The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indian, Pakistani bhai, bhai

Love, actually: Pakistani singers Mustafa and Annie

Without being over sentimental, it is true to say that one of the heart warming aspects of London life is that when Indians and Pakistanis meet, especially the younger lot, the infringements by militants across the Line of Control in Kashmir seem a long way away. They get on very well indeed.

There was a notable occasion last week at an Indian restaurant called Imli in Soho with the launch by Saregama of the music from the film, Awarapan, where the singers are Pakistani and the actors Indian. Directed by Mukesh Bhatt, Awarapan is set to be released on June 29.

Bhatt was present at the restaurant as was his lead actor, Emraan Hashmi, from Mumbai and his lead singer, Mustafa Zahid, from Lahore.

Mustafa (also known as Musti), who is 24 and performs for a band called Roxen in Pakistan, is returning to India for the film’s launch. “My band’s music is part only of pop culture in Pakistan,” he told me. “Whereas in India, film music is part of popular culture. India is a much bigger market.”

Perhaps we should emulate the current examples of Britain and France who fought two world wars with Germany which were much, much bloodier than any of the conflicts between India and Pakistan. Today, they are friends and travel between the United Kingdom, France and Germany requires no visas.

It is encouraging that Indian bureaucrats do seem to understand that collaboration in cinema can ease tensions. Mustafa and his fellow Pakistani singers, including a girl called Annie Noorul, had very much enjoyed filming in India where they had been treated like celebrities. And when the Pakistani singers applied to return to India, “we got our Indian visas in 24 hours”.

Plassey birthday

It is not often that I get a letter signed in Bengali but I am pleased to have got one signed by Murad Qureshi, London Assemby member, inviting me to a lecture, panel discussion and reception in London to mark the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Plassey — or Polashi as the inmates in my corner of Calcutta still prefer to call it.

Murad says that the event, organised in partnership with Cambridge, “provides an opportunity to discuss the impact of British colonial rule in South Asia”.

The lecture will be delivered by our old friend Amartya Sen, a man whom I would quite like to see elected President of India, although he cannot quite fathom why President Kalam should not continue for another term.

Hallowed turf

Any suggestion that the headquarters of cricket should be shifted from Lord’s to Eden Gardens, as some do because most of the money in the game comes from India, would be fiercely resisted — also by Indians.

My English mole with the binoculars in the Long Room at Lord’s tells me a revealing tale.

“The tours of Lord’s — now undertaken by almost 1,000 people per week throughout the year — are attracting huge numbers of people of Indian origin,” he says in an exclusive mobile phone tip off. “We did some research and found they accounted for more than 40 per cent of the overall total.”

He adds: “Following the Indian cricket team’s visit to Lord’s next month for the Npower Test match, another Indian team will be coming to Lord’s in early August — for an international archery contest.”

To paraphrase James Bond, the master of bad jokes — I think I have got the point.

Mind you, Lord’s isn’t quite the place it used to be. Some Indians respect the traditions but not everyone does. When India won the NatWest Trophy after Michael Vaughan’s side had scored 325, there was unruly bhangra dancing inside the ground.

The look of utter bewilderment on the face of an old boy with a striped MCC tie indicated he was not pleased.

Location wars

This is a story about a clash between Bollywood and Hollywood, well sort of. Ashwini Chopra, a well known location and production manager, was filming in Piccadilly Circus just over a fortnight ago when he was told by a young policewoman he would have to stop.

It is unlikely many of us will get to see the movie in question — a Punjabi one called Lakh Pardesi Hoi, written, conceived, directed and everything else by a Dr Swaran Singh, who doubles up in his spare time as the Commissioner of Jalhandhar.

But that is not the point.

Ashwini flourished his written permission from Westminster City Council which gave him clearance to shoot his song and dance sequence by the statue of Eros at the stipulated time.

The policewoman pointed to a restaurant, the Criterion, and explained in a reverential tone: “You can’t disturb them — there’s a Hollywood crew in there shooting a film.”

An enraged Chopra shouted back: “I don’t care if Hollywood is in there. This is Bollywood, we are bigger, I have written permission, you can do what you like but I am going ahead with my shoot.”And he did. It is a miracle he was not arrested and placed on a CIA rendition flight to Guantanamo. Later, a more subdued policewoman even offered to help control the crowd for him which Ashwini said he didn’t need. He could manage on his own. “I met the Hollywood crew and they hadn’t even heard us,” said Ashwini, glad he had stood his ground. It is just possible that the policewoman had taken an advance peek at the script and storyline and was perhaps not entirely convinced of the merits of Lakh Pardesi Hoi.

Icon worship

We mustn’t be surprised if Amitabh Bachchan, like Shilpa Shetty and M.F. Husain, is tempted to settle in the UK where they appreciate true genius.

Having presided over IIFA in Yorkshire, he will be at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) in London on June 16 and 17.

Back home, he may have a little difficulty over buying land but here in Britain, the nation is pre- pared to heap honorary degrees upon him.

At Bafta, he will be “the first focus of Screen Icons, a new strand of academy events that will celebrate iconic figures”.

Movies that will showcase Bachchan’s talent include Sholay, Silsila, Eklavya and Nishabd.

If only Bachchan had a British passport, Tony Blair would probably send him to the House of Lords as his last act of statesmanship.

Tittle tattle

A generous host rang and invited me to a dinner to facilitate an MP in the House of Commons.

“Veg or non-veg'” he asked.

“Non-veg,” though at these functions it is often wiser to stick to veg.

The next question from mine host, a Sikh, was a joke in questionable taste which reflected how England, once viewed in India as a green and pleasant land, is changing.

“Halal or non-halal'” he chuckled.

After I had spoken to him, I went to the newsagents, and purchased a pile of newspapers.

I also bought TimeOut, whose cover, all in green and with a headline in the nastaliq script, caught my eye.

The English translation read: “Is London’s future Islamic'”

What life will be like in the new Islamic Republic of Britain, TimeOut couldn’t say.

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