Bollywood Welcomes Pakistanis' Return After Mumbai Tensions

08/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

By Kanika Parab

Pakistan has never been able to resist the lure of Bollywood, even in the face of government disapproval and Indo-Pak tension. For every ban on Indian movies in their cinema halls, there's been an entrepreneurial bootlegger in Lahore or Karachi, with a secret stash of Bollywood DVDs. Even the Pakistani cultural ministry's plan to forbid their talent from crossing over into Bollywood didn't deter artists, and only seemed to make the Indian film industry more appealing.

There'd always been a peppering of Pakistan in Bollywood -- a hint of Nazia Hassan's sexy voice in the 80s, the rare Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sound in the 90s. But Pakistani music really arrived in Bollywood when a 22 year-old singer with a boyish charm and a seductive voice crossed the border into Mumbai around 2005. His name was Atif Aslam, and he left his rock band Jal back home, for what went on to become an illustrious music career in Bollywood.

In the three years that followed, there was a spate of musicians and singers from Pakistan who tried to achieve what Mr Aslam had. Few attained his scale of success, but many, like Mustafa Zahid, managed to get a foot in the door. Television music reality shows too, saw a flood of entries from India's neighbor, as they tried to foster Indo-Pak friendship.

But then in November of 2008, Mumbai was held hostage in one of the worst terror attacks the country has ever seen. When news broke that the terrorists were allegedly from Pakistan, the dormant Indo-Pak tension rose noisily above the sound of music.

Debates broke out in every sphere of the Indian entertainment industry as to whether Pakistani talent should be encouraged and promoted on Indian turf. Some Indian artists had always been against the idea, considering Pakistan has never extended its cultural hand, and prevented Indian artists from performing in their country. But those Indian producers who had worked closely with Pakistani artists insisted that music should not have boundaries. Ramesh Taurani of Tips Films, who has produced several Atif Aslam albums told an Indian national daily, "Despite everything, artistes will remain artistes. My views on working with Atif (Aslam) haven't changed."

Yet, many Pakistani contestants from Indian reality TV shows were sent home, and even the more prominent singers decided to lay low for a while. The Indian Express, a national daily, reported in January this year that the attendance in Pakistani theatres screening Bollywood movies dropped by almost 75 per cent.

But it's like Atif Aslam said after the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai: "Indo-Pak relations may suffer a pause, but not an end." Now, almost eight months later, tensions seem to have subsided slightly. Nouman Javaid, another Pakistani singer, makes his debut in Bollywood, lending his soulful voice to the soundtrack of a Bollywood movie hitting theaters this week.

Providing his creative insight to Jashnn is director Mahesh Bhatt, who in the past has been instrumental in bringing Pakistani talent to India. Reportedly in talks about making a film on late Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto's life, Bhatt is also actively working on joint movie collaborations between the two neighbors. The filmmaker believes that cinema has helped bridge the gap between India and Pakistan as, "people from both sides of the border have realised how similar their lives are". A Times of India story quoted him as saying, "Continuing to work with Pakistan is the way to resolve the crisis."

In the future, things may get worse, but creative artistes from India and Pakistan -- at least some of them -- continue to stay hopeful. They are determined not to let borders and bullets get in the way of music.

Read more at Indipepal.

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