Dear India, our actors don’t need Bollywood to become stars
Dear Soumyadipta Banerjee,
I don’t know if it’s the right thing to be writing you a letter, since you might be endorsing a cut-off of all sorts (of written collaborations between our countries) after so emphatically bashing the cultural ones.
It might not even be the best time for you since I see your fellows are caught up in a frenzy of misjudging the Pakistani markings regarding the ammunition used in the Uri attacks. But I write to you because it’s necessary. You might not have singled out Fawad Khan in your letter but I evidently am addressing this to only you, since I do believe that many in your country still retain the basic sense and these are only your blatant misconceptions that I intend to discuss.
I don’t know whether it’s a tragedy or a comedy that you are intent on portraying Bollywood as a resort for all unemployed Pakistan artists. Heck, you make it sound like a charity that would have put the late Abdul Sattar Edhi to shame.
Accordingly, it’s convenient to pin-point a successful Fawad Khan (or your other options that include Mahira Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan or Adnan Sami – all of whom have been duly hailed by your country), but not a failed Veena Malik or a Meera; who ran out of work in Bollywood as soon as they started since they couldn’t impress your audiences.
That is the point exactly, Bollywood takes what sells. It isn’t doing any great service to the artists of my nation by hiring them out of pure sympathy. Just see the comments on the trailer of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil on YouTube, the people of your country are swooning over Fawad Khan so much that at places they even seem to over-shadow the lead of the movie.
Producers are hiring Pakistani artists and paying them (something that you seem to mention quite often) because they are making money through them; it’s business, not altruism.
You take the credit of making a superstar out of Fawad Khan ever so smoothly. But there’s a hitch: Fawad Khan was a superstar in Pakistan right when Humsafar aired in our country. All his subsequent serials were TRPs smashing. Friends from India tell me that Fawad Khan had won Indian hearts right when Zaroon was aired on Zindagi Channel. His stint in Indian cinema might have propelled his popularity slightly, but that’s what exposure does to you.
Deepika Padukone didn’t become a superstar after landing a role opposite Vin Diesel; it was her credentials as a superstar that got her there. And I see no way how you can take the credit of his stardom for something as forgettable as Khoobsurat, a flick that was duly bashed by all your critics (“great films” you say, I reserve my comments).
India didn’t make Fawad Khan a superstar, it roped him in because he was one already, and marketed the product where the demand was brewing already. Mahira Khan is another sweetheart of Pakistan. These are the highest paid celebrities in Pakistan, and the latter’s film in India hasn’t even released yet. The last point was just for your notice in case you try to claim Mahira Khan’s stardom in the future too.
It’s grossly ignorant on your part to claim that while your country opens its doors ever so warmly to our country, we shut them in your face just as relentlessly. Can you please tell me how many Pakistani films have graced the screens of your country lately? While we have seen almost every Indian film playing in our country, if one of our films is lucky enough to be given the green signal by your country, it lands in trouble.
The innocent Bin Roye was banned in Maharashtra, so you can definitely keep your intrinsic welcoming fantasy to yourself. Even if some Indian films are banned in Pakistan, they have baggage attached to them.
Expect us to screen a Phantom in our country only if you agree to show a Waar in yours. We also know that all Pakistani channels are banned in India, despite you agreeing that Pakistani serials are way better than Indian ones. Here you might be surprised to learn that every single Pakistani channel buys Indian content and plays it on our channels, despite Indian channels also airing in most parts of the country.
All your excruciating daily soaps (and God knows those things are liable to be banned only due to the sheer insanity they portray) are actually bought by Pakistan just as your films are. We are not just welcoming to your content, but also a revenue-generating market for you. So kindly cut us some slack, and do the math!
You seem indignant on the view that Indian artists aren’t allowed to work in Pakistan. Well, you may want to take a back-seat and question any among Nandita Das, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri among others in this regard, all of whom have portrayed essential roles in Pakistani films. Neha Dhupia has even done an item number here. We have had songs sung by Sonu Nigam, Shreya Ghoshal, Harsdeep Kaur, Rekha Bhardwaj, Ankit Tiwari and Sukhwinder Singh amongst others in our films, despite our music industry being second to none, and many among your population also seem to testify to this fact.
