In 1964, Pakistan’s embassy in Beirut objected to the screening of the Hindi film Kashmir ki Kali (flower bud of Kashmir) at the 4th International Lebanese Film Festival. The objection was overruled and the film was screened as planned.
What is it with Pakistan and Indian/Hindi films? For most of its 70 years India’s western neighbour has not allowed Hindi — and other Indian — films to be shown on its soil. Right now, even Indian TV and radio broadcasts are banned. But was it always so?
Decade of Dependence
Actually, no. In the first few years after Partition, Pakistan lapped up Indian films. By July 1, 1954, it had imported 618 Indian films — mostly in Bangla for East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and Urdu/Hindi for its western territory. It used to buy films at the time, paying in Indian rupees, and India did not have anything to complain about. When it was rumoured in 1953 that Pakistan had banned Indian films, Government of India clarified it was “not aware of any such ban.”
Yet, a change occurred that year. For the first time Pakistan did not invite applications for import licences to source “exposed cinema film”. But it did not single out India either. “This restriction applies uniformly to all countries,” Government of India clarified.
A year later, the first signs of hostility appeared. Pakistan did not allow “outright importation of exposed cinema films from anywhere” any longer. Its distributors could only rent foreign films, and even then they ran a business risk because the government could reject an imported film.
Of the 85 Indian films imported by Pakistani distributors in 1954, only 42 were allowed to be shown. And by May 11, just 10 films had been actually cleared on payment of penalty and other charges.
Pakistan’s policies became tougher after that, although it still did not impose a blanket ban on Indian films. In 1959, for instance, import licences of six Indian films that had been cleared and were running successfully were cancelled.
Why was Pakistan taking such a hard line towards Indian films? Was it a question of religious belief, or nationalism, or something else?
Boosting Local Films
In 1959, Pakistan suddenly banned the exhibition of all 618 Indian films imported before July 1, 1954, yet it did not ban movies rented thereafter, nor did it ban future imports. Under the Indo-Pakistan Trade Agreement it agreed to buy up to 10 Bangla films and seven Hindi or Urdu films every year. It bought 13 Indian films under this agreement in 1958, and two in January, 1959.
About the 618 old films banned by Pakistan, India’s then deputy minister of commerce and industry Satish Chandra told Parliament on April 29, 1959: “They were imported by Pakistan because she had no film industry. As they are anxious to develop their own film industry, the exhibition of these old films has been banned in order to encourage the exhibition of local films.”
Pakistan’s initial (official) rejection of Indian films might have been based on economic considerations but there was an undercurrent of hostility as well. In 1961, it sent a verbal invitation to the Indian camp office in Murree to enter an “officially sponsored film” in the Murree festival, but then withdrew it without an official explanation. Later, the Indian high commission was told the festival had been postponed.
The hostility came out in the open in January 1962 when Pakistan banned the import of Indian films and confiscated 26 “illegally imported” films. India protested. The Indian high commissioner handed over a protest note to the government of Pakistan on March 17, 1962. India also moved GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the precursor of World Trade Organization) as the ban was discriminatory — Indian films had been singled out. But Pakistan did not budge for a long time.
Then came the war of 1965 and on September 7, 1965, Pakistan imposed a ban on Indian films that lasted more than 40 years with just a couple of relaxations.
On April 20, 1981, India’s then minister for information and broadcasting Vasant Sathe told Parliament: “Only one exception was made to the ban in May 1980 when Sheikh Mukhtar’s film Noor Jehan (1967) was allowed to be released as a special case throughout Pakistan. This film was taken by Sheikh Mukhtar (the producer) at the time he migrated to Pakistan… As far as new movies are concerned, there have been no reports of any public screening… However, video cassettes smuggled from third countries are reportedly in circulation for private showings.”
In spite of efforts made by India’s National Film Development Corporation to start exchange of films, full 25 years passed before another “one-time” exception was made for the classic Indian films Taj Mahal (1963) and Mughal-e-Azam (1960) to raise funds for relief work after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake of October 8, 2005 centred in Balakot, Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.