Friday, November 18, 2016

Jago Hua Savera/ Ae Dil Ae Mushkil

Today, in a press release, the Mumbai Film Festival announced that it would not be screening the 1958 Indo-Pakistan-Bangladeshi film Jago Hua Savera, which they’d earlier included in their lineup. The statement read: “Given the current situation, the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star has decided not to programme Jago Hua Savera as part of the Restored Classics Section.” When we reached out to them, the festival declined to comment further on the cancellation.

Jago Hua Savera was a rare collaboration between artists from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). The director, AJ Kardar, and the screenwriter, the great poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, were from Pakistan. It was shot near Dhaka, and featured Bangladeshi actor Khan Ataur Rahman. It was based on a story by an Indian writer (Manik Bandopadhyay), starred an Indian actor (Tripti Mitra) and had music by the famous Indian composer Timir Baran. Till 2007—when prints were tracked down in France, London and Karachi—the film has a reputation as a lost neorealist classic of south Asian cinema.

“I want to show the film in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh,” Anjum Taseer, son of the film’s producer, Nauman Taseer, told the BBC in June. “The film is a combination of the efforts of the people of the three countries.”

Tragically, cinephiles will be denied the opportunity to see the restored version at the Mumbai Film Festival, starting this week. The reason for this is a complaint by Prithvi Maske, head of an NGO called Sangharsh Foundation. Maske, who filed a complaint with the Amboli police station in Mumbai on Saturday, told IANS: “Our intentions are very clear. We will protest against the festival if they showcase this film.” Earlier this month, Maske had also filed a complaint against actor Om Puri, for his comments on a news channel about the Indian armed forces.

This may not be the only filmic casualty of the atmosphere of amped-up patriotism that prevails. On Friday, the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India (COEAI) announced that it has asked its members not to screen films with Pakistani artists in their theatres. The COEAI is active in the states of Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra and part of Karnataka. Whether this decision is complied with remains to be seen, but it does cast a shadow over the fortunes of Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which has Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in a supporting role, and is scheduled to release on 28 October.

Over the phone, Nitin Datar, president of the COEAI, clarified that this was not a ban. When asked what exactly it was, he called it a “suspension”. “This applies to films with Pakistani actors, directors, technicians, singers,” he said. How long it would last, he said, depended on whether relations with Pakistan normalised.

Datar said that the suspension had been in the works for a while. He cited the Pathankot and Uri attacks on Indian forces, the bar on Pakistani artists by the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association (IMPAA), the banning of Indian films in Pakistan and, above all, the “public mood” as factors that influenced the COEAI’s decision. He also mentioned that no Pakistani artist had spoken out against the attacks on the Indian forces. “Our members felt that we should respect the wishes of our countrymen,” he said.

Datar said that safety concerns had also guided the decision. “What if there is a stampede? What if someone starts a fire?” he asked. He did not, however, say that there had been a specific threat made to theatre owners. The only threat of violence so far has come from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Amey Khopkar, a member of the party’s film wing, had warned directors Karan Johar and Mahesh Bhatt that they’d be beaten if they worked with Pakistani artists.

Asked what might happen if some exhibitors in the four states decided not to comply with the suspension, Datar said he didn’t foresee such a situation. “My country, right or wrong,” he said, before hanging up.

This piece appeared in Mint.

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