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Asia

Films, actors become entangled in India-Pakistan tensions

Rising animosity between India and Pakistan in recent months has spilled over into the area of culture. While Pakistanis have been banned from working on Indian films, Bollywood movies have met the same fate in Pakistan.

In light of the current hostilities between the two nuclear-armed warring South Asian neighbors, the Indian Motion Picture Producers' Association (IMPPA) recently banned Pakistani actors, singers and technicians from working on Indian movies.

The association passed a resolution banning Pakistani actors and technicians in India until tempers cool and normalcy returns in ties between both countries.

And if that was not enough, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a regional party in the western state of Maharashtra, issued a stern diktat asking Pakistani actors to leave India or face consequences.

"The day Pakistan stops terrorist attacks, only then will we extend our hand of friendship," said Amey Khopkar a MNS party leader. "After the attacks, none of these Pakistani actors condemned it. We are not protesting against art and cinema, we are protesting against Pakistani actors."

A volatile situation

Tensions between India and Pakistan have been at a boiling point over the past couple of months.

They were triggered by the massive anti-government protests in India-administered Kashmir following the killing of a separatist leader by security forces.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both in its entirety. Since they became independent in 1947, both countries have fought two wars with each other over the territory.

While the Indian government came down hard on Kashmiri protesters, Pakistan condemned the brutal crackdown. New Delhi, in turn, accused Islamabad of inciting anti-India sentiment and protests in India-administered Kashmir. India also raised the issue of Pakistan's western province of Balochistan, accusing Islamabad of sponsoring terrorism and committing rights abuses in the province.

Then last month, an attack on an Indian army base by heavily armed militants led to the deaths of 19 Indian soldiers. The Indian army said the rebels had infiltrated into the Indian part of Kashmir from Pakistan.

India responded to that attack last week, announcing it had carried out "surgical strikes" against militant camps and destroyed "terrorist launching pads" on the Pakistani side of the heavily guarded de facto border, claiming it had also inflicted significant casualties.

Pakistan denied such an attack had occurred. Furthermore, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has reiterated that Pakistan is "inseparable" from Kashmir and will continue to fight for the region's freedom. In this context, tensions are running high and the situation remains volatile.

The IMPPA's move to bar Pakistani artists came against this backdrop. Some Indian film personalities have voiced support for the boycott. For instance, Hindi film stars like Nana Patekar and Randeep Hooda said the country came first above everything else and cultural exchanges made no sense at this juncture.

"I don't know anything else other than my country. An artist is very small in front of a country. As artists, we don't have value when it comes to country," Patekar said on Sunday, October 2.

Film producer Madhur Bhandarkar also supported the ban. "When you see our soldiers have been killed, and the whole scenario... I feel a lot of Pakistani artists who work here should have condemned the attacks on India over the years," he said.

Artists, not 'terrorists'

But some Indian actors have come out openly in support of Pakistani actors and musicians, arguing that politics and art should not be mixed up.

Filmmaker Karan Johar minced no words when he pointed out that boycotting artists from the neighboring country was no solution to terrorism. His upcoming movie "Ae Dil Hai Mushkil," which stars Pakistani actor Fawad Khan, has been the target of protests by the MNS.

"I understand the anger and the anguish that surround us and I empathize, my heart bleeds for the lost lives. There is nothing that can justify this terrible feeling of terror. Then you are faced in a situation such as this [the ban on Pakistani artists]. If this was truly a solution, one would take it," Johar said in a recent interview. 

"But this is not a solution. I don't believe it is," he added. "The larger forces have to come together and sort out the situation and this cannot be banning talent or art."

Even superstar Salman Khan jumped into the fray. "They are artists. We have killed the terrorists. Artists are not terrorists," he said. "These are two different subjects. They come to our country after acquiring visas, and it's our government who allows them a work permit for our country."

Others like veteran actor Suresh Oberoi and film makers Mahesh Bhatt also emphasized that artists should not be treated like "terrorists."

From music albums to playback singing, there are several well-known Pakistani artists involved in big-ticket Indian projects. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam are just a few famous names that will be affected by the ban.

"Culture in whatever form brings people closer. Banning artists is just tokenism that serves no purpose," Vidya Shah, an Indian singer and musician told DW.

Since relations between India and Pakistan went into a deep freeze, Pakistani musicians and artists have found it difficult to perform in India.

Last year ghazal maestro, Ghulam Ali’s concert in two cities were cancelled because Hindu fringe groups did not want any Pakistani artists to perform there.

Pakistan bans too

In a tit for tat, Indian films have also been banned in cinemas across Pakistan.

"It is deeply regrettable that a film trade body, the IMPPA, has passed a resolution to ban Pakistani stars and technicians from working in India," Pakistan's Film Exhibitors and Distributors group said in a statement.

"The majority stake holders of the [Pakistani] film industry have decided to suspend the screening of all Indian films until normalcy returns," it added.

Indian movies are hugely popular in Pakistan and many of them are even sold as pirated CDs. In recent times, cable network operators have also been beaming Hindi films on television and two Pakistani FM channels broadcast Hindi film songs every day.

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