My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.
Just before you zip off to watch four Indian secret service agents storm Karachi in an effort to bring “India’s Most Wanted Man” back, it might be a good idea to recap the films where Pakistan provided the setting for all the action. If Bollywood is to be believed, it is not only a cricket stadium where India and Pakistan lock horns.
Not satisfied with children of warring families falling in love, Raj Kapoor engineered a love story between children of warring countries in Henna. When Rishi Kapoor (playing an Indian) floated into Pakistan after a car crash (and a memory loss, for good measure), he was immediately adopted by a well-meaning Pakistani village and a fair maiden, Henna (played by Zeba Bakhtiar in her debut role). The romantic tale was short almost entirely in that village till Rishi’s memory returned (on the night of his wedding to Henna, as if the drama wasn’t enough) and he had to be carted back to India.
While Raj Kapoor – always a votary of love and peace between the two neighbours – passed away before the film could be made (and Rajiv Kapoor directed it), it was clearly his message of Indo-Pak love being passed on.
The other doyen of Indian filmmaking – Yash Chopra – was born in what is now Pakistan and he retains a soft corner for the country, its people and its culture. In Veer Zaara, he fulfilled his dream of having a cross-border love story when an Indian Air Force officer (Shah Rukh Khan) fell in love with a Pakistani woman (Preity Zinta) and followed her into the country. He promptly fell victim to villainous forces in Pakistan and was thrown into jail for gazillion years. He would have died a quiet death till a Pakistani human rights lawyer (Rani Mukherjee) took on his case and brought their love story to a court of justice.
The Pakistan Army is a large, disciplined, modern fighting unit till... Till (one deep breath) Sunny Deol took them apart singlehandedly. Rocky, Rambo and all such specimens of violent masculinity first wept and then peed in their diapers when they heard what happened in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha.
Sunny Deol went to Pakistan to get back his wife (taken there forcibly by her family) and he started off on a low-key note. But when asked to shout a ‘Hindustan Murdabad’ slogan, he lost his marbles and picked up dumbbells. Actually, he picked up a tubewell and proceeded to steamroll his way through miles of Pakistani territory. The Army was only a small hurdle in his path.
Bapi Sidhwa’s award winning novel The Ice Candy Man became a moving film by Deepa Mehta, who called it 1947 Earth. It told the story of the Partition through the eyes of a little Parsi girl who saw her ayah (Nandita Das), her lover (Rahul Khanna) and the ice-candy man (Aamir Khan) become pawns in a deadly game of politics and religion. Set in Lahore, it was nevertheless the story of every city and every family who lived during the dark hours of 1947.
Whenever India and Pakistan face off in a sporting arena, there is talk of it being a war. And when a player dies in the arena, it could really be the start of a war. That was the premise of a kickboxing story where an Indian athlete died in the ring, fighting a Pakistani adversary. His brother gave up his cricketing ambitions and trained to become a kickboxer so that he could take revenge. The talk of revenge did not go down kindly with the diplomats who were looking to reduce tensions between the two countries. In such a scenario, the return match was scheduled to be held in Pakistan.
The venue wasn’t the Gaddafi stadium but it was still... Lahore.
Given the somewhat tense nature of our political ties, our social and cultural ties with Pakistan are very rarely humourous. Often sentimental but almost never satirical.
Tere Bin Laden changed all that. Set in Karachi, it was the story of a down-and-out television reporter (Ali Zafar) who created a fake Laden video to get into limelight and fulfil his dreams of going to America. Needless to say, these things are never as simple as they are planned to be and soon we had a manic group of poultry farmer, travel agent, radio jockey and TV station owner caught up in an international conspiracy of catching the (then) world’s most wanted man.
When we watched a movie like this one, we realised how similar India and Pakistan actually were.
The latest scorcher set in Pakistan is last week’s release – Bhaag Milkha Bhaag – the story of the Flying Sikh whose race started during the atrocities of the Partition and continued till he returned to Pakistan thirteen years later to take a shot at redemption.
Milkha Singh participated in an Indo-Pak Friendship Meet in 1960 where he competed against the top Pakistani athlete Abdul Khaliq in a race touted to be a contest between two countries. This showdown in Lahore gained more prominence in the film than his famous Rome Olympics race as Milkha raced not only to beat his competitor on the track but also the ghosts in his mind.