Barzakh is slated to stream soon in Pakistan; (right) Mahira Khan
In the aftermath of the 2016 Uri attacks, members of the Hindi movie industry collectively decided to stop collaborating with Pakistani artistes. Last week, in a significant move, the Bombay High Court overturned the petition that sought a ban on Pakistani artistes working in India. Hailing the decision is Shailja Kejriwal, chief creative officer, special projects, Zee Entertainment. It may be recalled that one of Zee's channels, Zindagi, which used to air Pakistani content, had to shut operations after the Uri attacks. The channel was revived in 2020 as a digital arm of ZEE5.
With the Bombay HC's latest decision, Kejriwal is hopeful that Bollywood will team up again with talent across the border. "For both industries, it makes sense to collaborate. Every creative industry needs to be populated with diverse minds. This industry can't thrive between Juhu and Bandra. A few years ago, we weren't cross-pollinating enough with the south movie industry, but look how they've marched ahead! Now, we can mix and match talent. It's not just about actors, but also about directors. Asim Abbasi [Churails], Saim Sadiq [Joyland], and Bilal Lashari [The Legend of Maula Jatt] are all great storytellers," she says.
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Coincidentally, her next production, Barzakh, fronted by Fawad Khan and Sanam Saeed, is slated to drop in Pakistan. Will they also be looking at an OTT release in India now? "All these decisions will be made only a month or so down the line. Streaming platforms will also open up with this ruling and be
more accepting in what they pick up."
This ruling is expected to effect change on ground. So far, Pakistani shows are available for viewing in India on the Zindagi app, but not on the corresponding television channel. The channel airs Asian content, from Turkish dramas to Ukrainian offerings. Now, will Pakistani shows be back on the tube? The changes, she says, will be slow at first. "People get nervous because content business is a monetary move. This nervousness will stay at the start, but will subside eventually. I want to understand whether this means we can also broadcast, and will it even extend to OTT and theatrical. The clarity on these will come over the next few weeks. Broadcast is crucial because then the content penetrates into the Indian market."
What was the response from collaborators in Pakistan? "Pure joy," she beams. "Artistes on both sides are overjoyed. I was talking to Mahira [Khan] the other day; we were chatting about about how she can now be in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. Mahira said, âAapke mooh mein ghee shakkar.' It's about symbiotically benefitting from each other's industries, monetarily and emotionally. When Saba [Qamar] did Hindi Medium, we benefitted too. The film made over R100 crore at the domestic box office."