Similar to the protagonist of the 2015 film – Bajrangi Bhaijaan – director Kabir Khan too seemed to have snuck into Pakistan in the dark of the night unnoticed. However, where Bajrangi may have had to enter the country illegally through an underground tunnel, escaping barbed fences, all with a little girl perched on his back, the director didn’t have to undergo that hassle.
Despite the excitement surrounding Khan’s cross-border journey, this is not the first time that the film-maker visited Pakistan as he previously came to the country following the success of Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Overwhelmed by the adulation his fourth directorial venture received in the country, Khan requested the Pakistan High Commission for a visa. “I came to Lahore for like three to four days and just roamed the streets as a common man enjoying the local cuisines,” recalled Khan.
These are the extremists 'Phantom' spoke about: Kabir Khan on Karachi protesters
While his last trip may have been for leisure, his recent visit in the country was to attend a marketing conference in Karachi, as the guest of honour. During a session at the marketing seminar, the Kabul Express-director addressed a packed hall narrating his career evolution starting from how he went from being a history buff to one of Bollywood’s most sought-after directors. “I remember we were shown a documentary in college once and after the screening the film-maker said that, ‘If you want to travel then make documentaries.’”
Having been struck by wanderlust from as early as he could remember, coupled with his passion for film-making, Khan’s career took him to 60 different countries. But for the enigmatic film-maker the allure of travelling the world was never his only reason for choosing this profession. “When I started travelling, I noticed that there was a gap in the story that is being told to us [by the media] and the story that exists. And that zone was something that captivated me a lot.”
Can’t go to Pakistan again: Kabir Khan
As is the case with majority of documentary film-makers, Khan eventually grew frustrated by the lack of space documentaries were given in the country realising that in order to be heard he would eventually have to transition to feature films. Khan credited an incident in Afghanistan that made him appreciate the true impact and influence of Bollywood. “It was November 2001 when my friend, Rajan, and I had just bribed ourselves onto a Russian chopper asking the pilot to drop us at a location [outside Kabul]. When we eventually reached the destination the pilot told us to jump from the helicopter which was still about 20 feet from the ground,” he narrated. “We kept on requesting him to lower the air vehicle but it was to no use and we eventually made the plunge with all of the filming equipment in our hands,” added the writer-director.
Stranded on a mountainous terrain in the middle of nowhere, Khan and his partner-in-crime were soon greeted by a tall Afghani man carrying a klashinkov. Fearing the worst Khan immediately uttered the words, ‘Hindustan’ out of desperation. To which the stranger immediately burst into a smile and started singing, ‘Mere sapno ki rani kab aogi tum.’
The event later on served as an inspiration for his directorial debut, Kabul Express, a film produced under the banner of Yash Raj Films. From then on there has been no looking back for the director as he has delivered towering hits one after the other including New York, Ek Tha Tiger and the most recently Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Although Khan’s films have been greatly appreciated across the border, his last release, Phantom, seemed to have spoiled all the hard work Bajrangi Bhaijaan had done in bridging gaps between the audiences of the two neighbouring countries.
Right from the time he stepped foot on Pakistani soil the director had been expecting to be bombarded with this question. Aiming to address the elephant in the room, Khan lamented the heat and bad press Phantom was subjected to describing it as a classic case of a film being misrepresented.
“A major problem with people from Pakistan and India is that we tend to view each other as one amorphous mass. We’re unable to see the good from the bad. Just like a whole nation shouldn’t be held responsible for a single person’s action similarly I don’t see my movie as a criticism of the entire country. But unfortunately that was not how it was perceived.”
Keeping in view the topsy-turvy relationships between the two countries, Khan felt that it was important to encourage “people to people contact”. He added, “Honestly speaking, co-productions will not just help improve relations but will also allow us to isolate the political element. As whenever there is genuine collaboration like a Chand Nawab meeting Bajrangi, there is always going to be that feeling of warmth,” he told The Express Tribune.
Even though these are still early days for Pakistani cinema, Khan is part of the chorus of Bollywood film-makers who have been singing praises for the country’s talent and film industry’s potential.
“Right now there are just 100 screens in Pakistan. This is an issue for Indian film-makers as well because we want to release more movies here. If the number of screens increases here, Pakistan has enough potential to become the biggest territory for Bollywood film [outside Bombay and Gujrat],” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2016.
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