MUMBAI: India and Pakistan’s heightened tensions over Kashmir have spread to movie theatres with Bollywood shunning artists from its neighbor and Islamabad suspending Indian films in a series of tit-for-tat moves.
The nuclear-armed rivals have traded a number of entertainment-related blows since New Delhi blamed Pakistan-based militants for an attack on an Indian army base that killed 19 soldiers last month.
Hindu nationalists have been fuelling India’s crackdown with threats of violence while Pakistan’s media regulators have gone all out and banned all Indian content from television and radio networks.
Prominent Indian director Karan Johar said this week that he would not cast Pakistani actors anymore after activists from Hindu nationalist party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) threatened to attack cinemas that show his forthcoming movie.
But veteran Indian director Shyam Benegal said politics should not influence film.
“Some political interests question how you can use actors from what they call ‘an enemy state’ and release the film in India when the relationship is so bad between the countries,” he told AFP.
“But what connection does it have? Film actors are not political beings. They are entertainers. It’s completely without reason.”
Johar’s move came after the fringe but noisy right-wing MNS based in Bollywood’s home of Mumbai said it would stall the release next Friday of “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” because it features Pakistani heart-throb Fawad Khan.
In a short video that divided opinion, an under-pressure Johar also took great pains to stress his nationalism and pleaded with protesters not to hamper screenings as it would hurt the movie’s 300-strong Indian crew.
“It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen because he has so much money at stake. He has to see that he doesn’t lose not only money but his business,” Benegal, 81, said of Johar’s statement.
Indian authorities assured producers this week that no one would be allowed to disrupt screenings as police arrested 12 MNS workers for shouting slogans outside a south Mumbai cinema.
However, anti-Pakistan sentiment is expected to impact Johar’s “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” (“This Heart is Complicated”), which stars former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Ranbir Kapoor, and other upcoming films.