A black and white arthouse film from Pakistan from 1959 has become the latest casualty of the jingoism that has followed the Uri attack September, in which 19 Army soldiers died.
Jago Hua Savera, directed by Pakistani director AJ Kardar, written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz and featuring Indian actors, musicians and technicians, was to have been screened in the restored classics section at the Mumbai Film Festival (October 20-27). Not any more: “Given the current situation, the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star has decided not to programme Jago Hua Savera as part of the Restored Classics Section,” said a press release.
A complaint filed by a non-governmental organisation called Sangharsh Foundation against the screening appears to have spooked the organisers into dropping the neo-realist classic from its programme. Sangharsh filed a police complaint on October 15 against the festival for announcing Jago Hua Savera as part of its lineup. “We don’t have objections to any other films but just don’t show any films from Pakistan,” said Prithvi Maske, who heads the organisation.
Kardar’s film,produced by Nauman Taseer, represents a rare spirit of collaboration between undivided Pakistan, India and England. The movie is based on a novel by Manik Bandopadhyay and features the Indian actress Tripti Mitra and the musician Timir Baran alongside Pakistani actors and British technicians. The film explores the hardships of a fishing community in what is now Bangladesh. Its prints were missing for several years and were finally found by Taseer’s son, Anjum. The restored film has been shown at various festivals, including Cannes in 2016.
Maske drew a link between showing Jago Hua Savera at the film festival, for which entry is restricted to delegates, and the October 28 release of Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Johar’s movie has been facing a vicious backlash from right-wing groups because it has Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in its cast. A decision by the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India to suspend the release of films featuring Pakistani artists has immediate repercussions for Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Unlike the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association ban on Pakistani actors working in Hindi films, which applies to future projects, the exhibitiors' organisation's directive has been issued against movies that were made long before tensions broke out between India and Pakistan.
Johar is one of the trustees of the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image that organises the Mumbai Film Festival, and Maske tried to suggest that there was a conspiracy at work here. “If Jago Hua Savera is shown at the Mumbai film festival, then Karan Johar can justify releasing Ae Dil Hai Mushkil,” said Maske, whose NGO had earlier filed a complaint with the Mumbai police against the actor Om Puri’s remarks about Army soldiers following the Uri attack.
While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.
“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.
The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”
However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.
‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.
But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.
“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”
For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.
Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.
It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.
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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.