The attacks on actors Ramya and Richa Chadha prove that art (unfortunately) does have borders family, wedding pictures, age, height, weight, biography
Pakistan is an important market for Hindi films, and Pakistani actors, musicians and filmmakers have been exploring their talent on the Indian side of the border for some years now. If a poll were to be conducted of whether Pakistani star Fawad Khan should be given honorary Indian citizenship, we already know what the results would say.
Yet, Indian actors and filmmakers can come out in open support of their Pakistani peers at their own peril. The most recent victims of Pakistan-bashing have been two female actors. One is the Kannada actor and Congress Party politician Ramya, who noted after a recent trip with a parliamentary delegation across that border that Pakistan “is not hell”. Ramya, whose real name is Divya Spandana, explained, “People there are just like us. They treated us very well. She seemed to have been reacting to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s comment that “Going to Pakistan is like going to hell.” Her remarks prompted a lawyer from Karnatka named Vittal Gowda to file a sedition complaint against her. Gowda said that Ramya is “anti-national”. The actress maintained that she was well within her Constitutional right to speak her mind.
Thank you all for your support. What would we be without each other? 😀
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— Divya Spandana/Ramya (@divyaspandana) August 23, 2016
In Melbourne, Richa Chadha, who is known for her honesty and outspokenness, invited vicious trolling when she defended Fawad Khan at a press conference last week. Both actors were in the Australian city to attend the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne. In response to a question on whether there are cultural differences between India and Pakistan, especially with regard to the depiction of on-screen intimacy, Chadha declared: “I will have far more in common with Fawad because I am from the north of India than I will have with somebody who is a Tambrahm or maybe a Malyali or from the North East.” Chadha added, “I think we should avoid stereotyping in questions or creating some kind of contradiction here because the whole intent and especially art does really have any borders.”
Movie stars usually do not go public with their personal political views because they worry about inviting a backlash. The nasty responses to Chadha on Twitter, where users have called her a “bimbette”, among other things, proves that we prefer our actors to be seen and not heard, unless they are being nationalistic and toeing the government’s line on the issues of the day.
Richa Chadha in Melbourne.
Was the Melbourne journalist trying to ask, in a long-winded way, whether Fawad Khan would agree to kiss on screen? He hasn’t thus far, and has declared that he will not be doing so. Khan built his immense fan base in India though the Zee Telefilms channel Zindagi. With a schedule heavy on Pakistani soaps, some of which are better than the shrill fare on Indian television, Zindagi has boosted the popularity in India of many Pakistani actors. After the success of Khoobsurat (2014) and Kapoor & Sons (2016), Fawad Khan will be seen next in Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which will be released on October 28. The movie also stars the light-eyed Pakistani heartthrob Imran Abbas. Mahira Khan has been cast alongside Shah Rukh Khan in the 2017 crime drama Raees, while Saba Qamar will appear opposite Irfaan in the 2017 movie Hindi Medium.
Mahira Khan. Image courtesy ‘Dawn’.
Hindi filmmakers are forever on the prowl for camera-friendly actors who also know their craft, and Pakistan seems to produce such specimens by the spadeful. There’s also a business aspect to casting Pakistani actors in big-budget productions – this automatically increases the overseas markets for such films in Pakistan and countries where the Pakistani diaspora is to be found.
India knows very little about Pakistani cinema, except for a few instances, such as Khuda Kay Liye and Bol, which were released by Eros Entertainment in India. However, Indian films often find their way into the neighbouring country through legitimate and illegitimate means, and they sometimes help offset the official sabre-rattling on both sides over long-standing issues such as Kashmir and cross-border terrorism. The recent screwball comedy Happy Bhag Jayegi, in which a runaway bride finds herself in Lahore and is helped back home by the efforts of a Pakistani businessman, is the most recent example of soft power trying to achieve what diplomacy has failed to.
The song ‘Zara Si Dosti Kar Le’ from ‘Happy Bhaa Jayegi’.
Despite this, Pakistan does not always roll out the red carpet for Indian productions. Films seen as being “anti-Pakistani” – a category as dubious as India’s “anti-national”label – are routinely banned. Recent victims include Phantom, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Ek Tha Tiger, Dishoom, Neerja, Bangistan and Baby. Although Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) was released in Pakistan, the director was heckled by some bystanders at the Lahore airport. Proving yet again that cultural artists are regarded as ambassadors for their country’s policies, the protestors yelled anti-India slogans and demanded that Khan make films depicting the operations of India’s intelligence agencies in Pakistan.
Happy Bhaag Jayegi steers clear of politics, and, in fact, presents a post-political Utopia in which Indians and Pakistani will squabble about issues that have nothing to do with Kashmir or terrorism. Yet, the movie has not yet been released in Pakistan because of alleged differences between the local censor board.
The regular flow of Pakistani talent to Mumbai is not free of problems. Local ultra-national parties such as the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena regularly threaten to block this flow. The Shiv Sena, which has frequently prevented the renowned Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali from performing in Mumbai, declared in 2015 that it would not allow these actors to promote their films in India. While the threats have not prevented Fawad Khan from giving interviews or gracing magazine covers, they linger in the room like the proverbial elephant and force Hindi filmmakers and fans to take sides.
Indians are immensely proud when their artists are accepted by the West on their own terms. Our chests puff with pride when actors like Irrfan, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone bag prestigious acting assignments in Hollywood. But we are unable extend the same courtesy to our neighbours. Flashpoints such as Kashmir usually raise the temperature. As a consequence, even self-evident observations, such as the one by Ramya, have come to be regarded as nothing less than seditious. Actors are more vulnerable than many others, but they are by no means alone.
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