We have even had Indian singers on our Coke Studio, which is the rage all over the sub-continent. Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Nargis Fakhri, Sidhart Malhotra, Amrita Arora, Arjun Kapoor and many others have been a part of our advertisement campaigns, and you know better, those things pay quite well.
You talk about piracy as if Pakistan has a monopoly on it. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s an international issue. You should remember Udta Punjab as we remember Jawani Phir Nahi Aani, both films pirated in the very country they were made by. You play the higher ground by narrating how Pakistani artists have been showered with love in India. You might not have gotten to see that, but every single Indian celebrity who has ever come to Pakistan has gone back waxing lyrical about the sheer amount of adulation and admiration they’ve received in Pakistan.
You can either ask me to send you the links of their interviews or ask Mahesh Bhatt or Zeenat Aman yourself; just don’t ask Anupam Kher – but guide him on the process of applying for a visa. We have even been borderline welcoming to your director making propaganda films against our country, while one of your own actresses has been charged with sedition for stating something as innocuous as Pakistan is not hell.
This tells us something about our attitudes, doesn’t it? So let’s just do away with playing Mother Teresa!
And now, the most important point, you charge Fawad Khan for not denouncing his own country, but getting away with the charming smile of his every-time. Except that that isn’t his job. How would you feel if Hollywood starts seeking an apology from Priyanka Chopra every time an Indian is lynched for eating beef in your country? It’s not the job of artists to do what politicians are supposed to do. As Kamila Shamsie puts it, let’s not shift this burden from the shoulders of those responsible even one inch to those already engaging in exchange of culture and good-will.
Fawad Khan doesn’t have to carry the baggage of his nationality this way, just as you don’t hold your celebrities accountable for the actions of your state. In fact, how can you even stoop to the level of charging Fawad Khan with something some non-state actors from Pakistan might have done, when your own celebrities don’t bat an eyelid for the persecutions your state officially does?
Isn’t your all-time leading superstar associated with a party that orchestrated the Gujarat riots? Have you ever questioned him? How many of your celebrities have avowed against the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Kashmir, or the blinding of innumerable folks with pellet guns in that burning state? When you’re so intent on pointing out the alleged blood on Fawad Khan’s hands, how can you brush off the blood from the conscience of one of your own in a blink of an eye? The blood that was split by your state with a proper agenda, not even some lunatic groups going astray.
You cannot choose to look the other way when it comes to you, while trying to limit our focus to the loopholes erratically emanating from our place. When your celebrities don’t take it upon themselves to apologise for something their state is doing, why should Fawad Khan take the responsibility of something his state isn’t even directly involved in? You try to be a humanist, but all you end up becoming is a hyper-nationalist jingoist.
If there’s an equation of the cultural exchange between our countries, the balance shifts overwhelmingly in favour of Pakistan. We watch your films, telecast your shows, and listen to your songs; we know a lot more about your country that you have ever known about us. Your ignorance about us is what leads to you writing apparent love letters full of hatred to the likes of Fawad Khan.
You know how many Pakistanis have been killed due to terrorism? More than 50,000. Innocents, largely unnamed, faceless Pakistanis. Our civil society, our community, our media, our children and lately, even our establishment, is trying extremely hard to get rid of the scourge of terrorism. If you cannot help us with that, kindly do not insult us by bickering nonsensically out of the blue.
Oh, and people didn’t even know you before you started your rant against Fawad Khan. Now the whole sub-continent is talking about you (not very kindly, but hey, no publicity is bad publicity). So the next time you ignorantly claim that your country made Fawad Khan a super-star, always remember that it was due to this very same Pakistani star that you got your two minutes of fame.
Do visit Pakistan someday, please, to let go of the sheer bias you have against us. I, along with most other Pakistanis, will be very happy to show you around. And I promise, we won’t even consistently remind you of how much we’ve spent on you!
Love from a Pakistani.
PS: Fawad Khan is from Lahore, not Karachi.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.