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Pakistan Panorama: Propaganda on reel and the real May 18, 2008

Posted by lollywoodhungama in Uncategorized.

IT WAS HIGH TIME someone delved into the world of propaganda though the scope of discourse at a seminar held in Pakistan’s garrison city of Rawalpindi last week was restricted to Films as a tool of propaganda. Film critic Aijaz Gul took a ringside view of the art of propaganda on reel and how the medium has been used down the ages to justify war actions, notably by Hollywood filmmakers and those in Europe and beyond.

He noted that sometimes subtle methods have been used and at other times, a direct recourse taken to touch the patriotic nerve as if to justify war trophies, which always entail human suffering. Closer home, the subject veered around to movies made by Bollywood (Indian cinema) and Lollywood (Pakistani cinema) US although given the vast gulf in their resources and marketing ability, it would be naive to bracket them as equal.

Gul recalled a time when the governments of India and Pakistan produced official films, which were jingoistic and pandered to the base sentiment in castigating the ‘enemy’. These, he said, were forced down upon cinegoers, who had come for a slightly different kind of entertainment. The history of Indo-Pak war (read propaganda) movies is such that these never rode on the kind of subtlety that invites an objective interest amongst serious viewers. But that did not stop them from blowing the trumpet in the line of patriotism US until recently.

Despite a concerted effort to seek how Pakistani filmmakers have fared in the propaganda stakes, one could come across only a few names: Maujaza (Urdu) and Parohna (Punjabi). Neither made waves but the latter is known for hit numbers by Melody Queen Noor Jehan, some of which like Meriah Dhol Spahyiah and Mera Mahi Chail Chabeela US both eulogizing the soldier assumed legendary status. These patriotic songs during the 1965 war with India struck an emotional chord among the masses.

Like Pakistan, filmmakers in India, too, haven’t quite been able to set the box office alight even though some of them have spared the kind of budgets simply beyond the imagination of their counterparts this side of the Indus.

The 1973 Raj Kumar starrer Hindustan Ki Kassam (Ode to India) stretched the imagination.

The movie revolved around the IAF’s mission of destroying a PAF radar, which blocked IAF pilots radios in combat. The Indian intelligence plants Tahira (played by Priya Rajvansh), who is the fiancee of a PAF pilot (Amjad Khan).

Tahira goes to Pakistan and starts working as a singer in a PTV studio (where the radar which jams the radio frequency of IAF jets is also kept)! Tahira informs the IAF about the jammer. IAF asks her to leave the building in the night after her programme is done so that they can raid the building.

PAF’s counter intelligence finds out about her and so zero in on her that very night.

As soon as her programme is finished the IAF air raids the studio while she is still inside. In the dogfight with Pak Sabers, Raj Kumar’s jet is destroyed and he crashes. He radios for help and the IAF fighters destroy the pursuing Pakistan soldiers and their vehicles.

Lo and behold! the pilot and Tahira are evacuated.

However, the 1997 hit Border proved to be an exception to the propanda flops. The plot revolved around the Battle of Longewala in Rajasthan and is inspired by Director J P Dutta’s own feelings for a brother he lost in 1987 when his Mig crashed. The movie shows many soldiers being killed. However, in real life, the defenders at Longewala lost only two soldiers!

The movie was not without its share of mishaps: 60 cinegoers died during a show when a fire broke out in a south Delhi cinema.

But to give the devil his due, one song in the movie US Ghar wapis kab aao gay (When will you return home?) US continues to melt audiences on either side of the border, thanks to its universal appeal.

The 1999 Kargil conflict provided enough fodder for filmmakers and in 2003 LoC Kargil, directed by J P Dutta again, followed. It focused on the impact a war has on soldiers and their families. A year later, the Hrithik Roshan-starrer Lakshya was premised in a fictional account of events of the Kargil conflict.

Since then, mushy stories about cross-border romance have effectively replaced propaganda wars on reel.

There is a general consensus that this was down to growing Indo-Pak amity at the initiative of the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led BJP government, which decided to forego years of bad blood between the neighbours and seek peaceful coexistence.

The change in mood was epitomised by veteran Naseeruddin Shah, who revealed in an interview that he had refused to play the villain in the blockbuster Main Hoon Na because the role required him to badmouth Pakistan!

But he was not the only taking a stand. While Shah did figure in Main Hoon Naa, Akshay Kumar threatened to walk out of a movie if a script entailing Pakistan-bashing was not shelved. In later years, hearthrob John Abraham stood up ditto for his Goal.

In fact, the bonhomie spread quickly once there was a thaw in Indo-Pak relations, which incidentally also led to a historic resumption of cricket ties in Pakistan. The Indian team and fans were so overwhelmed with the hospitality they received that there was a tidal wave of change in perception.

This yearning to love and be loved rubbed off on filmmakers also, which actually led to a change in script for a movie, which has since come to define neighbour-in-love: the 2004 Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta-starrer Veer-Zaara.

Turning the politics of propaganda on its head, this romantic tale of Indian boy-meets-Pakistani girl had legion of people on either side of the border reaching out for the nearest Kleenex.

If there’s one lesson to be drawn from this debate it is that no propaganda is a match for the power of love. Even in reel life.



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