Salil Tripathi


In 1959, a Pakistani film-maker called Akhtar Kardar directed a film called Jago Hua Savera (The Day Shall Dawn), which brought together creative film-making talent across the Indian subcontinent the way it used to before Independence in 1947, and which is now fast becoming unimaginable.


The film was shot on location in what was then East Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh. The great Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz wrote the screenplay based on a story by India’s Manik Bandopadhyay. India’s Tripti Mitra acted in it with Pakistani stars; India’s Timir Baran composed the music.


The film tells the story of a poor fishing community near Dhaka. It was influenced by neo-realism, as were several other films in the post-independence era. It revealed the misery of that community, where the location, the language, the religion, and the geography were all marginal to the human condition and drama, which knew no boundaries. The film has recently been restored and shown internationally. It was to be shown at the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image film festival opening today (20 October). But in view of the “current situation”, a euphemistic description for the war hysteria and patriotic fervour in India, the organizers have dropped the film.


Indian surgical strikes are now directed at weeding out Pakistani cultural exports across the Indian landscape, or arresting Pakistani pigeons and balloons. The film producers’ association doesn’t want film-makers to cast Pakistanis in Indian films, or to use Pakistani technicians. The film theatre owners’ and exhibitors’ association has told its members not to screen films with Pakistani stars. This would affect Karan Johar’s film, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which is scheduled for Diwali release a week from now.


The industry is divided. One film-maker, Vivek Agnihotri, wants Pakistani actors to say at least a few words condemning terrorism, as if that would do anything to rein in cross-border terrorism. Another film-maker, Anurag Kashyap, admirably steps out to bat for Johar and questions the unfairness of critics who want Johar to apologize for making a film with a Pakistani actor, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting Pakistan at the same time the film was being made.


The neo-patriotic mob that’s remarkably swift in defending Modi, began abusing Kashyap. The Union minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, observed on Twitter: “A new fashion has developed in India. A student or a film person can put a question or speak against PM without any logic to get into news.” He got a fitting response online from someone who goes by the name of @brumbyOz: “Around the world this fashion is known as democracy.”


In democracies, people do ask their leaders questions, and the communication with the leader is not stage-managed, but a two-way street; it is a dialogue, not a monologue.


Meanwhile, Johar saw the writing on the wall and said he wouldn’t cast Pakistani actors in future in his films.


The attack at the army camp in Uri was tragic and suggested intelligence failure. A swift response from the Indian armed forces was inevitable. And yet, the way the incidents have been projected and exploited for political ends indicates a dangerous trajectory in Indian political discourse, with the neo-patriots insisting that the army and the political leadership should not be questioned. It makes India more like Pakistan, as the Pakistani novelist Mohammed Hanif argued in a fine piece in The New York Times earlier this week.


Retired officers fulminate on loud TV channels, a TV anchor dons a flak jacket and surveys a “theatre of war” as though one has been declared, another anchor’s shouting is so loud, it is as if he wants his voice to be heard in Pakistan without the aid of television sets and satellites, and the defence minister credits the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s teachings for the success of the Indian Army. Meanwhile, clashes and skirmishes continue at the Line of Control.


The neo-patriotic foot soldiers are doing their best to cut the ties that could bind the two nations. After cricketers and ghazal singers, it is now film-makers and technicians from Pakistan who can’t play or perform in India. These are the real consequences of such pseudo-nationalism. It plays into the more cynical game many politicians, clerics and religious leaders, government officials and commanders want—which is to restrict contact between Indians and Pakistanis within that elite group which has the most to lose if people from the two countries were to meet one another socially and discover how similar they are. Indeed, most Indians and Pakistanis meet each other in third countries, often accidentally, and are surprised by their commonalities. To be sure, there is much that divides them, but perish the thought of letting people discover what unites them.


By preventing people-to-people contacts—through culture, trade, travel, sports, and the arts—each side demonizes the other. In the 1980s, when Pakistani businessmen asked the Zia-ul-Haq administration why they weren’t allowed to trade with India more freely, an official frankly told them: “We don’t want a fifth column in Pakistan.” Trade and cultural links build on commonalities, and that’s what the pseudo-nationalists fear.


So long as the narrative is under their control, that day shall not dawn.


Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London.


October 10, 2016


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