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Border moves

ZIYA US SALAM

Even as a Pakistani directs a Bollywood film, three Indian movies are ready to be released in that country. Are co-productions the next step?



CULTURAL BOND: Taj Mahal

This past week Pakistani stand-up comedian Omar Sharif created history of sorts by becoming probably the first Pakistani to direct a Bollywood film. Shooting now in Hyderabad (India) with another schedule lined up for Chicago in August, Sharif's film "Tum Mere Ho" stars Rajesh Khanna with Ashmit Patel and Aarti Chhabria.

Says Sharif, "It is a sheer delight to be shooting for a Bollywood film because people in Pakistan see a lot of Indian films anyway. We intend to release the film by the end of the year, preferably around Diwali." The producer Masood Ali, however, is not too sure if the film will be released in Pakistan.

Actor Patel is more upbeat. "I am really enjoying working on this film. There is a touch of Urdu and the tehzeeb that goes with it. Sharif Sahab's approach is really phenomenal. As an actor you know what he wants and he is willing to improvise too."

Incidentally, Sharif is also playing a small role in the film, a slightly effeminate manager to Patel. "His voice modulation is incredible. He slips in and out of the character so smoothly. Even his body language changes in a matter of seconds as he shifts from being a character to a director," discloses Patel.

Indian films

If Patel is going gaga over Omar Sharif's work in "Tum Mere Ho," the red carpet is being rolled out in Pakistan too. Three Indian films are lined up for box office release, arguably the first time since 1965. Even as you read this, cinema halls in Pakistan are playing the promos of two Indian films likely to be released in the next few weeks: "Taj Mahal" and "Mughal-e-Azam." While the former is slated for an April 28 release, K. Asif's masterpiece will be released on June 2.

Also vying for cinema halls is Umesh Mehra's "Sohni Mahiwal," a Sunny Deol-Poonam Dhillon starrer of the mid-1980s.

Though Bollywood films are known to be popular with people across the border, the trio of Indian films releasing in quick succession has given rise to unprecedented hope that more films might just be able to find an official release across the border.

Says Akbar Khan, whose film "Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story" was received with positive but limited acclaim when it was released last December across India, "I believed in the straight and upright approach. I wrote to the President of Pakistan, the Prime Minister, and more importantly, their Cultural Ministry for the release of the film. `Taj Mahal' is based on a shared period of history. The grave of Jahangir is in Lahore just as Shah Jahan's is in Agra. They saw reason and we are going to release the film across Pakistan later this month."

In the run-up to the release, Khan and his cast members, Zulfi Syed, Pooja Batra and Sonya Jehan — granddaughter of Noor Jehan who hailed from Pakistan — will also go there to promote the film. Already publicity in the form of promos in cinema halls and street hoardings has started. Incidentally, the film is being released with 25 prints, and it will be shown in Multan, Rawalpindi and Peshawar besides cities like Lahore and Karachi.

Close on the heels of "Taj Mahal," "Mughal-e-Azam" in all its colourful glory will be released too. "We will be showing it with 25 prints. We are doing everything possible to heighten interest in the film," says Karachi-based Nadeem Manziwala, whose company Manziwala Entertainment is releasing the film in Pakistan. "There is a positive reaction all across. We have not got a single call against the release of the film. The halls are playing our promos, there will be hoardings too at every intersection. We are trying to recreate the magic of the film's release in India, where the prints arrived on an elephant when the film's black-and-white version was released in 1960. Our cinema is close to the tomb of Quaid-e-Azam and we too intend to use an elephant to fetch the print."

Reality check

Manziwala, however, has a reality check for those going to town with Bollywood finding cinema halls in Pakistan after 40 years. "In the early 1980s we used to show Indian films. I recall playing `Noor Jehan' in 1981 and `Kashish,' a Deepti Naval film in 1982. It is over 20 years ago, so people have probably forgotten about those films being shown in Karachi."

Among them is Khan, whose "Taj Mahal," a Rs.60-crore film is going to premiere on April 26, two days before the official release. Claims Khan, "After 40 years we are showing our film there. It is a moment of great joy for the Indian film industry. And I hope, the film's performance there has an impact here too when the film will be revived in India four-five weeks after the release in Pakistan." Incidentally, "Taj Mahal" suffered badly due to amateurish marketing, including unused publicity material. "I found that posters worth a crore went unused." Never mind. Come April 28, all of them will be put to good use in the neighbouring country.

Meanwhile, Umesh Mehra is keeping his fingers crossed. "We have not decided on the exact date yet but we managed to get the Censors' clearance because our film is about a legend that is supposed to have taken place on that side of the border. We will show the film with 10-12 prints across the country."

Manziwala is hopeful that things will only get better. "I have heard of Omar Sharif shooting in India. And now we have Indian films coming to Pakistan in an official manner. The Government's decision will not be limited to three-four films only. Co-productions are the next step forward." Now, does one hear people on both sides of the border, singing, "Tum mere ho." (You are mine)?

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