| Amitabh Bachchan: Love thy neighbour
Mumbai, May 8: The India-Pakistan love story has taken its toll on Bollywood. Given the cricket series and the overflow of powerful feelings both ways across the border, the biggest producers and directors, with cross-border stories on hand that could be perceived as “anti-Pakistan”, are scampering to shelve projects or rewrite scripts. At the least, they are apologetic, defending their films as being about a “past that cannot be changed”.
Ram Gopal Verma has dropped his film Ek, which was to feature Amitabh Bachchan and revolved around militants based in Pakistan, as it would not have shown India’s view of its neighbour in the proper light. The star-studded Ek would have been India’s most expensive film ever at Rs 80 crore.
Gaurang Doshi did not have to do anything as drastic, but to get over the anti-Pakistan tag for his film Deewar, Let’s Bring the Heroes Home — ready for release and also starring Bachchan — he tried for a simultaneous commercial release in India and Pakistan — and failed.
He is also reported to have been forced to change the script of Deewar, because the lines relied on heavy-duty Pakistan-bashing, but he denies this.
Anil Sharma, the redoubtable producer of the virulent anti-Pakistan smash-hit Gadar, had to revise his stand for his forthcoming film Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyon, which also stars Bachchan. He had to change the setting from Pakistan to Bangladesh — the Bangladesh War. While it will still be boiling over with patriotism — the release will be in August, around Independence Day — Pakistan will be less at the receiving end in the final script than in the original one.
The urban and witty Farhan Akhtar has also joined the bandwagon. He is insisting that his ready-for-release Lakshya, with Hrithik Roshan and Preity Zinta, is about a time when Pakistan was India’s enemy. And his film stars Bachchan, too.
“There is a general feeling that Pakistan-bashing isn’t working any more, the reason behind Ek being dropped or Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyon being set in a different context,” said trade analyst Taran Adarsh.
He pointed out that the commercial failure of LoC, a colossal pro-India, anti-Pakistan saga, made the point at the box office very clear. “The political climate has changed and so have people’s tastes,” said the director of Chandni Bar, Madhur Bhandarkar. “There has been too much anti-Pakistan sentiment anyway.”
When he started the film, no one knew that Indo-Pak relations were going to improve, said Doshi, who has denied rewriting the script of Deewar, despite several reports. “I am happy that things are getting better, but we cannot ignore what happened in the past. It’s all right to say we are brothers, but we have gone to war thrice. Pakistan has also supported terrorist activities in India for decades and hundreds of PoWs have languished in Pakistani jails,” said Doshi.
But he added: “Deewar is not an anti-Pak film. In it Sunjay Dutt and another actor are cast as Pakistani men. Both the characters are positive.”
Akhtar echoed him. “Lakshya is not about Kargil,” he said at the music release of his film (though the film is about Hrithik joining the war). “Lakshya does not send out any strong India-Pakistan message. The film is not about that. It is about Hrithik’s character. Indo-Pakistan relations are improving and everyone is happy. But we cannot change what happened. The film tells us history should not be forgotten. Call it a mistake or an event, but many lives were lost. It is important to learn from history.”
But this has not kept other filmmakers from jumping into the fray. A number of bonhomie films are lined up. Yash Chopra has started a project with a cross-border love story. Bhandarkar’s producer Bobby Pushkarna is in talks with Pakistani film industry people in London now for an Indo-Pakistani project. A forthcoming film called Sarhad Paar shows Indian and Pakistani armies on a joint mission to fight terrorism.
And veteran producer-director P.D. Mehra, just back from a trip to Pakistan, where he finalised his long-term project Allah Malik, said the mood is just as affable in Pakistan.