| NO CLOSER: (Left) Meera with Ashmit Patel in Nazar
Calcutta, April 22: The kiss that was threatening to undo the handshake between Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf has been smothered.
Smack in the middle of bus rides and cricket diplomacy, Lahore actor Meera's on-screen kiss with Mumbai man Ashmit Patel in Nazar had struck a discordant note, sparking protests and jeopardising the entry of Pakistani actors into Bollywood.
Even Musharraf spoke about it indirectly in an interview to STAR News on the eve of his departure for India last week. He said Pakistan's culture did not permit what India's did.
So, the kiss is being given a miss.
For once, Mahesh Bhatt, producer of the first ever Indo-Pak film collaboration Nazar, has decided to play safe with his 'freedom of expression', and do away with the controversial kiss ' all for the sake of borderline brotherhood.
'I will show the final cut to my co-producer (Pakistani Sevy Ali) but if it's going to embarrass him and throw his investment in jeopardy, it's not worth it,' Bhatt said.
'We can't destroy the bridges we have built because of one kiss.'
Under pressure ' including death threats ' from fundamentalists, Meera seemed relieved at the move to chop the liplock. 'I am happy that they have decided to delete the kiss,' she told The Telegraph from Pakistan.
The Aishwarya Rai from across the border explained: 'My fans in Pakistan love me and they have a right over me. They can comment on my actions. But I still maintain that there was nothing vulgar in Nazar. It is not a sex-based film, not even a romantic film. It's a supernatural thriller and I am not even comfortable doing bold scenes.'
But the film's director, debutante Soni Razdan, seemed far from happy. 'I can realise that it's a Muslim woman kissing a Hindu man and that too in India. But when the film releases in our country, Indian censorship laws apply and the censors had said, 'You can keep the kiss'. If the Pakistanis find it vulgar, their censor board can delete the scene. But, I guess, the issue now is bigger than me or my stand.'
The move may be a respite for many Pakistani actors like Meera who are planning to make Bollywood their base. 'Films like Nazar are really important for the growing friendship between India and Pakistan,' said Meera, who was spotted by Bhatt on a trip to Pakistan in 2004.
Bhatt believes the cut wouldn't affect the content. 'It comes right at the end when the man and the woman swear their love for each other and kiss. So we can cut right before the act. That doesn't destroy the moment or the film.'
For the director, though, it does matter. 'Had I known beforehand, I would have shot an alternative ending.'
All this controversy could add an intrigue value to Nazar, when it releases on May 20, she believes.
Now that the liplock, which wasn't quite in lip-sync with the peace song they were singing, has been unlocked, would Musharraf and Manmohan be watching'