Dear Ms. Mahira Khan
It’s so delightful to see you 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 you could not enjoy our Indian hospitality when your Bollywood film Raees released last year. It was sad.And when we spoke on the phone you had expressed your sadness to me.
You said, “No other actor here in Pakistan has got an opportunity like this(Raees). And it fell in my lap,due to whatever hard work that I may have done earlier.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!”
And now I see you doing an interview with the BBC, poised and articulate negotiating tricky questions on the violation of human rights in Pakistan, where you said Bollywood was never your priority. I remember you told me with such warmth about your fascination with Bollywood from your childhood and specially the cinema of Guru Dutt, and how as a child,you’d wait every Thursday for that Bollywood film which you were treated to .
How could it not be your priority, when Pakistan, with due respect , has so little of cinema culture , besides of course ShoaibMansoor. And how many films can he make?
No, Mahira. You need Bollywood.And we appreciate and understand your need to be a 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 your country.
You may well say, what’s the political situation got to do with you? And in a way you are right. The minds and manoeuvres of politicians are beyond our understanding, But still, as I said we have to consider the acute crisis and the political sensitivities. Art seems trivial when weighed against the loss of human lives at the border.
So we will wait to keep that promise we had made when we spoke after Raees and you had said, “We were all like one big family during the making 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 your favourite Indian poet-lyricist Sahir Ladhianvi spoke about in the song Wohsubah kabhi tohaayegi: “Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi, Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi,In Kaali Sadiyo Ke Sar Se, Jab Raat Kaa AanchalDhalakega,Jab Dukh Ke Badal Pighalenge, Jab Sukh Ka Sagar Chhalkega,Jab Ambar Jhum Ke Naachega, Jab Dharati NagameGaaegi..Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi.”
You had said to me, “I do only one film at a time.My first priority is my child. So it’s a lot of hard work . But it can done.It’s all about choices. Many times I have to let go of good work.Fortunately the work I’ve done is worked for me. Yes, I am an anomaly in my country. I hope in the coming years there will be more women like me.”
I wait for the dawn when the sound of the morning birds won’t be shattered by the din of blazing gun and when actors like you and Fawad Khan can just walk into India without having to wait for visas.We wait for that dawn when you can walk through the green channel at the Mumbai airport your head held high . Being a single mother the grace with which you conduct your life is inspirational to women on both sides of the border.
Subhash K Jha