While we continue to open our doors for cultural exchanges with our neighbours, Pakistan remains bluntly illiberal in its approach and attitude to Indian artistes and art. The latest salvo, and unarguably one of the most irrational moves yet, is to ban Aanand Rai's romantic epic Raanjhanaa in Pakistan, apparently because a Hindu Brahmin played by Dhanush, falls in love with a Muslim girl, played by Sonam Kapoor.
Director Aanand L Rai seems baffled by the turn of events. "Until this ban in our neighbouring country, I never even thought of Raanjhanaa as a Hindu-Muslim love story. While writing the script, while shooting the scenes and editing them, all of us looked at Kundan and Zoya in every colour except saffron or green. Yes, they are Hindu and Muslim. But nowhere does their religious divide come in the way of their equation. When neither Kundan nor Zora nor I have a problem with their religious background why would anyone else feel inconvenienced? This ban is just a reflex action clamping down on anything that suggests an inter-religious relationship."
Aanand feels it's extremely narrow-minded to slot people in love according to their religious breeding. "Nowhere in Raanjhanaa have we stressed this difference or stressed about it. In fact Kundan jokes with Zoya that if her problem with accepting him is religious then he's willing to convert to Islam. Zoya's parents too have no problem with Kundan's Hindu identity. They object to his vagabondism, not his religion."
Aanand feels it's dangerous and regressive to object to a film purely on the superficial passport level of the protagonist's identity. "I am presuming they (Pakistanis) would have no objection if Kundan was a Muslim. But sorry, I didn't write my script to appease religious sentiments. I am ecstatic my film has been embraced wholeheartedly in my home country. Beyond our borders would have been a bonus. But I am not bothered."
Filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor agrees with Aanand on a creative artiste's right to not get cowed down by religious chauvinism. Says Shekhar, "I have not seen Raanjhanaa. But artistes are the conscience of society. They must continue to break the so-called rules."
The intrepid Mahesh Bhatt whose mother was Muslim and father a Hindu opines, "A filmmaker should make what he believes in, irrespective of the consequences. In any case, Pakistan is a very small market for our films. Why should we let the censor code of another nation rein us in? Unfortunately religious biases continue to weigh filmmakers down. That's exactly why we must go ahead and do what we believe in and be ready to face the backlash."
Shoojit Sircar who has made a love story Yahaan set in militant Kashmir and who challenged quite a few sacred cows in Vickey Donor feels Raanjhanaa mirrors a social reality. "Such alliances and relationships occur in our society all the time. Banning a film won't change the truth. Raanjhanaa actually celebrates love. And every country should celebrate the film without prejudice."