As India - Pak Lock Horns Over Films & Actors, It Is The Constituency Of Peace That Is Hit
NEW DELHI: As tensions between India and Pakistan soar, Pakistan’s media regulatory authority announced that it will be enforcing a complete ban on Indian TV and radio content, in effect from Friday.
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) had already toughened its stance on channels airing Indian content, having said on August 31 that strict action would be taken against channels that were airing more Indian content than the prescribed limit of 6% of total content.
The move, PEMRA says, is at the request of the Pakistani government. It follows a similar move in India, where the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association -- a body of filmmakers -- declared that Pakistani actors will not be allowed to work in Indian productions.
As India and Pakistan spar over entertainment, arts and culture, the real casualty is the constituency of peace in both countries. The narrative that has emerged is that anyone who deviates from the narrowest agenda, is “anti national” and must be brought in line.
The clearest example of the above is filmmaker Karan Johar. The popular director recently issued a statement promising not to work with Pakistani actors in the future. Johar’s upcoming film “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” found itself in the centre of the India Pakistan spat as it stars Pakistani actor Fawad Khan. Cinema owners said they were not willing to risk screening the film after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) -- a regional right wing group -- threatened to attack venues showing the film.
Johar gave in. Appealing to the MNS to allow the movie to be screened, he issued a statement vowing not to work with Pakistani actors. "For me my country comes first. Nothing else matters but my country. I always felt that the best way to express your patriotism is through love and that's all I always tried to do through my work, and my cinema,” Johar said.
"Over 300 Indian people in my crew have put their blood, sweat and tears in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and I don't think it is fair to them to face any kind of turbulence on account of other fellow Indians,” he added.
Was Johar’s clarification an admission that he fundamentally agrees with the MSN line? That he feels that working with Pakistani actors somehow makes him, and others in the industry, “anti-national”? Unlikely. Johar’s clarification is more directly linked to the overwhelming push to fall in line. It was a capitulation to the MNS-aligned narrative: that ‘nationalism’ be defined in exclusionary, narrow and intolerant terms.
This is the same narrative that is being heard over and over again on TV screens, in newspapers, in drawing room discussions and out on the streets. It was put forth when a journalist baited actor Om Puri and the media labelled him “anti national” and a “traitor” over comments suggesting that soldiers were doing their job, with a section of the film fraternity chastising the senior actor for purportedly insulting the army.
This is the narrative that famed anchor Arnab Goswami employed when he slammed people working with Pakistani actors, and the actors themselves for not speaking out against the Uri attack that killed 18 Indian soldiers. In line with the narrative, Goswami effortlessly implied that anyone who deviates from his narrow, exclusionary line, is “anti national.” As if working with Pakistani artists is the sole test for patriotism in today’s India.
This narrative was in play when filmmaker Anurag Kashyap was trolled on Twitter, with vile abuse and threats, for coming out in support of Karan Johar’s film and the position that engaging with the people of another country in an effort to promote peace, dialogue and culture, does not make one unpatriotic or anti-national.
It was in play when twelve MNS activists barged into a cinema and threatened the staff. Or when, just three days before the opening of the 18th Jio MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) film festival, a classic Pakistani film “Jago Hua Savera” was pulled out, with Mukesh Ambani -- whose company Jio is sponsoring the festival -- saying that “the nation comes first, not arts and culture.”
And whilst it’s the film and entertainment industry that has been targeted this time around, the narrative itself is much wider. When Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan were targeted for comments critiquing intolerance in India, it was this narrative that was in play. When Amit Shah said that if the grand alliance won the Bihar elections “crackers would be burst in Pakistan” -- it was this narrative that provided the context. When Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that all those who wanted to eat beef could “go to Pakistan” -- it was the same narrative justifying the remark.
The casualty of the above narrative, ironically, is peace itself. The fact that Johar had to acquiesce -- or risk jeopardizing the success of his film, to which time and money are both tied -- is indication that the narrative is succeeding.
Those not in line with the singular, narrow and exclusionary version of what constitutes nationalism are increasingly being threatened, with the stick being wielded by journalists (who are meant to be “objective”), politicians, fraternity members, muscle men and even faceless digital bullies.
In this environment, the defining mark of so-called “anti nationalism” is giving peace a chance.