Bhansali working on 'Heeramandi' is like a Pakistani director making film on Mahabharata: Ushna Shah

The actor asserted that the Netflix series based on the Lahore locality is a case of appropriation


Entertainment Desk September 28, 2021

Ever since the announcement of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming star-studded Netflix series on Heera Mandi, based on the neighbourhood located in Lahore, Pakistani celebrities have been up in arms against the project, deeming it an appropriation of Pakistani culture. 

Most recently, actor Ushna Shah took to the Instagram comments of a news post related to the web series to share her thoughts on the project. The actor started off with a comment asserting that an Indian director should not be making a series based on a locality in Pakistan. She wrote, “It’s not his to make! It’s not theirs to make! This is so infuriating!” 

Shah later added a detailed note in the comments elaborating on her stance. The actor stressed that an Indian filmmaker using Heera Mandi as a setting is “appropriation”. She wrote, “Netflix doesn’t fund original projects for Pakistan. This is an opportunity taken away from Pakistani directors and filmmakers. Collaboration is one thing but this is appropriation.” 

The actor went on to provide points for why she thinks this is so, writing about how it would be equally unacceptable for a Pakistani to make a film or TV series on the Mahabharata. She continued, “Heeramandi is set in Lahore which is in Pakistan, and even if we abide by the pre-partition argument: Mughal history is often denied by India and it is what Pakistani history is set on (school books etc). India has a plethora of rich culture and history to base films on, whereas we predominantly relate to the Mughals. This would be like a Pakistani director making Mahabharata.” 

She elaborated further, “Plus it would lose authenticity: The Urdu language with Farsi roots always seems pretentious when one sees it in Indian films, we can’t do Sanskrit like them and they won’t be able to do this like us.”

Adding how, according to Shah, Bhansali’s project is taking opportunities away from Pakistani artists, she continued, “We have so many young filmmakers who have studied film and would dedicate their blood and sweat to make this as authentic as possible, they’re simply not given the chance. even the descendants of Heera Mandi occupants still live in Lahore. SLB would have made it beautiful, but it would have been even better had they made it a collaboration with say, Saqib Malik. That is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.”

Heeramandi will explore stories of courtesans, the hidden cultural reality of Heera Mandi in Lahore. It is set to be a series about love, betrayal, succession and politics in the ‘kothas’. Also, the show will have all the trademarks of a Bhansali film including grand sets, elaborate compositions and a plethora of characters.

In his upcoming project for Netflix India’s Tudum Spotlight, the acclaimed filmmaker opened up about the idea behind Heeramandi. Mentioning that it was something his close friend Moin Bag got on to him as a 14-page story, 14 years ago, he said, “Finally when we presented it to Netflix, they loved it and they thought it had great potential to make a mega-series. It is very ambitious, it’s very big and vast. It tells you the story of courtesans."

Bhansali added, "They kept music, poetry and dance and the art of living. It shows the politics within the brothels and how to emerge as the winner. It is a difficult one but I hope we come across with flying colours this time.”

Previously,  Yasir Hussain, Hira Tareen and Anoushey Ashraf shared their reservations on why such stories aren't narrated by Pakistani filmmakers."Yeh hai Lahore mein aur movie Indians bana rahe hain, (This [Heera Mandi] is in Lahore but the movie is being produced by Indians)," Hussain shared.

He added, "Phir hum kahainge sab ghalat dikhaya. Pata nahi hum apni cheezon ke baaray mein kab baat karengay. Apni kahaniyan kab sunayege, (Then we will criticise how they [Indians] showed false narrative. God knows when we will talk about such issues, when we will tell our stories)."

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