Connecting countries through cinema


INDIAN and Pakistani hearts beat alike. The fact is that social bonding, cultural similarities and linguistic approach are in such a way that both sides are able to understand and to feel each other’s joy and sufferings without much effort in understanding. People on both sides are very passionate to know about each other. This includes their passion for fashion, fabrics, food, festivals and films. They explore options such as websites, social media and books to know about each other. When a new channel was launched in India that started showing Pakistani television serials, its TRPs soared high, and not only the channel but also even serial characters have become a household name. Many families have named their newborn sons and daughters on the name of characters of these serials. This is evidence of ‘acceptance’ that is very positive. It also shows how it is a barricade of manmade systems in the name of security and other reasons that actually restricts many things that should have been flowing naturally across border.

But like water, our emotions also find ways. When for a new project a few film directors of both sides were approached by a new production house and they were told that it would be a joint project, many of them readily agreed, excited to work with one another. In the final bonding, it started with six film makers from each side, including prominent names like Mehreen Jabbar, Meenu Gaur, Farjad Nadi, Khaled Ahmad, Bejoy Nambiar, Ketan Mehta, Aparna Sen, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Tanuja Chandra, Siraj-ul-Haq, Shahbaz Sumar, Sabiha Sumar and Nikhil Advani. These are the people who bring voice to many untold and silent stories and many of these have already proved their social consciousness through their works. This time their being together has become more special in the sense that by their films it is not only about awareness to people about a subject but also a connection of hearts across border.

In view of the objective, the initiative is named Zeal for Unity. With these 12 directors, people would be able to enjoy 12 beautiful films. Their coming together comes with a message “Main aur tu” (It takes two), and there are beautiful poetic style messages in their own voice. These filmmakers also added their messages to the Indo-Pak peace calendar of the Aaghaz-e-Dosti this year, thus showing their support towards the process of peace-building between the two countries.

These films are not full-length feature films, as the duration is from 30 minutes to two hours. In view of the potential that is rapidly growing for short films due to various reasons, it seems appropriate to have meaningful cinema in this format.

Cinema is always an effective medium that gives so much to society, and for India and Pakistan, it is also one of the most substantial mediums to reach people. A barrier that still exists is about the reach of people to such cinema, as common people on both sides do not have an easy accessibility to documentaries and short films. They are able to watch some films through television, film festivals or social media, but the fact is these kinds of films are largely unavailable on social media and on mainstream television channels. Film festivals are still a not a very popular medium, as it caters to a miniscule part of a large population, despite piracy rackets being quite powerful. These barriers need to be understood, and there is need to find new ways for making short films and documentaries more popular and easily accessible.

During a special screening of Ketan Mehta’s Toba Tek Singh in New Delhi at the fourth peace calendar launch event of the Aaghaz-e-Dosti, the impact was such that some people felt as if Manto himself narrated the story. The auditorium was packed with people from all walks of life, with many seated even on ground. One of Bollywood’s most respected actors, Pankaj Kapoor, played the character of Sardar Bishan Singh who wanted to go to Toba Tek Singh, and finally ended his life on the border. Toba Tek Singh is one of the most popular stories by Saadat Hassan Manto, and in its dramatic forms is one is one of the most enacted theatrical productions. However, bringing it on big screen with such splendid directorial skills as that of Mehta’s, the story would reach of course more people.

There is a great deal of potential in India and Pakistan in many areas of common interest, and development of that would not only benefit people but also governments and all other stakeholders of development in both countries. Connecting through culture can definitely turn that potential into reality and contribute in the larger goal of peace.

Pakistani artistes are popular in India, but what is not there is an understanding of each other, the main reason being unavailability of opportunity and absence of scope of working together. More opportunities of interaction like filmmaking will help in developing understanding of each other, which may result in minimising hostility. We hope that work of Indian and Pakistani filmmakers may bring a new kind of cultural connection of working together, of understanding and of moving ahead together.



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