It’s so delightful to see Mahira Khan and the very gifted director, my erstwhile friend Shoaib Mansoor create a powerful statement against sexual violence and power-misappropriation in the film Verna. I say ‘erstwhile friend’ because Shoaib Saab was very gracious and cordial to begin with when I praised him for his stunning debut Khuda Ke Liye. Later, he cooled off when things warmed up at the border. I could sense his growing lack of warmth, prompted no doubt, by the growing hostility between the two countries.
I don’t blame him. We all need to respect the sovereignty of our country. Art comes later. Which is why Mahira could not enjoy our Indian hospitality when her Bollywood film Raees released last year. It was sad. And when we spoke on the phone, she had expressed her sadness to me.
Mahira said, “No other actor here in Pakistan has got an opportunity like this. And it fell in my lap. I didn’t have to look for it. I feel blessed. But at the same time I feel like that marathon runner who during the last lap just before the finishing line, is made to drop out of the race. There was this feeling when it happened, ‘Oh Man, not right now. Now just before the release!
I so want to sit with the audience and watch the film. But that doesn’t seem possible so far. But after the release, I feel a certain sense of closure because of the love I’ve been receiving from the people. The stuff that I read online is heartwarming. So may be, okay, this circumstance that happened is something I couldn’t control. I am going to let go of it. I tell myself this every day.
I try to look at the brighter side. I put all the good wishes in one box and take one out every morning. The fact is, I’ve always been such a big Bollywood fan from when I was very young. I remember I’d watch new Bollywood films every Thursday night on a video cassette. I’ve a deep admiration for Guru Dutt. I discovered him when I was 16. I saw Pyasa and it changed my life. It opened a whole new kind of Indian cinema to me. Prior to that, I was into the song-and-dance films. After watching Guru Dutt’s films, I became a fan of Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry and the songs of Guru Dutt’s films.”
And then I saw Mahira doing an interview with the BBC, poised and articulate, negotiating tricky questions on the violation of human rights in Pakistan, where she said Bollywood was never her priority. How could Bollywood not be Mahira’s priority, when Pakistan, with due respect, has so little of a cinema culture, besides of course Shoaib Mansoor. And how many films can he make?
No, Mahira needs Bollywood. And we appreciate and understand her need to be part of the Indian entertainment industry. But now is not the time. Not when Indian soldiers are being killed on the border, when human rights are being violated and terrorism is being given a free reign in her country.
Mahira may well say, what’s the political situation got to do with her? And in a way she is right. But still, as I said, we have to consider the acute crisis and the political sensitivities.
So, we will wait to keep that promise we had made when we spoke after Raees and Mahira had said, “We were all like one big family during the making of Raees. And I just felt happy connecting with them long-distance. I know we’ll celebrate whenever I am able to visit again.” We’ll wait for that dawn which Mahira’s favourite Indian poet-lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi spoke about in the song Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi: “Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi, Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi, In Kaali Sadiyo Ke Sar Se, Jab Raat Kaa Aanchal Dhalakega...Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi.”
I wait for the dawn when the sound of the morning birds won’t be shattered by the din of the blazing gun and when actors like Mahira and Fawad Khan can just walk into India without having to wait for visas. We wait for that dawn when Mahira can walk through the green channel at the Mumbai airport, her head held high. Being a single mother, the grace with which Mahira conducts her life is an inspiration to women on both sides of the border.