| Pakistani actress Sonia Jahan and director of Taj Mahal Akbar Khan in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)
Akbar Khan’s Taj Mahal might have sunk without a trace at home, but it is set to make history across the border. On Wednesday, it will become the first Indian film to be commercially released in Pakistan after 40 years.
“Congratulations for making history,” the producer-director was told by his actor nephew Fardeen Khan at a news conference today before a delegation left for Lahore and Karachi for the film’s Pakistan premiere.
There is some quibbling, however, on whether history is really being made.
On Sunday, distributors of the colour version of Mughal-e-Azam held a premiere of the 1960s classic in Lahore, advancing the screening apparently just to upstage the Akbar Khan show. And a couple of other Hindi films have been shown over the decades.
But the delegation insists a premiere doesn’t qualify as a commercial release ' 20 prints of Taj Mahal are being released in Pakistan ' nor do joint productions or movies seen at film festivals. Film-maker Mahesh Bhatt, part of the delegation, said Taj Mahal was “undoubtedly” the first commercial Hindi movie to be released in Pakistan in 41 years.
Indian films and music were banned in Pakistan since the 1965 war. A massive illegal trade in Indian DVDs and CDs flourishes, though. Taj Mahal, Mughal-e-Azam and a couple more films will be screened with special permission from President Pervez Musharraf.
Indian tourism and culture minister Ambika Soni, who will join the delegation for an overnight halt in Lahore to attend the premiere, hopes the film paves the way for an eventual lifting of Islamabad’s ban. “It is a welcome beginning,” she told reporters. India hasn’t imposed any restrictions on Pakistani films and artistes performing in this country.
The delegation is expected to make a case for this when it meets Pakistan culture minister Ajmal Khan and probably Musharraf.
Apart from Bhatt, the delegation includes the Khan clan ' Akbar, brothers Sanjay and Feroz, and Fardeen ' actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha and the film’s lead actors: Zulfikar who plays Shah Jahan and UK-based Sonya Jehan, who is Mumtaz Mahal. Manisha Koirala might join them.
Pakistanis, unlike most Indian audiences, won’t have too much difficulty with the high-flown Urdu dialogues, the delegation hopes.