The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pakistan stars set sights on Bollywood
- Peace push to cross-border films

The Vajpayee-Musharraf love story has spawned its sequel: coming to your cinemas shortly is the Bollywood-Lollywood romance.

Leading Pakistani actors are making a beeline for roles here — and one of Pakistan’s top actresses already looks set to get busy in Bollywood.

Meera, according to her official website the “Queen of Lollywood” (as in the Pakistani film industry based in Lahore), has been signed on to act in two Hindi films. She will play the leading lady in a yet-to-be titled Mahesh Bhatt thriller and in Allah Malik, a film by writer-director-producer P.D. Mehra.

The Bhatt film, in which Meera plays a blind woman who after an eye transplant acquires the ability to see murders in a red light area before they are committed, seems to offer the same old thriller-touched-with-supernatural plot, but its subtext is the new politics across the borders.

“Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf have started the peace and my film is going to extend it,” said Bhatt.

Meera, based in Lahore, told Reuters that she was as committed to the peace process and her films were her medium. “There has been a lot of opposition in India and Pakistan, but no one can stop us because we are doing this for peace,” she said. The actress said she was offered two roles by Bollywood directors last year, but had to turn them down because of tension between the governments and feared she would not be welcome back home if she travelled to India, the agency added. “This is my first step and I hope other actresses follow,” she said.

The trend seems to have started. “Meera will be here shortly,” says Mehra, who has set up the Pakistan India Performance Art Forum to facilitate interaction between “Bollywood” and “Lollywood”. “But everyone else also wants to be here, too. I have already got so many calls from Resham, another top Pakistani actress,” he says.

Reema, another Pakistani top actress, has just gone back to Pakistan. Called the Aishwarya Rai of Pakistan, Reema signed up choreographer Saroj Khan for her directorial project.

“There are three reasons why we want to work across the borders,” says Mehra. “First, artistes know no borders. Second, artistes in Pakistan are very poorly paid. Third, if we can open up both the countries as territories for our films, they will open up huge markets for us,” he says.

There is one problem, though, of the laws of the two lands. It is not easy to get an Indian film showing in Pakistan — Pakistan prohibits commercial screening of Indian films — and vice versa.

To get around the problem, Mehra has roped in co-producer Peer Wajed Ali Shah, and the film will be produced from Hollywood, by United Pictures International, their joint partnership company. Bhatt’s film is also being co-produced by Pakistan-born Britisher Sevy Ali, although a Pakistani-UK production, Ladki Panjaban, which has been waiting since last year to be released in India, is yet to be freed from the cans.

But that hasn’t stopped the flow of Pakistani guests to Bollywood and Indian visitors to Lahore.

At Mehra’s house, well-known Pakistani pop-sufi-qawali singer Rafaqat Ali Khan is flitting in and out of the drawing room, apologetic for intruding. He is to return in March to record two songs for Rakesh Roshan’s next venture.

In March, Mehra’s Pakistan India forum will take a delegation of Bollywood film personalities, including Javed Jaffrey, Bappi Lahiri and Saroj Khan, to Lahore on the occasion of Vasant, the kite-flying festival. “It heralds spring, vasant. The sky in Lahore is covered with kites. This will be a new beginning for our industries,” said Mehra.

Allah Malik will repackage Meera for the Indian audience, jokes Mehra, the writer of 300-odd films like the remade Bees Saal Baad and Mujrim.

“Meerabai had drunk poison and was assimilated in Lord Krishna. But the lord has given Meera back,” he adds.

He started Allah Malik, which is about the friendship of two men, one Hindu and one Muslim, one rich and one poor, with Indian and Pakistani casts, but which “transcends all artificial borders like religion and politics”, in 1999. Then came Kargil and one of the worst times between India and Pakistan. Now with the thaw, Mehra, who says he spent Rs 36,000 on telephone calls to Pakistan since the Saarc summit, wants to start afresh.

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