The tumultuous relationship between India and Pakistan oftentimes serves as one of the finest content providers to the Indian cinema. The majority of the time, an Indo-Pak script is quite popular with audiences on both sides of the border.
Prior to the partition, writers like Sadat Hasan Manto played a key role in addition to actors, directors, and scriptwriters in shaping the Indian cinema. Bollywood, as we know it today, owes a lot to performers like Prithiviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Krishna Chander, and Ismat Chugtai, to mention a few.
Several movies, including Hena, Border, LoC Kargil, Gadar, Uri, RAW, Phantom, Refugee,Veer-Zaara, Ek Tha Tiger, Tiger Zinda Hai, Bajaranjie Bhaijaan, Total Siyaapa, Happy Bhag Jayagi and Veer Zara, were made with this tenuous relationship between the two nations in mind. In India, certain films that celebrate India’s dominance over Pakistan are applauded, while others with more mature themes do manage to draw in viewers in large numbers from both nations.
Ramchand Pakistani, a 2006 production, was different from the rest since it chronicled the lives of those who stray along the International Border.
When Veer Zaara, a multi-starrer, screened in theatres in 2004, it quickly rose to the status of a smash hit, bringing actor Sharukh Khan, Preity Zinta, and Rani Mukherjee to new heights of stardom.
The film stands out in contrast to others on the relations between India and Pakistan. Not because of the actors’ romantic roles or their portrayal as lovers, but rather because of the care taken to understand the citizens of these two hostile nations, where interactions between individuals made it simple to comprehend the other nation.
Squadron Leader Veer Pratap Singh (Shah Rukh Khan), who flies rescue missions for the Indian Air Force, meets Zaara (Preity Zinta), a Pakistani teenager who has come to India to fulfil her surrogate mother’s dying wish. She is saved by Veer, who is never the same after that. 22 years later, Saamia Siddiqui (Rani Mukerji), a Pakistani human rights attorney working on her first case, runs across an elderly Veer Pratap Singh. No one knows why he has been imprisoned in a Pakistani detention cell for 22 years without speaking to anybody. Her goal is to ascertain Veer’s reality and see that justice is done. Visas were easily available for travel, and it appeared in the film that visiting each other’s nation wasn’t too challenging.
The political climate under Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Manmohan Singh created a favourable atmosphere for the business to thrive despite obstacles at the LoC and numerous militant attacks. These years were around 2002-2004 when the movie was being made and released in theatres.
In 2004, a ‘Made in Pakistan’ trade expo was held in New Delhi at the Talkatora Stadium. Businessmen from across Pakistan attended the expo to showcase their merchandise while the Indian tradesmen welcomed them with open arms.
Instead of Coca-Cola, Karachi-based Pakola was offered, and because of how well-liked the ice cream soda was among fairgoers, Pakola quickly replaced Coco-Cola on the menu. A ubiquitous name in India, Shaan Masala rose to prominence quickly.
Men and women wearing salwar kameez danced while being doused in colour as Holi was celebrated. For a long time, everyone who witnessed such events was unable to comprehend the tense relationships that non-state players had manipulated in order to sour the relationship.
The pictures gave people hope, and someone who was unaware of the history of ties between India and Pakistan could only fantasise that these two nations might possibly be sworn enemies.
A similar ‘Made in India’ expo was organised in Karachi and received a resoundingly positive reaction from the Pakistanis.
Later, India even granted permission to hold Lahore-based food stalls, and Bundu Khan, who had previously participated in exhibitions, gained popularity for his kebabs and biryani among numerous Indians who attended the fair in New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan.
Wedding seasons in New Delhi showcased the common culture as fashion exhibitions and fashion firms from Lahore came in. For a few years, lapis lazuli and other valuable gems were available for purchase at the displays. There was some optimism even as relations weren’t great as of post-2008.
With the Nehruvian beliefs, Sharukh Khan’s films were created where fraternity, pluralism, oneness of religious fusion were portrayed.
Veer Zara was an example of this pluralism in spite of criticism, showing how a concept may seem appealing on television but be challenging for many people to embrace in real life.
Between those times, the relationship between India and Pakistan underwent some pretty difficult times. The Mumbai attacks of 26/11 are among the most well-known events. In addition, the fidayeen attack on the CAPF convoy at Pulawama was the final straw that almost brought the two nations to war. India had allegedly bombed at a target believed to be a militant camp at Balakot in Pakistan’s NWFP, and as a result, both countries’ jets were scrambled as dogfights broke out. India lost a MiG29-Bison plane and the pilot was taken prisoner by Pakistan.
When the Indian fighter pilot was freed, things calmed down a little. Since then, with envoys serving in each other’s missions, there has been some thaw in the relationship.
After the strikes in Pulwama, India stripped Pakistan of its Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status, which drastically reduced commerce even though essential goods continued to be exchanged. In the 1960s, Pakistan stripped India of the same status.
People of India are currently facing the burden of the hostility between the two countries as everything presented on media networks comes from a biased perspective to benefit a specific party.
Bollywood will certainly face some form of threat from fanatics ruling the roost if it makes a movie that features a love story similar to Veer Zara. The production could be stopped, sets ransacked, cast and crew threatened, and the stars subjected to a sustained smear campaign on TV channels and social media.
Terrorist attacks like the 26/11 have eroded trust between the two countries that have fought multiple wars already. Art, film, food festivals, and cultural shows have become the first casualties in the current dispensation’s usage of phrases like “talks and terror cannot go together.”
Suddenly, artists from each other’s nations have been outlawed and are already considered villains. The Pakistani TV shows were a staple in many Indian homes when Indian films were regularly shown in the theatres of Lahore, Bahawalpur, Karachi and other places in Pakistan.
Those times don’t seem to exist anymore and individuals who formerly praised one another’s films or food are now regularly accused of being anti-national.
Shome Basu is a New Delhi-based senior journalist.