Negative comments can’t destroy long-standing India-Pak amity’

Kolkata, Nov 18 (IANS) Looking forward to the release “soon” of his debut feature “Manto” in India, Pakistani filmmaker-actor Sarmad Sultan Khoosat has asserted that disparaging comments like “Pakistani agent” or “terrorist”, slathered on Indian celebrities who are popular across the border, can’t hamper the amity that has flowered through the decades through cinema and art between the two countries.

“We know how some people have made some comments like these. But how can things that have taken decades to evolve be affected by a few statements like these. I find it unfair to think that our ideologies are so weak that amity will change because of this.

“As nations we both are very resilient and we have gone through so much right from partition and beyond,” Sarmad told IANS.

Recently superstar Shah Rukh Khan had ruffled feathers when he said that there is “extreme intolerance” in India. In response, a BJP MP compared him with Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed, while another senior BJP leader called him a ‘deshdrohi’ (traitor), while Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Sadhvi Prachi dubbed him a “Pakistani agent”.

SRK and other Bollywood stars have a “huge fan following” in Pakistan, Sarmad pointed out.Be it SRK’s on-screen charisma or the impactful partition chronicles by iconic Pakistani author Saadat Hasan Manto, cinema and literature have always unified the two nations, he believed.

“It will continue to do so and our film ‘Manto’ is a part of that shared legacy. And anything that is a shared legacy can also be effective diplomatic tools to encourage friendlier relations. The dialogue will go on through cinema,” Sarmad, a Lahore-based director, said.

Sarmad directs himself as the troubled writer in the 2015 drama “Manto”. He decided to skip the screening of the film in Mumbai despite having a visa.

“We were scared, to be honest. From what we read in media reports, there was intolerance,” conceded the director, who had earlier helmed the hit television serial “Humsafar”.

But his apprehensions vanished the moment he stepped into this eastern metropolis to attend the 21st Kolkata International Film Festival for the movie’s screening.

Sarmad admitte that “it did affect us” when Pakistani ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai was called off after resistance from Shiv Sena last month.

“But what about the good things that fall into place? Anything that transcends borders stands for tolerance. What about the trade that goes on between the countries… it must also be affected sometimes due to all the tensions but that doesn’t surface,” countered the 36-year-old, adding that media picks up stories according to its own benefit.

“It’s unfair to generalise and say that Muslims are bad because of a section of people. It’s bad to deprive each other (people in India and Pakistan) of that objective reality,” Sarmad argued.

“Also I find artists are easily targeted because of their familiarity,” he added.

“Manto” is set in Lahore, after he moved with his family from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Pakistan post-Partition. Produced by veteran Babar Javed and written by Shahid Nadeem, the screenplay is adapted from Manto’s short stories particularly “Thanda Gosht”, “Peshawar Se Lahore” and others. It also depicts his relationship with singer-actress Noor Jehan and the narration is interspersed with visual references to “Toba Tek Singh” and “Thanda Gosht” (a sexual tragedy against the backdrop of communal violence).

Sarmad said the cinematic portrayal has received rave reviews and is a hit in his country ever since its release in September. It was screened for the youth in several US varsities and will also be seen at Goa’s International Film Festival of India.

“Sexuality, partition and politics is warped in Manto. I don’t think it will offend anyone. I am hoping it will release in India soon and build bridges,” Sarmad signed off.

(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at sahana.g@ians.in)

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