By MONI MOHSIN
According to the New York Times, Khuda Ke Liye, the first Pakistani movie to be released in India in forty three years, produced unexpected reactions among cinema goers. It was not the film’s interpretation of Islam as a tolerant religion but the quality of middle class houses in Lahore that flummoxed them. “We didn’t know Pakistanis had such good houses,” confessed Indian viewers. Apparently the existence of taxis in Lahore also came as a revelation. As did the information that Pakistani women went to university and drove cars.
I like to think that we Pakistanis are not so ignorant about India and things Indian. And for this, we have Bollywood to thank.
Around 1973 or 74 when television antennae in Lahore started picking up Indian air waves from Amritsar, a tsunami of excitement engulfed us. To be honest, we weren’t thrilled by Doordarshan’s own output. To our eyes, it seemed clunky and dated. But the films . . . Ah! Now *that* was something else.
At first only a few fortunate houses got “India”, as we called Doordarshan. We pondered long and hard on what it was about these houses that made them more receptive. Was it their lack of tree cover; the height of their roofs; the angle of their antennae or just God’s grace? Our house did *not* get India. Every so often we’d send our grumbling driver up to the roof to prod and push the antenna into place. I’d take up position in the garden, my brother would wait in the verandah while my sister stood in front of the television.
“A little to the left”, my sister would yell to our brother.
“To the left,” he’d relay to me.
“Left,” I’d holler up to the roof.
“Better?” the driver would shout down.
“Better?” I’d ask my brother who’d ask my sister.
“Yes, no, it’s moved again. Oh no,” she’d wail, “it’s gone now.”
In desperation we even stuck a steel plate to one end of the antenna, as we’d seen many people do in our neighbourhood. To no avail. We never got India in our house.
So every Tuesday night we’d schlep over to a cousin’s house to watch “Chittar Haar”. Reared on my mother’s nostalgic memories of Dilip, Nargis and Raj Kapoor, I expected to be bedazzled. And bedazzled I was by Rajesh Khanna’s safari suits; by Amitabh’s spaniel eyes; by Parveen Baabi’s crymplene cleavage and of course by the be-feathered, bejewelled, body stockinged wonder that was Helen. Films like ‘Amar Prem’, ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ and of course ‘Kabhi Kabhi’, were the bench marks of my adolescence. I ate, slept and mugged up for exams to the strains of “Roop Tera Mastana”, “Mehbooba” and “Jai Jai Shiv Shankar”.
Though I watched Indian films with my whole heart, I disengaged my mind wherever necessary. I did not believe, for instance, that as soon as they fell in love, Indian couples rushed off to Gulmarg to do a quick dance on a snowy slope. Or indeed that one Dharmendra armed with a wooden stick could lay low fifty knife wielding goondas.
Nonetheless, I learnt much. I watched with interest the portrayal of social tensions and religious differences. I revelled in the music and the poetry. I absorbed the fashions, the social mores, the manners, the customs. Thanks to Bollywood, I learnt that there were taxis in India, that women drove, attended college and that some people had nice houses and, equally important, some not.
Meanwhile, since the Pakistani film industry was in the doldrums, there wasn’t much of note crossing over from our side. The exceptions were Pakistani television serials. When visiting Delhi I’d regularly be asked by friends to bring videos of “Tanhanyian” “Dhoop Kinara” and “Ankahi”. But I guess their outreach was limited and the sorts of people who got to see these already knew that Pakistani women attended college.
But now it seems with the wide release of films like Khuda Ke Liye, the publication and easy availability of Pakistani books in India, the accessibility of Pakistani journalism via the net, the two way traffic of music and art and of course ever greater travel between the two countries of ordinary citizens, perhaps Indians will also get Pakistan in their houses. Thanks to the wonder of satellite, I can finally claim that we too get India in our house without the driver having to climb the roof !
Moni Mohsin is a Pakistani writer whose novel, The End of Innocence (Penguin), is out now.
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi