This Article is From Oct 20, 2016

India Is Missing A Trick - Let's Use Karan Johar Against Pak

The Karan Johar issue has become another test of nationalism. How much one loves India, that is Bharat, is being decided by one's support or opposition to Pakistani artists and whether they should be allowed to act in Indian movies, or if  there should be a boycott of the films the Pakistani artists work in. According to the "nationalists", Karan Johar has committed the cardinal sin of casting a Pakistani actor in his film and now they are demanding that his film should not be screened in cinema halls. Some cinema hall owners have  announced that they would not be screening Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.

I wonder if in the present atmosphere watching this movie will be considered anti-national. 

The Karan Johar issue has many dimensions and each deserves to be treated differently. At a time when there is serious hostility between India and Pakistan, when Pakistan is openly sponsoring cross-border terrorism and killing Indian soldiers and citizens, when there is a war-like situation between both the countries and Indian braveheart soldiers have conducted a surgical strike across the Line Of Control to inflict heavy casualties on terrorists, should Indian film-makers be hiring Pakistan artists in their movies?

India-Pakistan hostility is not a new thing. Pakistan has always been a rogue state but in the last 25 years, it has openly exported terrorism to Indian territories. Since the Uri incident in which the terrorists killed 19 Indian soldiers, there has been a clamour to give Pakistan a befitting reply. It is in this context that the surgical strike was carried out. And that coincides with Karan Johar's film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, starring Pakistani actor Fawad Khan, being released. Raj Thackeray's party has threatened that his party will not allow the movie to be screened.

Paradoxically, when Karan Johar had hired Fawad Khan, the situation was not the same. In fact, Anurag Kashyap raised a very pertinent question. He said that when Johar had signed up Fawad Khan at that time, Prime Minister Modi was visiting Nawaz Sharif and feeding him cake. So if that was not a sin, then how come this is an anti-national act, Kashyap tweeted. His is a valid argument. Karan Johar would have never imagined when he started the movie that by the time of release, the situation would have changed thus!!

But the issue is much bigger and a lot more layered. The question remains unanswered - should an enemy country's actors or creative artists be allowed to act or perform on  Indian territory? There was a time when India and Pakistan were one country. After Pakistan came into existence in 1947, animosity began to brew, but at the cultural front, there were many common threads between the two nations. We have all loved and enjoyed Pakistani music and literature. I still love to listen to Ghulam Ali and Mahdi Hassan and without them, ghazals wouldn't be the same.

Last year, Ghulam Ali was not allowed to perform live in Mumbai. For music lovers, Ghulam Ali despite being a Pakistan citizen, has always been seen a saintly figure, a messenger of peace and acts like a bridge between both countries.

I am a cricket fan. I have grown up watching Pakistani cricketers. I still can't forget Javed Miandad hitting Chetan Sharma for a six and winning the one-day match for Pakistan in Sharjah. In the late 70s, the Pakistani team lead by Mushtaq Mohammad was such an exciting eleven. It was probably the only team which challenged the might of the great Clive Lloyd's team. Watching stalwarts like Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Waseem Raza, Imran Khan and Sarfaraz Nawaz was pure joy. In the late 80s and early 90s, we all loved and enjoyed Imran Khan, Waseem Akram and Waqar Yunus's pace bowling. Today it saddens me when I hear people say that India and Pakistan should not play each other. India - Pakistan rivalry in the cricket field has made cricket the most exciting sports in the continent. Should India stop playing with the Pakistan team? Should Waseem Akram, who is a regular feature on Indian sports channels, not be allowed as a commentator?

It's not an issue of one Fawad Khan. If today we boycott him, then should we not stop listening to Gulab Ali and Mehndi Hassan? Should we also not erase the memories of the cover drives of Zaheer Abbas, the late swings of Waseem Akram and Imran's pace bowling? Then should we also not be reading the great stories of S H Manto? Where will this stop ?

I am all for nationalism, standing by our soldiers in this time of crisis. I firmly believe that Pakistan should be taught a lesson, its misplaced adventurism has crossed all limits. There is a limit to the patience of a nation. But the question is - is military solution the only option? What will India gain out of boycotting Pakistani actors, musicians, cricketers and writers? I am a little puzzled when I discover that though we demand that Pakistani actors should not be permitted to work in Indian movies, they are granted visas by the government of India. If the Ministry of External Affairs decides to stop issuing visas, the free flow of Pakistani artists will immediately stop; no Indian film-maker would be in a position to cast them. But this has not happened so far. Why? Why should the onus be on the film world? Why should the responsibility not lie with the Modi government?

It is also important to remember that despite all demands, Pakistan is still enjoying the benefits of "most favoured nation". That status was granted by the Indian establishment long back and it is still continuing. Why has it not been withdrawn? What is interesting is that Pakistan has not reciprocated in the same coin. It has not granted India the same status. If nationalists are so worked up by the presence of Pakistani actors in Indian films, then why don't they demand that the Modi government immediately break all diplomatic ties with Pakistan and India withdraw its High Commissioner from Islamabad? I am firmly of the opinion that this should not happen. These are extreme measures. Breaking ties is no solution, rather it will complicate the matter further. There are other options. As a nation, we have got to be more innovative in our strategic thinking.

We are living in a time when great nations have heavily relied on their soft power to vanquish opponents. This power is more subtle, the cost is minimal and it does not have the hazards of military options either. America has perfected the art of exercise of soft power. From American jeans to American music to Hollywood movies to Coca Cola to the Big Mac, these are proving to be more potent weapons than tanks, arms and ammunitions. Soft power instead of annihilating the human body captures the mind space.

Today, the cultural invasion of America is so overwhelming that even in erstwhile communist countries like China which is trying to challenge the hegemony of America, one can feel the American presence in every nook and corner. In the last three decades, the lifestyle of a normal Chinese citizen has drastically changed. There is a piece of America in every bit of their lives. It is a similar case with us Indians too. It is another matter that we tend to ignore these in the name of globalisation.

Why can't we import this concept in our strategic thinking and use it more effectively in our war against Pakistan? Bollywood is such a strong presence in Pakistan. Indian artists and films are slowly creating waves at the global level. Priyanka Chopra and Irfan Khan are prime examples. If we ban Pakistani creative artists, we will probably be shutting the door, closing one more option to tackle Pakistan. Why can't we exercise the strategy that American has perfected? Film makers like Karan Johar will prove to be potent in this endeavour, in the battle against Pakistan. Let's use him!

(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.