For two weeks, the Indian press and politicians have been preoccupied with the fate of the big budget Hindi movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil that has a Pakistani actor in its cast. While India-Pakistan tensions are nothing new, 60 years ago the Portuguese in Goa bothered India no less. The rancour was mutual.
Tensions With Portuguese
On April 15, 1954, for instance, the Prime Minister of Portugal told his House of the People that the Portuguese would ruin Goa before they vacated it. From August 1954 to May 1959, Indian newspapers were completely banned in Goa.
The ties became so strained that in September 1955 India closed its consulate general in Goa. When formal communication between the two governments ceased, Egypt, a friendly country, offered to send an officer to Goa sometimes on behalf of India to look after the interests of Indians there. But by the summer of 1956, the Portuguese had stopped extending facilities to this officer to work.
Meanwhile, armed skirmishes happened at the borders. On February 5, 1956, the Portuguese opened fire at “persons moving in that area towards the Indian border. Indian border police posted at Netarde (Maharashtra) observed that one person was shot down about a hundred yards inside Goa. A second fell a hundred yards inside our territory. About 10 to 15 Portuguese armed personnel transgressed into our territory to seize the person who had fallen…Our border police, four in number, opened rifle and machine gun fire in reply but the fallen person was seized and dragged inside Goa territory…”
Besides closing the diplomatic channel, India did something odd — it banned the export of Indian films to Goa. Films from India, especially those in Marathi, mattered to the colony’s native population, and the Portuguese did not discourage them. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was also the minister for external affairs at the time, told Parliament on July 23, 1952: “We have had no special problem in this behalf so far.”
Once when the screening of the V Shantaram movie Amar Bhoopali (1951) got delayed due to objections from lower police officials, the Goan police commissariat promptly waived the objections and let the film run uncensored.
The Pakistan Channel
India had banned the export of its movies to Goa, but that did not stop Goans from seeing them. In August 1956, Indian newspapers reported that five new Indian films were being screened in Goa. How had they reached there? By way of Karachi in Pakistan. PM Nehru told Parliament: “It is understood that all the films have gone from there.”
Call it smuggling or rerouting, but since the Pakistan government was not involved in the movement of Indian films to Goa, India could not take up the matter with it. Some members of Parliament pressed the government to somehow plug the leak, but Nehru replied pragmatically:
“You can understand that, short of banning (film) exports completely, there isn’t much we can do when something is sent via another country.”