Bollywood movies are undoubtedly India’s biggest cultural export, some featuring Pakistani stars like Fawad Khan who cause the same fervor as local Salman Khan, an industry mainstay with no relation, nowadays — or at least they could a few months ago.
Pakistani crossovers into Bollywood are facing a sharp pushback as nationalism makes it more and more difficult for people like Fawad to make a name for themselves across the border. Khan may be established as a heartthrob for millions of young Indian women and gay men just like Salman, but the previously borderless exchange of culture is running head-first into a wall of Trump-like proportions.
— Lollywood Life (@Lollywood_Life) October 10, 2016
For Fawad, his new hurdle in Bollywood has a very palpable representation — the new film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Because of Khan’s starring role in the movie, it could easily be locked out of many cinemas in India. Rumors even swirled for a while that his face would be completely edited out in favor of an Indian actor. That gossip doesn’t seem quite so insane when you consider that the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association (COEA) recently called for a ban of any movie featuring Pakistani actors.
The movie’s director, Karan Johan, came forward to grovel before his countrymen, begging them to recognize the hundreds of Indians behind the project instead of writing it off just because Fawad happens to be its star instead of a more familiar face like Salman. He wouldn’t cast the Pakistani Khan, he says, if the relationship between the two countries had been what it is today, reported English language daily Dawn.
“There were efforts made by our government for peaceful relationship with our neighboring country and I respected those endeavors and efforts then and I respect the sentiments today.”
The latest action from the COEA affecting Fawad is just one component of a difficult climate for Pakistanis in Bollywood. Last month, Salman himself became an outspoken critic of mixing politics and the movies, accusing Bollywood and the agencies that regulate it of xenophobia. Khan’s comments came shortly after the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (IMPPA) voted unanimously to recommend keeping the Muslim country’s artists out of their motion pictures, reported The Indian Express. His opinion was not well-received by many in the industry.
“They are artists, not terrorists. It’s the government who gives them work permits and visas. Art and terrorism should not be mixed.”
— Bigg Boss (@BiggBoss) October 16, 2016
Despite protests from Salman and other top Bollywood actors, polemic discussion on the topic has taken on a distinctly political, and even violent, flavor. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, a far-right nationalist party, has threatened to hit back against producers if they see faces like Fawad’s on the screen. MNS leader Amey Khopkar specifically called out the new movie featuring Khan, reported India Live Today.
“We will oppose the screening of the movie everywhere in the state. If any multiplex operator dares to screen the film, they [operators] should remember that multiplexes are decorated with expensive glass sheets.”
While Bollywood certainly holds more market clout on the issue, Fawad isn’t the only one getting banned. On Wednesday, the controversy boiled over when Pakistan’s government laid down an official sanction against Indian shows featuring actors like Salman Khan on its television and radio airwaves. Beginning on Friday, any station found in non-compliance will have its license revoked, reported The New York Times.
The war over Bollywood goes far beyond pop culture icons like Fawad and Salman. India and Pakistan’s stonewalling of each other’s movies is a mere reflection of real-life conflict between the two countries that has simmered — and occasionally exploded — since the latter country was first granted independence in 1947. Since then, disputed territory containing coveted natural resources, particularly in the Kashmir region, has kept the two nations firmly at odds with one another. That’s at least partially where this latest skirmish stems from, as India calls a recent attack on its Army officers an act of Pakistani terrorism. For the Pakistani Khan to have a chance to return, he would have to denounce the act as such.
Bollywood movies have experienced exponential growth in popularity across the globe, with stars like Fawad and Salman beginning to rival the Hollywood actors the Indian industry takes its name from. By volume, it’s actually even larger than its American counterpart, despite the fact that neither Khan is quite as big in the United States as the Angelina Jolies and Brad Pitts of the world are over there.
Do you agree with Salman Khan about Bollywood movies being separate from politics, or should Fawad Khan speak out against his country for the sake of his career?
[Image via IIFA – Pool/Getty Images]