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Patriotism doesn’t need Pakistan as punching bag: Raazi director | Hindi Movie News

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The infrequent combination of commercial and critical success that Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi has received does more than just validate the cinematic skills of the cast and the director – it also serves as a welcome reminder that the Indian audience is not averse to a patriotic, wartime tone that humanizes, instead of demonizing, the people of Pakistan, even as it reminds you of a patriot’s untold story. Raazi, set in the months preceding the 1971 war, is the story of a Kashmiri girl (played by Alia Bhatt) married into a Pakistani Army family to spy for India.

Exceptions such as Bajrangi Bhaijaan apart, efforts to gain box-office success have often found it convenient to pitch patriotism through the prism of an evil and incompetent enemy, from Sunny Deol uprooting the handpump in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001) to Saif Ali Khan finally getting to Hafiz Saeed in Phantom (2015). In the case of Raazi, however, not only the director but also the cast of the movie have been consistent in how they view the story. “For the very first time, a Pakistani family, a Pakistani officer is being portrayed in a way which is not negative,” explained Shishir Sharma, who plays a Pakistani Major General, while Ashwath Bhatt asserted that “just because (his character) Major Mehboob is a Pakistani, doesn’t mean he has to be a villain”. Vickey Kaushal (Major Iqbal) made the point that “so many people came and told me that while you are watching the film, you forget the nationality of the characters.”

This is, of course, in sync with Meghna’s own vision. “Pakistanis living abroad were originally averse to watching the film, since they assumed that it will run down Pakistan. But when they saw it, they were surprised. They have come on social media to talk about it, they have engaged with me about it. This dialogue is overwhelming for me, it is my reward. This is the message I wanted to put across,” says a satisfied Meghna. What was the message? “That to love your country does not mean to hate another. The two are not related. To love your country, you don’t need a punching bag.” Given how essential punching bags have become in public discourse, didn’t she get flak for the absence of hate? “There must be two per cent or five per cent of responses which say, oh, this is too ‘soft’ (in the way it depicts Pakistan) but everyone else is appreciating the fact that it is not jingoistic, especially in today’s time. It feels good to hear that.”

Why has the viewer been so nonjudgmental about her being non-judgmental? “I think it all comes down to intent. Film ki neeyat saaf lagti hai… At the end of the day, we are saying we are the same people, we were one. That is what I am trying to say between the lines, or at least my heart wanted to say. And the fact that they get it, how they have reacted, is unbelievable for me. The audience gets all of it – our audience, and the Pakistanis who have seen the movie outside of Pakistan.”

Of course, the reason all Pakistani reactions are from outside the country is because the film has not yet released in Pakistan. In 2006, Pervez Musharraf lifted the blanket ban on the screening of Indian movies in place since 1965, but movies based on Indo-Pak wars (LOC Kargil, Border, Lakshya) or on espionage or terror (Agent Vinod, Phantom, Omerta) have understandably rarely made it to Islamabad’s screens. Not that it means that they haven’t been watched. When Hafiz Saeed moved the Lahore High Court in 2015 asking for a ban on Phantom, the judge pragmatically asked the counsel for the government what it could do to stop CDs from being available in the markets.

Gadar Phantom

Does Meghna – having scripted together by common consent the most sensitive, nuanced, non-jingostic Indo-Pak wartime story – want Pakistani audiences to see her effort? Of course she does. “I think it’s important for them to know that we do see them as humans as well. And to allay the fears that when narrating history, there are scars and there is pain. On both sides. But only by letting the wounds breathe, will they heal.”

Updated: May 15, 2018 — 7:20 am

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