Home >mint-lounge >features >When did you last watch a Pakistani movie?

In Karachi’s Universe Cineplex the big film showing this week is Akshay Kumar’s Holiday. Other films being screened include 2 States, Heropanti and Highway. Karachi’s Nueplex will be showing Fugly, Lekar Hum Deewana Dil, Humshakals and Ek Villain.

Lahore’s Cine Star is advertising Rajinikanth’s animated film Kochadaiiyaan. The Arena in Islamabad is asking viewers to watch out for Rajesh Pillai’s Traffic and Karan Johar and Ekta Kapoor’s Badtameez Dil, releasing later in the year.

When was the last time you saw a Pakistani film screened in India? And think of what a fit our patriotic louts would throw if this happened regularly. Not hard to imagine. Our own films come under attack easily when Indians go on their episodic riot-running. Aamir Khan found out with Fanaa in Gujarat, when he unwisely criticized the Narmada dam project.

A Gallup Pakistan poll in 2013 showed that far and away the most watched channel in Pakistan is Star Plus. The second most watched channel, Geo News, was banned this month for taking on Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). However, it should be up again in July. PTV Home is the third most popular channel, and that is probably because about a third of Pakistan’s homes don’t have satellite or cable. Sony is fourth. Cartoon Network, in Hindi, is fifth.

Pakistanis prefer entertainment from India and news from Pakistan. But they don’t mind a diversity of opinion.

Many Indians have been writing columns in Pakistan’s papers for years. I used to write a Sunday column for the Jang group, while Kuldip Nayar, M.J. Akbar and Jawed Naqvi wrote for Dawn. Today it’s difficult to think of a Pakistani English daily that doesn’t have Indian writers. The one I currently write for, The Express Tribune, owned by a Gujarati family in Karachi, has about half a dozen Indians with weekly slots.

And yet when was the last time you read a Pakistani columnist published here?

Of Pakistanis writing in Indian papers I can only think of one, my guru Khaled Ahmed in The Indian Express.

It is worse with business papers and regional papers. One reason for the latter is the script. North Indians and Pakistanis share a language but not a script. Urdu papers in India are actually less interested in Pakistan than we might think.

Hindi and Gujarati dailies (I can vouch for both of these because I have worked for them) and other regional papers have no use for Pakistani writers. Hindi and Gujarati papers will regularly take and translate English columns by Indians but do not think of doing this with an Urdu one from Pakistan.

We might wonder if the lack of Indian interest in what Pakistan has to say is rooted in quality: that we produce better content than they do.

Certainly this is not true for newspaper columnists. There’s no better columnist in South Asia and farther afield than Ahmed. And Pakistan’s opinion pages are as good as, and often better, than those in India.

To return to the problem of script, it doesn’t affect television. But even here the rare Pakistani on Indian news channels is usually the poor fellow who gets beaten up during an angry debate on terrorism. This is also almost always in English. Hindi stations here have little interest in Pakistan culturally or politically.

Pakistani cricketers are banned from the Indian Premier League (IPL), but not officially. The government bullied the Board of Control for Cricket In India (BCCI) after the Mumbai attacks to not pick them. The Pakistani players came up for auction but the IPL owners just passed all of them over shamefully. Since then they have been kept out and nobody really knows why. This ban, as with most bans in India, is half-baked. Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Ramiz Raja are regulars in commentary, and they are broadcast from the stadium and from the Sony studio in India, meaning visas have not been denied to them.

The great Wasim Akram has long been coaching Shah Rukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders. But for whatever reason there’s no sign of players.

Pakistani films are kept out, their channels are kept out, their players are kept out, and often their singers are kept out (see how relentlessly Adnan Sami is hounded). We in the newspaper business keep their writers out. It cannot be for lack of quality alone.

It comes from an Indian insularity. It is the same thing we sneer at the middle-class American for, though we know as little about our neighbourhood, and often perhaps even less, than the American does about his. And it also comes from an element of arrogance: that India is superior culturally. We won’t know that till we experience what the others have.

The Hindu reported Prakash Javadekar saying a few days ago: “Our belief is that government should not control or run the media. The government should never need to exercise control, media should have its own mechanism."

The Union minister for information and broadcasting should extend this sentiment to Pakistani channels and movies and artistes and players.

To mindlessly insulate its citizens from their neighbourhood does not become a great nation.

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