put Pakistan well in control after Pradeep Mor had opened the scoring for India in the 22nd minute.

But Rupinder Pal Singh converted a penalty corner in the 43rd minute and Ramandeep Singh scored in the following minute by deflecting in a diagonal cross from Talwinder Singh to seal victory for India.

“The result was not in our favour but we played well and enjoyed the game,” said Pakistan coach Khawaja Junaid, praising his young side for giving India a stiff competition.

“It was a brilliant game with a very high level of skills between two top teams. This was the best match we have played in a long time.

“The boys performed much better than the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup five months ago, which was the only tournament we have played since last year’s World League Semifinals in Antwerp.”

Pakistan’s inability to secure an Olympic berth for this year’s Rio Games had left them short of international fixtures and coach feels that some more experience against leading international teams would put Pakistan hockey back among the top nations.

“Pakistan will come out of this and we will hopefully progress into the semi-finals but we must win Japan and China [in our remaining matches],” added Junaid after his side opened their campaign with a 4-2 defeat to Malaysia before beating South Korea 1-0.

The defeat left Pakistan with three points from three outings, third in the six-team standings with the top four teams from the round-robin competition will advance to the semi-finals.

Malaysia lead on nine points as they booked their place in the semi-finals with a 7-2 victory over winless Japan in Sunday’s other match while India have seven points.

Back-to-back saves

Pakistan forced the first penalty corner in the opening minute but Indian goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh pulled off two back-to-back saves.

The first quarter came to end with Pakistan dominating. They made at least three good moves and the Indian defence did well not to concede a goal.

India took the lead against the run of play in the when Mor on the right flank latched on to the ball that had deflected off a Pakistani defender. Mor darted into the circle and sent in a firm shot from a very narrow angle that beat goalkeeper Imran Butt to land on target.

After falling behind, Pakistan started counter-attacking with their captain Fareed Ahmed acting as the pivot.

And they were rewarded in the first minute after half-time as the Indian defence left Rizwan unmarked on top of the circle as he collected a long diagonal ball and sent a snap shot into the left corner of the boards.

Pakistan showed more intent in the game as they scored another goal in the 39th minute as Irfan capitalised on an attack from the left to shoot home in a crowded circle.

But out of nowhere, India scored two goals within a span of one minute in the dying minutes of the third quarter.

Rupinder converted the penalty corner with a rasping drag-flick that went high into the net before Talwinder’s deft pass was deflected into Pakistan’s goal by Ramandeep.

Later, Malaysia became the first team to check into the semi-finals when they outclassed Japan.

Aiman Nik Rozemi cracked open the Japan goalmouth in the 23rd minute, while the other goals were scored by Rashid Baharom (27th), Nabil Fiqri (33rd), Faizal Shaari (37th, 59th), Firhan Ashaari (44th) and Fitri Shaari (58th).

The Japan goals were was scored by Kenji Kitazato (59th) and Kentaro Fukuda (60th).

Pak army wins PACES 2016

LAHORE: Army Services Sports of Pakistan won the first International PACES Competition 2016 which concluded at the Fortress Stadium here on Sunday night.

Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif was the chief guest who also gave away medals and prizes to all the winners.

Addressing a packed Fortress Stadium, General Raheel Sharif thanked the army teams of China, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Turkey and England for their visit.The grand closing ceremony entertained a large number of people who had thronged the stadium. Pakistan army displayed stunning performance in different drills meant for self-defense.

A tent-pegging event was also included in the closing ceremony. Singers Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Ali Zafar rendered national songs.

Earlier in the morning hundreds of athletes belonging to all genders and age groups participated in two (3.2 and 2 kilometers) mini marathons which were the last events of the gala.

The athletes of 14 foreign armies also participated in the races which started from Askari-10 and concluded at the Ayub Stadium.

Army teams from all participating countries contested in the category of pull-ups on the opening day. It was a wonderful occasion to watch as athletes engaged themselves in a highly charged but disciplined contest to outshine others. Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army (China) and Pakistan Army excelled.

‘Dear Modiji, the people of Kashmir are not with us’

Indian journalist Santosh Bhartiya in an open letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi published on ‘Rising Kashmir’ claims that although “the land of Kashmir is with us, the people of Kashmir are not with us.”

The journalist presents findings from a four-day trip to India-held Kashmir in the letter, addressing the use of excessive force against protesters, the anger of the Kashmiri people, and the mishandling of the Kashmir issue by India ─ particularly, the Modi regime.

Below are extracts from the open letter.

Aggression, bitterness in every Kashmiri

I want to introduce you by the fact that people have painful aggression in them against the Indian system; be it a man of 80 year old or a six-year-old child.

