Pakistani cinema owners are set to resume the screening of Indian films after a two-month self-imposed ban linked to the Kashmir conflict. Can cultural exchange reduce hostilities between India and Pakistan?
Nadeem Mandliwala, a board member of the Pakistan Film Exhibitors Association, said Sunday that the cinema owners wanted to "lodge a protest" against India and felt that the message had been conveyed. The decision to ban the Indian films came in response to a similar move by the Indian film industry, he added.
"There is a lot of demand for Indian movies and till two months ago, when Indian movies were still screened, we used to have full house at all the screenings. We would put five shows a day and six on the weekends, because we would get requests for an additional show," Anil Altaf, a supervisor for the Islamabad-based Centaurus Marketing and Call Centre, told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.
In light of the current hostilities between the two nuclear-armed warring South Asian neighbors, the Indian Motion Picture Producers' Association (IMPPA) banned Pakistani actors, singers and technicians from working on Indian movies in October.
The association passed a resolution banning Pakistani actors and technicians in India until tempers cool and normalcy returns in ties between both countries.
In a tit for tat, Pakistan also banned Indian films across the country.
"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 following the Indian ban.
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. That is why many social media users in Pakistan have welcomed the move to resume the screening of Indian movies.
Some, however, say the ban on Indian movies shouldn't be lifted.
A volatile situation
Tensions between India and Pakistan have been at a boiling point over the past few 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.
Narendra Modi's election to Indian premier in May 2014 led some to expect a lasting diplomatic solution with Pakistan. Modi made the first move, as he invited Sharif to attend his oath-taking ceremony in New Delhi. Sharif opted to reciprocate Modi's friendly gesture and went to the Indian capital on May 26 with a "message of peace." Experts said it was an unprecedented step by a Pakistani leader to engage on such a high-level with a Hindu nationalist like Modi, who was allegedly involved in a Muslim massacre in Gujarat in 2002 as the state's head.
But in less than two months after the historic meeting of prime ministers Sharif and Modi in New Delhi, the armies of the two nuclear-armed South Asian nations began to trade gunfire along the Kashmir border. Things were back to square one in a very short time.
While extremists in both countries benefit from animosity and war hysteria, many young Indians and Pakistanis say the two neighbors need to bury the hatchet and start anew. Young, liberal Pakistanis believe it is important to focus on the present rather than dwell on the past. They say that Pakistan needs to get rid of its religious identity and improve ties with India and other countries in the region. They don't believe Pakistan can prosper if it is not at peace with its neighbors.
Wajahat Malik, an Islamabad-based documentary filmmaker, believes that the best way for India and Pakistan to develop a closer relationship is through more interaction between their peoples. "People-to-people contact, trade and tourism are the way forward for the two countries. When people come together, the states will follow suit," he told DW.
However, Indian writer Tasneef Haidar, who is in the process of archiving the works of great Urdu poets of the Indian sub-continent on his "Adabi Duniya" website, is not very optimistic about the Indo-Pakistani cultural endeavors towards peace and harmony.
"I have no doubt that many young people in the two countries want ties to improve, but the chances of it happening are quite slim. Religion and nationalism have been amalgamated in our politics, and it is a big hindrance," he said.
Artists, not 'terrorists'
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.
"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 an interview in October.
"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."
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 have been affected by the ban.