Is Bollywood softening its anti-Pakistan stance?

Clearly the rabble-rousing jingoism of recent times has been replaced by a more tolerant and empathetic attitude towards Pakistan.

On November 29, Pakistani heartthrob Fawad Khan turned a year older. Fawad, in spite of the blanket ban in Bollywood and India, continues to command an impressive fan-following in India and the Mumbai film industry. Karan Johar, for one, is supremely smitten by the 'Other Khan'.

During the making of Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, the film's lead pair, Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma, were relatively sidelined by Karan while Fawad was showered with attention. Karan has a script featuring Fawad and Katrina Kaif ready for shooting as soon as the climate is conducive.

Clearly the rabble-rousing jingoism of recent times has been replaced by a more tolerant and empathetic attitude towards Pakistan, an attitude that perhaps augurs well or Indo-Pak relations in the future.

Clearly, Meghna Gulzar's Raazi is a new chapter in Bollywood's uneasy relationship with Pakistan. Meghna has gone on-record to state she refused to demonise the other side, that loving one's country doesn't mean you hate the country on the other side of the border.

This is a bold stance to adopt at a time when whipping up a frenzy of hatred against Pakistan is seen to politically correct.

I am not surprised at Meghna taking a pacifist perception on the Pak issue. Her father Gulzar and her father's close associate Vishal Bhardwaj have been intermittently visiting Pakistan and coming back to India with warm thoughts. Well, this is a family that won't fall for Paki-baiting no matter how much the provocation.

Relations between the two countries have been deteriorating at lightning speed. In 2016-2017 we saw an unofficial ban on Pakistani artistes when during the release of Karan Johar's Ae Dil hai Mushkil and Rahul Dholakia's Raees Pakistan's Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan were made to feel unwelcome in India.

Sonam Kapoor at the Cannes Film Festival in May made it known that the climate of hostility is changing when she hugged Mahira on the red carpet as the saffron brigade fumed.

The days of banning Pakistan from Bollywood are nearing an end, no matter how intense the hostility between the two countries.

Shatrughan Sinha who has constantly championed an atmosphere of cultural pesteroika between the two countries says hate-mongering does not amount to desh bhakti. "I refuse to believe that if I love India, I've to hate Pakistanis."

Shatrughan Sinha, on the other hand, advices caution, restrain and moderation in responding to the provocation from across the border. In fact Shatruji continues to maintain warm relations in Pakistan on a non-political level. Zia ul Haq's daughter Zian is Shatruji's surrogate sister. He even attended Zian's son's marriage in Islamabad.

Says Shatruji, "Zian is my mooh-boli behan. My relations with Zia ul Haq's family have nothing to do with politics. Peace talks between the two countries must continue. Compared with earlier times the civilians in Pakistan are very pro-India today. Some years ago I was there in Lahore when India won and Pakistan lost the cricket match. There was no hungama after that. Over here everyone in politics is trying to show his loyalty to India by shouting the loudest against Pakistan. What I am saying is that progressive-thinking people on both sides want peace. The dialogue between the two countries must continue uninterrupted."

The process of cultural thawing has started in right earnest.

Nandita Das who recently visited Pakistan says, "I have come back fully knowing that all that warmth, delicious food, and affection that we all got, will quickly fade as the trolls begin to call us anti-national and media will question our intent. While it may be true that the Government of Pakistan has harboured or at the very least is soft on terrorists, but their own people have suffered grievously too from this. Is vilifying the people of another country the only way to feel nationalistic? Is my love for my country proportionate to how much I can hate another country? Yes there are some real and some imagined conflicts that we all are locked-in. But while that reality - history, geopolitics, and terrorism - is unlikely to change anytime soon I still believe that small bridges could and should be built. And perhaps one day these small efforts will create a more peaceful and saner world."

In fact Meghna Gulzar's Raazi emblematizes the spirit of bridge-building that Nandita speaks about. Raazi is not the first film to humanize the Pakistanis. In Yash Chopra's Veer Zara, an Indo-Pak romance was woven into the message of peace between the two countries.

It's time to let Pakistan in again. We are not so inhuman as to forget how guests have always been treated in this country.

Interestingly, though Raazi humanized the other side, the film was nevertheless banned in Pakistan. Does it mean there is no initiative to normalize relations from the other end? There is Rahat Fateh Ali Khan all set to a global version of Lata Mangeshkar's Allah Tero Naam.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)