Utpal Borpujari

September 23, 2008

Pak cinema transcends the barrier

by Utpal Borpujari


When Shoaib Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye (In the Name of God) was released in Indian theatres in December, 2007, it etched an important landmark in India-Pakistan cultural relations. It was the first Pakistani feature film to get commercially released in India, immediately drawing critical and to a great extent, commercial acclaim. Before that, in 2004, Sabiha Sumar’s Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters) had a limited release in India, but it was a Pakistan-France-German co-production. Now, as Ramchand Pakistani , another critically-acclaimed film from across the borders, gets ready to be released in India, Pakistani films seem ready to go beyond the initial phase of curiosity value among Indian film lovers.


Ample proof of this was in display during the two screenings of Ramchand Pakistani at the 10th Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian & Arab Cinema in Delhi, with students and young professionals lapping up the realistic tale based on a true incident with great enthusiasm. The presence of Indian actress Nandita Das in one of the major roles of course helped viewers to immediately connect with the film that has a multi-layered structure talking about the larger politics and discriminations of the region weaved around an incident of a little kid and his father inadvertently crossing the borders and being forced to spend several years in an Indian jail. But it was the humane story of people caught in helpless situations that viewers carried home finally, just as it had been with Khamosh Pani.


“This kind of films help generate understanding among people of the two countries who are culturally so similar but are separated due to historical incidents. Politics has played a big role in sustaining the sense of mistrust we have for each other, but stories like this can help change the perceptions and remove misunderstandings,” says Anhad Imaan, a student of Integrated MA (Anthrology) in Hyderabad University attending the festival. Imaan, in fact, describes Ramchand Pakistani as a very good example of the similarities the people of the two countries share, “something that came out very strongly earlier in Habib Tanvir’s play Jisne Lahore Nahin Dekhya Wo Janmya Hi Nahin”.


Lack of knowledge about each other’s societies is something that can be positively changed by cultural exchanges, Delhi University student Urmi Sharma says. She has a reason for saying so – a viewing of Khuda Kay Liye left her completely perplexed. “That was because we have this common perception that anyone from Pakistan would be of the hardliner sort when it comes to Islam, mostly because that is what we perceive from reports in the media. It was refreshing to see and know that people there are just like us, fighting similar political prejudices.” Ramchand Pakistani, she says, has opened her eyes to the fact that lower rungs of the society are the biggest victims of societal prejudices whether “there” or “here”. “We know that Indian films, the Bollywood kind, are hugely popular in Pakistan, but it is only now that we are getting to know that Pakistan is making such sensitive cinema. Till I saw Khuda Kay Liye, I had no idea about Pakistani cinema,” she says.

Photographer-designer-filmmaker Parthiv Shah is also for more access to Pakistani cinema. “While Indian films are getting regularly released in Pakistan, hardly a few films from there have been released here. More of their cinema, including commercial ones, should be released here, because that way one will get to know more about their popular culture.” In fact, Pakistani filmmaker Ehteshamuddin, whose short film Yeh Hindustan Wo Pakistan is part of the Osian’s Cinefan festival, says Punjabi films like Chooriyan and Majajan, big Box Office successes made in Lahore, would surely find acceptance among viewers in Punjabi-speaking areas of India too. “Yes, we don’t have the star power or technical finesse of Indian films, but if we can send some of our good work over, like Khuda Kay Liye or Ramchand Pakistani, they will definitely win hearts in India,” he says. Quite clearly, it is time to shift the gear and accelerate on cultural and cinematic exchanges – from Pakistan to India, especially since the vice versa has already been happening, through pirated VCDs and DVDs and now through theatrical releases.

(An abridged version was published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 19-07-2008)

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