May 20, 2006Foreign Affairs

Feroz Khan, we love you!

In vino veritas

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Let’s see what’s a worse assault on the cause of peace between India and Pakistan: An inebriated Indian actor putting things pretty much as they are, though rudely and impolitely, at a high-society party; or a very sober, enlightened moderate’ ruler of Pakistan personally banning the said actor from further visits to Pakistan?

If peace processes are only about visits by Bollywood celebrities mouthing platitudes, or worse, indulging in apologetics, then they cannot conceivably be a sound basis for peace. There are some uncomfortable truths that Pakistanis have to face — and which their government is loathe to accept — before there can be genuine reconciliation between the two countries. It is never to early to broach these. For if Pakistan feels that the peace process has gone on long enough to get all impatient about Kashmir, then surely it can’t be too early to talk about sensitive’ issues from the receiving end.

That it took a drunk Feroz Khan to say some of the things that needed to be said — albeit in different circumstances (but since when did spirit respect circumstances?) — speaks for the environment of censorship, both self- and externally imposed, that characterises these cross-border schmooze-fests. If the Mahesh Bhatts go to Pakistan to tell their hosts what they already know then there’s little that they actually achieve. Indeed they may even be misleading their hosts into believing that there is nothing to be forgiven and forgotten.

Watching Indian television the day after Feroz Khan’s now famous tirade in Pakistan was an experience in itself. The screenfuls of full-of-himself Mahesh Bhatt were tch-tching on the bad behaviour bit while ignoring entirely what exactly Khan actually said:

India is a secular country,” (Feroz Khan) was quoted by a Pakistani daily as saying. Muslims there are making a lot of progress. Our President is a Muslim, the PM a Sikh. Pakistan was made in the name of Islam, but look how Muslims are killing each other.

I have not come here on my own,” he added. I was invited to come. Our films are so powerful that your government could not stop them for long.” [TOI]For which Mahesh Bhatt duly apologised.

It doesn’t take much to be banned even in Musharraf’s enlightened and moderate Pakistan. This should give advocates of people to people contacts’ some pause for thought. Pakistan’s military establishment will tolerate those contacts to the extent that they don’t disturb its own narrative. For people-to-people contacts to be meaningful, it is not sufficient for Pakistanis to be people like us’ (which itself is questionable at the least). It is necessary for them to have a political set-up like India’s.

The actions of drunk actors are usually not taken seriously (unless, for instance, people are run over as a result). But Musharraf thinks otherwise. He thinks Feroz Khan deserves a ban. We think he deserves an award. (He’s a great actor, by the way, and as a film-maker he brought in Pakistani artistes way before Mahesh Bhatt did.)

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