No Bollywood for this Bhaijaan

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By Jonathan Rodrigues

“There is a censor board in Pakistan but it isn’t as crazy as yours in India,” laughs the Pakistani director Jamshed Mahmood Raza (popularly known as ‘Jami’). “Our board is really not conservative at all, and in fact is opening up to different kinds of themes in films. People have this misconception that Pakistani people are over-religious, but we are not. We are like any other country in the world—we drink, there are drugs, we party. Men and women engage in all kinds of relationships, and we would love to be treated that way. Of course, it is true that unfortunately most of this happens underground, but change is on its way and people are becoming more receptive to the truth.”
Jami’s ‘Moor’ (2015) is widely acclaimed as one of the best contemporary movies ever from Pakistan, and is that country’s official entry for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards. But the young director (he was born in 1972) nevertheless finds it difficult to pursue artistic projects and express his unique voice, saying “the biggest problem for independent filmmakers in Pakistan is that the industry is flooded with mainstream movies and everything Bollywood. Most Pakistani filmmakers are obsessed with these romantic comedies, and item numbers have become an integral part of their formula. That’s not cinema, that’s a circus with songs and sensual dances, put together just to make money.”
For someone who doesn’t watch Bollywood, fearing it will affect his creative mindset, Raza knows there are Indian filmmakers dedicated to their art who are not tempted to compromise on creativity. He says, “I’m a big fan of Dibakar Banerjee and his work. ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’ (2015) was truly exceptional. And after all, we are cousins. We have similar stories, sing the same songs. Pakistani filmmakers and audiences have no problems with Indian films, and in fact adore Indian stars as much as you do. You can build the tallest and thickest walls, but the love between the two countries will find its way through the cracks.”
Even while IFFI 2015 has been going on, Jami has faced a maelstrom of criticism on social media for supporting Aamir Khan’s statements about growing intolerance in India. He says, “this religious renaissance that every country in our neighborhood seems to be experiencing has to be dealt with very sensitively and sternly, or else it will hurt humanity really badly. The best way to destroy a culture is to ban stuff. Keep on banning until people have forgotten their identity, then start constructing a new one that you want to impose. Trust me, we did that in Pakistan. And we didn’t like what happened next, when people began creating what they thought would be a better identity for the Pakistani people.”
Much of ‘Moor’ was shot in Balochistan, where the writ of the state gives way to that of the Taliban. About that experience Jami says, “We ran into their groups at many railway stations where they camped, and where the core of our shooting sets were. They accommodated us without any problems, and even allowed us to shoot women wearing jeans. I am not patronizing them but there is always collateral damage when it comes to war. They have stories too, just like us. That doesn’t justify their actions, but it tells you that there is scope for dialogue if you decide to reach out to them.”

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