By Rai Sengupta
As India won freedom at the stroke of the midnight hour, the lives of millions of its people were transformed forever. This freedom came at the cost of Partition, leaving behind open wounds that time has not healed. The mass migration across the border resulted in a natural tendency to view the ‘other’ state with suspicion and hatred (maybe leading to a certain ban on the artists of the ‘other’ state in the distant future).
This conflict has only deepened with the recent attacks in Uri and India’s subsequent retaliation through surgical strikes. Amongst all this, the film industry has tried to jump into the patriotic bandwagon as well. The Indian Motion Pictures Association banned all Pakistani actors from working in India ‘until normalcy returns’. This has spurred tremendous debate across the country – with people denouncing as well as lending their support to this ban.
In this atmosphere of fiery arguments and easily offended individuals, it is imperative to understand the motive behind this ban. What does it seek to achieve, who does it aim to placate, to what degree are the objectives fulfilled. Next, the watershed mark of “normalcy returning” and who decides its onset is of pivotal importance. Third, to look at the counter-narrative – the events that may have unfolded without the institution of the ban. Finally, it is critical to analyse the problems that bans create through the generalisation of the acts of a few.
Through this ban, the film industry seeks to send out a message of solidarity with the soldiers guarding our borders. Alignment of professional trajectories with the political narrative of the time also seeks to placate the political powers. The industry is not unaware of the way in which political ideologies can threaten the products of their labor. Case in point, the Shiv Sena demanding to block the release of “My Name is Khan” after Shah Rukh Khan criticised the exclusion of Pakistani cricketers from the teams in the 2010 IPL.
Another issue to be solved with respect to the ban is how exactly does one define normalcy? What parameter does one employ to determine what the normal state of things is? Our borders remain stained time and time again by violent, bloody clashes, followed by short, intervening periods of peace. That is the ‘normal’ state of affairs. After the dust settles on the current tensions, the industry will lift the ban based on their idea of ‘normalcy’. Will that not contradict their initial message of solidarity with the soldiers guarding our borders?
Hypocrisy from the Film Industry
It is almost convenient for the film industry to show support when the political climates are raging against our neighbour, and quietly retract that message and assume a forgiving nature when things seem “normal”. This naturally leads to the conclusion that the film industry is positioning itself in a way that will appeal to the audience’s emotions; it is not concerned with solidarity per se. Rather, the motive is to stoke popular opinion about Pakistan, an opinion that can have dangerous consequences. The motives of the film industry are not entirely pure – they are simply a function of timing, risk mitigation and securing political support.
In this context, it is important to ask what would have happened without the ban in the first place. How would things be different? The counterfactual tells a different story. Without the ban, the Indian film industry would be employing Pakistani actors, cameramen, developers and film technicians. It would be making movies with Pakistani leads, with songs sung by Pakistani artists. These engagements keep no bearing on what happens on the border. Terrorist attacks do not result from Pakistani actors’ employment in India. Here, the converse is also true: banning Pakistani actors does not reduce terrorist attacks. Hence, the film industry’s functioning is separate from that of the army’s, and a ban by the former does not in any way create easier circumstances for the latter.
Solidarity or Hyper-Nationalism?
Supporters of this ban argue that our soldier’s sacrifices at the border remain undermined if the ban is not instituted. Rather, this statement is quite untrue and inherently problematic. Our soldiers guard our borders against individuals who threaten the security of our country. All Pakistanis do not threaten the security of our country, only terrorists do. They are the target of our soldiers. Pakistani actors and technicians are not terrorists. Employing them does not undermine the sacrifice of the 19 Indian soldiers in Uri. Only if the film industry was providing employment to the killers of our 19 soldiers would their honour be tarnished . That is not the case here.
Every Pakistani is not a terrorist. But banning Pakistani actors and technicians puts them in the same bracket as the individuals who hurt our citizens and threaten to harm our country. It stereotypes innocent Pakistani film artists who have had nothing to do with the death of our soldiers. As we grapple to find faces to blame, these innocent actors have to bear the rebukes and threats. In our futile search to find the right people to hold guilty for the lives of loved ones lost in terror attacks and shootings, we make a handful of actors pay for sins that they have not committed.
Associating an entire country with an all-encompassing trait of being a terrorist is incorrect on many levels. For one, it refuses to acknowledge the layers and variations in society. Further, it forges incorrect perceptions on the part of people on this side of the border, especially children, regarding people on the other side.
The line separating the two countries is not simply one guarded by soldiers, and dotted with bunkers and check posts – it is embedded with memories of violence and loss which refuse to be suppressed. It is also the birthplace of wrongful notions that create a mental wall between the two countries, one that induces hate for Pakistanis in general, not just terrorists. Such notions fuel the vicious cycle of distrust between the people of both countries – tearing apart the shared cultural fabric, to which both countries belong, refusing to acknowledge the undeniable influences of one nation on the other in the ways of apparel, meeting and greeting. Such warped preconceptions create two segmented nations, separated by territory and thought.
Film Ban: Strengthening a Misconception
The film industry, through its ban on Pakistani actors, intensifies misconceptions in people’s minds regarding people on the other side. It provides an incorrect target towards which to direct our anger. It creates the illusion of the conflict bring resolved, based on a distorted sense of normalcy. And more dangerously, it paves the way for more embargoes on people, thoughts, and ideas flowing from Pakistan to our country. It thus restricts any bonds that existed between our country, the ones that hold the remains to the ancient civilisation we trace our origins to.
Featured image source: Passel