EVERYTHING has its place, the aphorism goes, and there can be found in this a fair bit of wisdom. For when knock-on effects start to accrue, unintended and adverse consequences can occur. Currently, nowhere is this more applicable than in the context of the cultural ties between Pakistan and India, which appear to increasingly have become a casualty of the two countries’ pugnacity. It was in September last year that Indian security forces in Uri, India-held Kashmir, came under attack, with the Indian government losing no time in ‘detecting’ – without evidence – some shadowy Pakistani connection. A matter of grave concern this certainly was, one that deserved being taken up through governmental and diplomatic channels. But amongst the responses on both sides of the border was the ratcheting up of the ‘anti-other’ narrative at the level of the people and even in the sphere of entertainment and culture. In Bollywood, severe pressure was brought to bear by nationalist and right-wing elements that Pakistani performers working there be expelled. Hindutva groups even threatened to burn down any cinema halls where movies featuring Pakistani artists were being shown. The Indian outfits that had signed them on, indeed anyone who dared point out the damaging result of such a move, was hauled over the coals. In Pakistan, cinema owners – no doubt worried about the safety of their infrastructure and reputations in an atmosphere in which India-bashing was actively being stoked – decided to suspend the screening of Indian films. Subsequently, Pakistan’s electronic media regulator, Pemra, issued orders that all Indian content be taken off television and radio, while in India, the airing on television of hitherto highly popular Pakistani soaps was halted.
The result has been to the detriment of the populations of both countries. Work and opportunities for collaboration have been lost and potential revenues thrown to the wind. Pakistan’s cinema industry, which had in recent years started showing signs of revival (and consequently investment) after decades in the doldrums, is now worse off. Cineplexes appear as ghosts of their former selves and screens have had to be shut down — the hard fact is that the country’s own cinematic output, even in addition to the Western fare that cinema-owners are able to put up, are nowhere near enough to sustain the industry at the levels that Bollywood made possible. Worryingly, the longer this ‘dry’ period persists, the harder it will be to reverse course. There is yet time for sense to prevail.