Home / Opinion / Columns /  Opinion | The twists and turns of an affair with Hindi cinema

It was my first trip to India. Today, in reminiscence, it’s a memory so distant I could word a fairytale once-upon-a-time beginning. On a rainy Delhi evening in April 2013, I, a lifelong Indian cinephile, made my debut entry in an Indian cinema. The PVR at DLF Promenade was my simple choice, as it was cosily tucked away at the mall I had already spent hours looking for sportswear for my then 13-year-old son. Django Unchained was not Indian, but the friend who accompanied me was.

My favourite memento from that lovely rainy evening was that Delhi felt like home.

In December 2013, during my second Delhi trip, to interview Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, currently in detention, I watched Dhoom 3. At the same old PVR. The movie, despite being entirely shot in the US, was very Indian.

Two days earlier, sitting in a coffee shop at DLF, a single thought tiptoed into my frozen mind as I half-watched, in my cappuccino-scented solitude, holiday shoppers—that how similar Delhi was to Lahore. Nowhere else in the world had I ever felt like that.

In September 2014, the Khoobsurat Fawad Khan happened to India. In a world where Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman were the ruling Khans, there had not been a Khan since Imran—the legendary cricketer and Pakistan’s present prime minister—who had set millions of Indian hearts aflutter. India loved Pakistan’s Fawad, his eyes magical, his chiselled face making humans of all genders fall into a collective swoon. As India’s government hummed its own nationalistic tune, Indian people made Fawad feel very special.

Very soon, Fawad’s reel Humsafar Mahira Khan arrived in her Cinderella coach, luminous, optimistic. Shah Rukh Khan signed Mahira for his home production, Raees. It was a Hollywoodish dream come true: one of India’s biggest global stars, and an Indian Khan idolized by millions of Pakistanis, had signed Pakistan’s biggest TV star, ethereal, unique, to play his romantic interest. Pakistan celebrated it as a sign of that love which unites us beyond borders, ideologies and memories of bloodshed. Art unites even when geopolitics divides.

Two years later, Mahira was not “allowed" to attend the promotion part of Raees, not in India, not outside.

In April 2015, my son, Musa, then 15, went to Chennai for a South Asian International School Association (SAISA) basketball meet. For decades, middle and high-schoolers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India and Pakistan have been meeting for sports tournaments. Like art, sports unite. Sports teach children the best of values. Sports, despite being a pursuit of victory, blur divisions. Musa, like other visiting athletes, stayed with the family of the host school’s students. His team didn’t win gold, but he returned with stories of warmth and laughter. His South Indian hosts saw him off with boxes of Sri Krishna Sweet Fiesta, and they just asked him one question when he mentioned my name: Does your mother know Fawad Khan? The Pakistani Fawad was popular in the South India of Rajnikanth, Mahesh Babu and Prabas. When asked about Chennai, Musa simply said: “Chennai is like Lahore."

Reaching Chennai airport via Dubai—it takes flying to another country to reach India from Pakistan—Musa and three of his team-mates with Pakistani passports had to face hours-long questioning in a windowless room. Accompanied by their Canadian coach, the four 15-year-old SAISA athletes were questioned because they were Pakistani. Musa laughed when he told me the story, “I didn’t mind the questions, Mom, it was the cigarette smoke that made it unbearable. One of them smoked non-stop!"

I was in Delhi in May 2016, and in a strange twist of Bollywood fate, I attended a Hindustan Times Style Awards gala. An event so star-studded, I was there only in the hope of meeting my one eternal cinematic hero: Amitabh Bachchan. We met, albeit briefly, details hazy—I, breathless, incoherent, Bachchan, smiling, gracious, amused, two selfies...

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil released in 2016 amidst a Pakistan-India imbroglio of post-Uri “surgical attacks", and chants of let’s-stop-talking-to-one-another and boycott-everything-Pakistani, including the beautiful Mahira and Fawad.

Fawad was not part of the promotion and celebratory part of ADHM. Dils were in mushkil, animosity thickened, borders became more barbed.

All set to be the next big hero of Mumbai, Fawad, silently, returned to Lahore.

Pakistan and India continued to glare at each other, as Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan serenaded paranoia-misted, hatred-filled skies of the two countries with Dil Diyaan Gallaan and Sannu Ek Pal Chain Na Aye.

In January and February 2019, Pakistan loved Simmba and Gully Boy like they love their own. And just as I was getting ready to watch Gully Boy, Pulwama and Balakot happened. The rest is a story that continues even today.

Two days ago, I watched Mahira Khan’s Superstar. The film’s hero, a star, leaves for Bollywood, breaking ties and work commitments. When the anti-Pakistan frenzy reaches a crescendo in India, he returns. Mahira’s Noor is a superstar now, and Bilal Asharf’s Samaeer Khan is lost. Pakistan moved on while Khan was idolized in India, greatly but briefly.

The Sky is Pink is what I want to watch next. Indian films don’t release in Pakistan any more. Now for the first time in my life I only watch Pakistani and Hollywood films. As for when the next Indian film would release in Lahore... I’m not holding my breath.

Mehr Tarar is a Lahore-based columnist and the author of ‘Do We Not Bleed?’

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