Hush-hush trip to nowhere
Bharathi S. Pradhan
Phew! Going to Pakistan can sometimes be so contentious. As a first of sorts, there was a move early this month to release the music of Welcome To Karachi in Karachi. Produced by richie-rich builder Vashu Bhagnani, this is one of those Dumb And Dumber kind of comedies that was to star Arshad Warsi, the actor with the super comic timing, and Irrfan Khan, for whom screen wit would have been a new experience. As filmgoing fans know, when Irrfan inexplicably dropped out at the last moment, Vashu's son Jackky Bhagnani stepped in to co-star with Arshad Warsi.
The Arshad-Jackky combo works well since they've done films like FALTU and get along really well. So did the two of them have a ball shooting in Karachi for their new film?
The truth is, they didn't set foot in Pakistan but shot in the UK and in Indore. The latter is not such a strange choice of venue as Vashu, who I've described as a richie-rich builder, has some snazzy construction coming up. It's one of the most upper-crust residential complexes I've seen in India. Since Vashu has a finger in Indore's construction pie, it stood to reason he did some of his filming there.
Although they didn't shoot in Pakistan, when someone came up with the bright idea of holding the music release in Karachi, there was much activity with a list drawn up of all the people who should go across the Wagah border for it. Hotels in Pakistan were looked at (not booked), visa forms were procured and passport details were gathered. It was all hush-hush; nobody in the media knew about it. That was just as well because a few days before they were to apply for their visas, the whole trip was called off. It was cancelled as quietly as it had been planned.
One of the reasons being whispered was that one of the artistes of Welcome to Karachi had a brother in the US army, who panicked at the thought of his sibling's passport having a Pakistan visa stamp. So this artiste opted out, taking the glamour out of the function.
More importantly, Arshad Warsi was reported to have dilly-dallied over a visa for himself because he was not keen on going to Pakistan. And without Arshad, a Welcome To Karachi function was pointless. Since it was all hush-hush, the reasons going around blew out of proportion with someone even saying that because of the growing Taliban presence there, Arshad wanted to stay away from the neighbouring country.
"How did you hear about this?" Arshad wondered when we talked about it. And then his story tumbled out. Yes, he didn't want the music release to be held in Pakistan; no, it was not because he was avoiding Pakistan.
"A music release in Karachi would have been just a gimmick and I don't like gimmicks; I have a problem with it," said the straight-talking actor. "Had we shot at least some part of the film in Pakistan, it would've been fine. But the truth is, we haven't put a step into the country for our film. We shot in London. If we'd done the music release in London, I'd have been fine with it."
Once he opened up, Arshad was in full spate as he remarked, "All through our trip, we'd have been apologising to the entire country saying, sorry, we haven't shot in your country. Maybe we'll come back and shoot Welcome To Karachi Part 2 ," he grinned.
So it wasn't because he was afraid to go to Pakistan?
"Oh, no, no," he said, denying that he had any problems with visiting Pakistan. To clinch it, he pointed out that he was someone who'd even been to Afghanistan (for a long stint with John Abraham for the filming of Kabul Express ).
Said Arshad, "I have shot in Afghanistan, stayed there for weeks and walked the streets without security. I've run away from the security, gone out in disguise, speeded a car on the other side of the road, eaten roadside burgers and shopped in a mall in Afghanistan. I'm quite a crazy guy that way.
"So no, I wasn't afraid to go to Pakistan. Going to Pakistan would be a breeze, I'd love to go there, meet the people, eat some great food. Friends like Naseerbhai (Naseeruddin Shah) and a Pakistani actor called Adnan have told me that I've an unimaginable fan following there. I'd love to go to Pakistan. But not for a gimmick."
We live in times when actors will stand upside down to promote their films. I wonder how many would take a stand not to participate in a gimmick.
By the way, ever since Munnabhai re-opened doors for him, Arshad has been doing so well that he has moved into a swank new house. "It's still being done up," he warned. There seems to be a pattern there as I'd been to his earlier place too when they'd just shifted in. It's in the new, still-to-be-done-up house that the actor and wife Maria Goretti will be throwing a housewarming and birthday party tonight. It's the day Arshad turns 47.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author