Sample these: the world’s most popular movie star (debatable, I know, but try me) finally won an Oscar; drugs became symbolic with Punjab and Maria Sharapova, whereas Snapchat (in India) became symbolic with Tanmay Bhat; a rapist got his jail time reduced allegedly because he was a star swimmer for Stanford University; a man who’s signature phrase used to be “you’re fired” is now the president-elect of the United States of America.
The most important story of 2016 for me, however, was Fawad Khan.
No, I don’t mean how good-looking he is, but I’m talking about the Pakistani artistes’ ban which resulted in the forced exile of Fawad, and other Pakistani artistes. TV shows and events were cancelled, roles were cut short, the setting in films like Ae Dil Hai Mushkil moved from Lahore to Lucknow and we even saw Karan Johar begging for his right and freedom to express and create. Donned in all black, he stared at us in helplessness, and even if you weren’t a fan of his cinema, or didn’t feel particularly motivated to take a stand, you felt bad for him.
It was a time when we’d held the entire art and culture community to ransom.
It all began with the Uri attack which happened in September, where we saw a national event with political consequences eventually trickle down to the entertainment world. Many demanded that anything Pakistani would (and should) not have a place in India. One was branded an “anti-national” for the smallest of things, and if you didn’t end every sentence or Facebook comment with “BUT THE SOLDIERS ARE DYING” you weren’t a true patriot.
Speaking of Facebook comments, I’m really envious of those who had the good fortune of not having much internet access around this time. I had no such liberty, being a digital journalist. My Facebook comments section was a riot. I remember this one time who spoke about how bringing Fawad Khan into a matter that is not related to cinema and films, is plain stupid.
You charge Fawad Khan for not denouncing his own country, but getting away with the charming smile of his every-time. Except that that isn’t his job. How would you feel if Hollywood starts seeking an apology from Priyanka Chopra every time an Indian is lynched for eating beef in your country? It’s not the job of artists to do what politicians are supposed to do… When your celebrities don’t take it upon themselves to apologise for something their state is doing, why should Fawad Khan take the responsibility of something his state isn’t even directly involved in? You try to be a humanist, but all you end up becoming is a hyper-nationalist jingoist.
I completely agreed. Why were we targeting an actor who just happened to find popularity in his neighbouring country and decided to do a couple of films there? Was he responsible for an attack on the borders of India?
If my Facebook timeline was anything to go by at the time, he was. I had friends and even some distant family members tell me that now was the time to stand for your country. As if this was the only true test of patriotism: banning Pakistani actors from working in India. I was told that art and cinema could wait, that it could take a backseat because we must do whatever it takes to show solidarity towards our country.
Okay, fair enough, I thought. And so I googled what all we were banning in the name of solidarity.
You know what I found? Nothing. Nothing really stopped, except Fawad Khan’s Bollywood career. I was fuming. I found solace in the fact that I wasn’t the only one, but also had to learn to not channel my feelings while covering the news for Firstpost. Our coverage of the Pakistani artistes ban, if I may say so myself, was as deliberately objective, and inclusive of all points of views.
At Firstpost, we pride ourselves on always having plural opinions. We publish pieces with opposing sides of the debate often, in fact, we encourage it. Soon, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil released and I guess my biggest learning of 2016 was learning to let go (such a universal truth, this).
So even though I was very clearly biased against any sort of ban, I learnt that sometimes one has to disassociate the personal from the professional, no matter how good-looking the subject matter is.