This aggression and bitterness is to an extent of rejection of not even willing to talk to anybody who represents it. Their pain and aggression had taken such turn of extremism that they now stand with stones in hands and are ready to face such huge system; not bothering about the outcome. I believe this situation would lead us to the disastrous “massacre” situation.

A Kashmiri who do not holds a stone in hand, keeps the stone in his heart.

This revolution has taken a shape of mass-movement same as the movement of 1942 or JP Movement in which the contribution of public was more than the leaders.

The people who voted in the election of 2014, today none of them is ready to utter a single word of sympathy in favour of the same government.

They don’t want to be part of Pakistan

Honorable Prime Minister [Modi] some people have made you believe that each person in Kashmir is a Pakistani, but honestly we did not find a single man praising Pakistan.

On every tree, on every mobile tower, Pakistani flag swirls in Kashmir. We inquired about it and people responded by saying that, “India hates Pakistan. So in order to tease you we swirl Pakistani flags.”

Surprisingly, I didn’t find a single person saying that he wants to go to Pakistan as they are aware of the bad condition of Pakistan. I say it without any hesitation no one has inspired Kashmiri to throw stones at us. The credit goes to only to our system.

I have a question for you Modiji. Can Pakistan, which is financially a weak country, give 500 rupees to each stone-pelting boy every day? And do you really want us to believe that Indian system is so helpless or hopeless that it could not catch a single man who distributes these 500-500 rupees to the young boys of Kashmir?

Is Pakistan that strong a country that it can encourage 60 lakh (6 million) people of Kashmir to raise their voice and fight against India? This is sheer joke and even Kashmiris mock at us.

Labelling Kashmir movement with Pakistan is a sheer made-up story and is not true at all. Every Kashmiri want support from us; they want to live and want to have all opportunities and employment and a normal life with dignity. Kashmiris want to be treated same as people of Bihar, Bengal, Assam, Maharashtra and all other states of the country.

Information from Kashmir is being distorted

I am very much sure that the information and news that you receive about Kashmir is not clear and true as it is distorted by the government officials.

The projected point of view of government officials is not the real situation of Kashmir. I am sure that if you would have a technique or way through which you would listen and communicate with Kashmiris directly then you would never have ignored them.

Kashmiris mention the name of the TV channels as spreading and exaggerating the communalism in the country. I believe that few of my journalist colleagues are blinded by the ambition of becoming Members of Parliament (MP) that they have forgotten their actual role of journalist as they don’t hesitate in playing with the integrity and unity of our country.

‘Killing’ opposing voices, a wrong policy

A dangerous misconception is growing in the minds of the officials of our military troops and security forces that if anybody raises a voice against the prevailing system in Kashmir, he or she should be killed to suppress the separatists movement, but it is an entirely wrong policy to pursue.

To my understanding, there is no such thing called as ‘separatists’ movement’. It is actually a revolution of every common man of Kashmir, where a man of 80 to a child of six raises the slogans of ‘freedom and azadi’.

We should accept the fact that for the last 70 years we were committing serious and deliberate mistakes which were always against the Kashmiri people.

No democracy, just massacres

Before the day you became the prime minister, none of the previous governments assured Kashmiris that Kashmir is a part of India like other states are.

An entire generation that was born in 1952 has not seen a single day of democracy and has never experienced what democracy is all about.

They have just seen army, paramilitary forces, bullets, guns, dead bodies, mass graveyards, disappeared people, torture and mass rapes.

People in Kashmir wonder why they don’t deserve a normal life as the people of other states in India live and enjoy democracy. Will they carry on their lives in fear of guns, bullets, pellets, and day-to-day massacres?

Living like slaves

Kashmiris believe that a proper government does not rule the state, but is controlled by only few bureaucrats sitting in Delhi, intelligence bureau or army.

They feel they are just living like slaves who get the food but don’t have the right to live. This is an eye-opener that the money which gets allotted for Kashmir never reaches the people. Panchayats do not receive any money, neither does any other organisation.

Modiji you celebrated Diwali amongst Kashmir and promised that since it’s affected by the flood, crores of money [in the form of a package] will be given to Kashmir, but it was never received by the common people there.

Win their hearts

Modiji, you are a master in winning the hearts of people. You should apply same magic in Kashmir also.

You actually, should take up the immediate responsibility to relieve people of Kashmir who are in immense pain, distress, tears and sufferings.

You should free them from the treatment of prejudice and help them from freeing themselves from a fearful and merciless lives they have spend since last 70 years.

Assure them that they also have a respectful and dignified life.